SHOMA A.CHATTERJI | 27 APRIL, 2017
Kaushik Ganguly's Bisorjon Wins National Award for Best Bengali Film
Bisorjon has bagged the Best Bengali Film Award this year at the 64th National Film Awards. Kaushik Ganguly, who graduated from television to feature films with a sentimental overload to award-winning films for the large screen has written and directed Bisorjon. By far, he is justly considered one of the most outstanding filmmakers in contemporary Bengali cinema. His last film Cinemawallah was honoured with the prestigious UNESCO-Fellini award at IFFI 2015. Koushik Ganguly is persistently following the route of original philosophies of the human spirit. The stories emerge naturally out of these ideas and place his films in uniquely distinct positions of human interaction. Several of his films such as Laptop, Shobdo Chhotoder Chhobi, and Apur Panchali have won National Awards.
Being Kaushik Ganguly, Bisorjon has to be a love story that goes against the grain of every stereotype of the love story be it mainstream or out-of-the-box.. Bisorjon translates to the “immersion” of the Goddess Durga on Bijoya Dashami evening, the last day of the five-day festival. The title coincides with the opening of the film that marks the immersion of the Durga Pratima in the waters of the Icchamati River that defines a large section of the dividing line between India and Bangladesh. Men, women and children gather in huge numbers on both sides of the river to watch the procession. It is the only day when the border security forces on either side loosen their guards and allow the people to enjoy the fun.
“The Durga Puja of the Roy Chowdhury household was an event for rejoicing for all their subjects on either side of the river Ichhamati. On the last day of the Puja, the idol was immersed in the river. Subjects on both banks of the river took part in the celebrations. The tradition continues, though the feudal bonding has broken down. The BSF turns a blind eye on this day and so does the BGB,” says documentary filmmaker Subha Das Mullick who made a film on 30 impoverished victim families living along the river called Crosswinds Over Icchamati some years ago.
But is Bisorjon just a title? Or does it go deeper than the name that marks the end of the biggest festival among Bengalis across the world? “Bisorjon” also means “sacrifice” and this is the foundation and the climax of this very unusual love story that begins with the physical immersion of the Mother Goddess in the Ichhamati River and closes with the emotional ‘immersion’ of love and all that it stands for. Another thread that runs like a strong but invisible undercurrent through the film is the Icchamati River.
The international protocol requires that 150 yards on both sides of the international border are left fallow. But this has not been possible on the Indo Bangladesh border. So the poor farmer whose farms fall on the so-called no man’s land, has to sign a register every day before he crosses the fence to till his land. The 4000 KM long Indo Bangladesh border meanders through paddy fields, marshes, villages and even backyards of homes. The last 148KM of the river is fluid, formed by the river Ichhamati. The rules are automatically relaxed on the immersion day and smugglers operating on either side take advantage.
On the day of the immersion, there is a storm which ravages some of the boats on either side, throwing the idols into the slush and drowning some boats. Naseer Ali (Abir Chatterjee), who had come with a procession from the river on the Indian side, lies deep in the slush along the banks on the Bangladesh side with a severe injury on one leg. Padma (Joya Ahsan), a young Hindu widow who lives on the Bangladesh side, rescues him and brings him back to her ramshackle home where she lives with her paralysed father-in-law.
Then follows a long chain of instructions from Padma to Naseer who bestows Naseer with a fake Hindu name Subhash Das, a fake relationship (cousin), a fake geographical root (Faridpur) to save him from being caught by the BGB (Border Guard Bangladesh) as an illegal immigrant. They must also save themselves from the scandal that would ensue when word of a beautiful Hindu Brahmin widow having given shelter to a dashing young Muslim from India spreads among the local people.
The barking of dogs at night, punctuated with the shrill and sharp whistle of the guards who prowl through the night pierces the ambient sounds of Padma on her sewing machine, her whispering conversations with Naseer who hardly talks and her walks up and down the town market for her daily needs. She is visited all too often by the influential and affluent fishing merchant Ganesh Mondal (Kaushik Ganguly) and his Man Friday, Lau (Lama).
The fat, dark, middle-aged and squint-eyed bachelor Mandal has lost is heart to this young Hindu widow and, thanks to his influence, affluence and power, is not afraid of breaking the Hindu taboo of marrying a widow. Ganesh does not pretend to hide his desire to shed his bachelorhood with the “helpless” young woman. He insists that he never takes advantage of her and does not intend to though he has coerced everyone in the market not to charge her for anything she buys.
Love grows ever so slowly like a creeper between Padma and Naseer /Subhash, catching them completely by surprise and it is too late to pull the creeper off and throw it away because the crumbs remain. It is time for Naseer to sail back to the other side, thanks to Padma’s determination to see him back to safety. Padma is forced to hitch her life to Ganesh Mandal who promises her wealth and respect and everything that goes with it.
The story offers a touching cameo of Lakshmi, Ganesh’s slightly mentally backward sister – an outstanding performance by Kamalini Banerjee whose mission in life is to see that her brother is happy. Abir as Naseer with few dialogues and little expression offers a model lesson in restraint while the show belongs clearly to the author-backed character of Padma portrayed by Joya Ahsan. Kaushik has always been an actor to contend with and he portrays Ganesh Mandal like no other actor could have. Arun Guhathakurta as the town doctor and Lama as Lau who has the keen eye for Padma but is committed to loyalty to Ganesh are convincing.
Bisorjon divides the small town into three spaces – the dilapidated home of Padma deep in a remote place, Ganesh Mandal’s spacious home forever filled with sounds and lights and crackers of festivities and the colourful and crowded town market lined with shops selling everything everywhere. These three spaces are bordered on one side by the Icchamati, waiting to take Naseer back to the other side. Icchamati is both observer and an active participant in the events that flow in and out of the lives of Naseer and Padma.
The songs revived from old folk songs by the late Kalikaprasad are touched with the pathos of a festival that is about to end but is spoilt by an over-loud background score by Indradeep Dasgupta who has no faith in playing it low-key in a low-key film with a low-key treatment. The 138 minutes of running time could have been clipped down to 120 minutes because the closing scenes are too long and dragging.
The emotional and nostalgic resonances of smell are expressed when Padma says that the smell of Naseer/Subhash’s cigarette reminds her of her husband’s incessant smoking and drinking too which took his life. The dead husband is ‘visible’ through constant references to his alcoholism and his smoking and through one faded photograph on the peeling wall of their dilapidated hut. Through repeat shots in flashback, we see Ratan Haldar as the new groom looking appreciatively at his bride as they move along the pathways between fields on a bullock cart with a small procession following them.
“Why do you do so much for me?” asks an amazed Naseer of Padma once, in response to her statement that no one does anything for free. “Why, am I not playing ‘family-family’ with you though I am a widow?” she asks with acid dripping from her voice, her face lit up in a satiric smile. Fortunately, Bisorjon has nothing to do with the Hindu-Muslim conflict, or, the socio-political decisions by the powers-that-be that created it, or, that fateful line drawn by Cyril Radcliff decades ago to cut off a slice of India and christen it East Pakistan followed many years later with a change in the nomenclature – Bangladesh.
. It is about love, at different levels in different guises that flows slowly and subtly much like the waters of the Icchamati River that makes no difference either between the people divided by their communal faiths or by their politically created geography. Padma nurses Naseer/Subash by massaging his injured leg with turmeric paste, asking the aged town doctor to take a look, brings the medicines prescribed along with cigarettes of the local brand and reprimands him when he offers to pay her back after going back. Naseer/Subhash expresses his wonder at this gutsy woman only through his eyes, his partly crippled body language, surprised when she angrily shuts the door on his face to sit at her sewing machine and express her anger with the sounds of the machine
The twists that unfold layer by layer, are some of the pulling factors of the film. The flashback used intelligently and aesthetically as a framing device is an imaginative touch. That scar on little Montu’s back is melodrama, as is the drunken scene by Padma inside the hut that jars in a film like Bisorjon. The citation says it all which qualifies the film as “A visual poem which effortlessly liquidates geographical boundaries with an eraser made of love and hope.”
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