A World Unknown
Aaro Ek Prithibi is both a journey film and a noir thriller
We live in two worlds. One in which we live, and the other in which we dream of living. One of these is real while the other is our fanciful imagination. Painted with the colours of the rainbow are images of a world that does not exist. National Award-winner Atanu Ghosh continues to explore other worlds, or, the worlds of the “others” who remain unknown, anonymous or forgotten.
His tenth film Aaro Ek Prithibi is no exception. But this time, he takes himself and his crew beyond borders to look for dreams, shattered, broken, half-filled as much or perhaps more on foreign soil than it is back home.
One strange misconception we harbour is that whoever goes abroad for studies, or work, or business, or through marriage, is successful in the game of life. I call this a ‘misconception’ because other nations and cultures have many of us stuck there, trapped in their failures. They can never come back either because they do not have the money to fly back, or are ashamed and afraid to show that they are failures back home or both. Neither can they share their grief with their friends, family and relatives.
Aaro Ek Prithibi unfolds the tragic story of four Bengalis, led by a young Bengali bride Pratiksha (Tasnia Farin) who lands in London to join her husband Aritra (Shaheb Bhattacharya) only to find to her shock that he is not there to receive her and his cell phone is also switched off. She soon runs out of money as she has closed her bank account in India.
A young Bengali immigrant Ayesha (Anindita Bose) befriends her and tries to help her by taking her until she locates her missing husband. Then there is an elderly, bearded gentleman, Srikanto Munshi (Koushik Ganguly) also a Bengali, who earns his livelihood by playing on the violin as he is also trapped in a marginal existence, living in a discarded motor boat on a river bank. He had big dreams of becoming an internationally renowned violinist but failed.
Despite warnings from Ayesha and Srikanto, Pratiksha refuses to go back because she wants to know the truth. The entire journey of Pratiksha and her friends are hitched to a single aim, to find Aritra and also, to try and learn what happened to him.
Where has he disappeared to? Why? Is there a woman involved? These are the questions the three try to solve. These searches make the film a thrilling journey through a search for the missing Aritra. All the characters here, including Aritra, seem to be repeatedly defeated in their search for a resolution more by sudden twists of fate than by the forces of justice.
Where is justice in a foreign land for Indians who are reduced to an anonymity they never dreamed of? There seems to be none. Ayesha came to London and worked as a counsellor after her boyfriend gave her the royal ditch. Then fate took over and circumstances forced her to live off rich young lads from affluent families for strange “games” as quid pro quo.
Munshi imagines himself to be the contemporary avatar of Sarat Chandra Chatterjee’s famous character Sreekanto, the eternal wanderer in search of what he has no idea about, but is reduced to living off the pittance dropped in his hat to pay for his notes on his violin. It is begging in a manner of speaking but the proud Sreekanto refuses to accept this truth. He keeps dotting his conversations with Ayesha with philosophical homilies he probably does not believe in himself.
Aaro Ek Prithibi is both a journey film and a noir thriller. Like an ideal thriller, the film involves not just the presence of certain feelings in excess but also a combination of those feelings. Aaro Ek Prithibi and its major characters often work on double emotions, feelings, sensations – a bit of satire and a lot of suspense, fear and excitement, pleasure and pain.
Ghosh seeks to combine fear and intrigue in a way that sharpens both responses. There are moments when you feel that there is a certain loss of control in the characters that makes for an important part of the thrill.
The film offers some slices of flashback into the back stories of Pratiksha and Aritra together and separately, showing how Pratiksha comes from a broken family but loves her criminal father dearly while Aritra is an orphan brought up reluctantly by his uncle and aunt. But the few days the couple share are filled with sweet memories of getting to know and then slowly, getting to love each other.
The film has almost entirely been shot in areas of London we do not get to watch in jazzy commercial films or as tourists. We get glimpses of empty streets almost bereft of public transport that adds to the loneliness the characters live with and the alienation they experience neither of which they have any control over.
The ‘White’ people of the city are mostly thrown in positive light, while the ‘Coloured’ ones include Pratiksha’s Black friend from Nigeria who introduces her to her hospital job, identifies with her feelings of being an “outsider” and a migrant trapped in a situation they are neither prepared for nor can cope with.
The music with two beautiful songs on the soundtrack, along with the violin played by Munshi from time to time, invests the film with a rhythm and a lyricism that enhances the mood fluctuations beautifully, thanks to the music composed by Debojyoti Misra. Appu Prabhakar’s camera sweeps over the London countryside, the airport with its noise and crowds, the wide open spaces, parks, shops and the hospital where Pratiksha, a qualified physiotherapist works, the temporary hostel where Pratiksha finds shelter throw us visuals, sounds and music where India is presented and projected on a foreign, strange space. Sujoy Dutta Ray’s editing was a challenge he has lived up to very well.
Tasnia Farin of Bangladesh as Pratiksha has the toughest role and does brilliantly with her constant state of fear and uncertainty which she tries every minute to overcome with her determination to seek the truth of her husband enacted very well by the underutilised actor Shaheb Bhattacharya, her courage in the face of attacks laced with the terror of death, the works. Anindita as Ayesha gives her all to the character who has compromised with her strange way of earning through a vague kind of sex work with conviction.
But the gold medal that Pratiksha gets should be shared with Koushik Ganguly as Sreekanto Munshi, the man with great dreams who has learnt to accept that those dreams were like floating clouds against an azure blue sky which do not carry moisture and will never lead to rains.
What a film, Atanu Ghosh. Have a drink over this one before you go on to your 11th film, waiting in the wings for an audience. Like life, the world also is a philosophy, an ideal we seek to fulfil but which eludes us much like a mirage in a desert.