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A Special Tribute

In Memoriam: Star of the Stage Shines on Screen

Ratnottama Sengupta trains the spotlight on actress Swatilekha Sengupta(22nd May 1950- 16th June 2021)

Swatilekha Sengupta in action in Shanu Roy Chowdhury. Photo sourced by Ratnottama Sengupta

“Swatilekha is more talented and far better actor than I. Still, everyone keeps asking for me!” Rudraprasad Sengupta was not boasting to me – the helmsman of  the celebrated Nandikar Theatre Group was citing just one instance to show that “women in theatre still suffer bias[1].”

He wasn’t far from the truth: Swatilekha Sengupta, who passed away exactly a year ago on June 16 at 71, had graduated in English, mastered Western classical music in England, received guidance in theatre from iconic names like Tapas Sen, B V Karanth and Khaled Chowdhury. She composed music for, directed and carried on her shoulder Nandikar productions like Madhabi, Shanu Roy Chowdhury, Pata Jhore Jaay (Dry Leaves Fall), Naachni(Dancers).

Madhabi was adapted from Bhishm Sahni’s Mahabharat based play; Shanu Roy Chowdhury was adapted from Willy Russel’s Shirley Valentine; Naachni encapsulated the exploitation of the nautch girls of tribal Purulia. She wrote some, she composed the music for some, she travelled to UK and USA, Germany and Norway and Scotland… with husband Rudrapasad, with daughter Sohini, even to stage a one-woman play.  Yet, she is most recalled for playing Bimala in Satyajit Ray’s Ghare Baire (Home and the World, 1985) – although, ironically, she faced fierce criticism for its critical failure!

Growing up in Allahabad Swatilekha – then Chatterjee – had repeatedly watched Charulata (1964) and Mahanagar (1963) with her school friends. She even wrote to Ray seeking an opportunity to work under him. Of course the letter went unanswered – or perhaps it went astray? For, Ray watched Swatilekha in Nandikar’s Galileo and zeroed in on her for the dream role of Bimala: the wife of a forward-thinking zamindar, Nikhiliesh, whose concern for the welfare of the peasantry under his care is critiqued and upended by an upstart revolutionary, Sandip.

Tagore had written the novel, told through the personal stories of the three protagonists, in 1916 when the Nationalist movement was peaking. The 1905 Partition of Bengal had outraged both, the Hindus and the Muslims, and the protests against the religion-based partition also saw Tagore set Bankim Chandra’s Vande Mataram to music and singing the song to protest the imposition of foreign rule. But after the ‘administrative division’ was rescinded, the call to boycott foreign goods in favour of Swadeshi, indigenous, appealed to the masses – and that led to tensions between the anti-British activists and the idealists. Swadeshi was critiqued as being unaffordable for the peasantry by Nikhilesh in the film and by Tagore, who contended that humanity came before nationalism. Effectively, then, the drama had pitted the conservative versus the radical, rational versus the emotional, East versus West. In short, the home versus the world.

So keen was Swatilekha’s appetite for the character that, on the first day, she’d defied a local bandh[2] and walked from her home in north Calcutta to the legend’s Bishop Lefroy address across the city. On learning that she’d not read the Tagore classic the iconic director had insisted that she should NOT read it. On noticing that she was staring at a harpsichord Ray had asked her if she could play it, and on hearing that she played the piano he’d asked her to play a Beethoven and he had himself whistled along!

Swatilekha Sengupta & Soumitra Chatterjee in Satyajit Ray’s 1985 film, Ghare Baire. Photo sourced by Ratnottama Sengupta

All this camaraderie must have passed on to his actor: when the film released to the world, a prestigious American newspaper praised the “immense grace” of the “pretty, surprisingly wilful Bimala”. But the demanding viewers at home tore her to pieces saying “she neither lived nor looked the role”. Suddenly her ‘home’ had turned into a horrid world… “I sunk into depression and wanted to end my life!” Swatilekha had confessed to my young screen-writer friend, Zinia Sen, while preparing to return to the screen 30 years later — with the same co-star, Soumitra Chatterjee, in Bela Sheshe (In the Autumn of My Life, 2015), which is now considered a cult film.

The story of Arati and Biswanath Majumdar takes a curious turn when, on the eve of their 50th anniversary, the husband seeks to divorce his wife. Because? Arati, a typical, traditional housewife, happily spends her life cooking and cleaning, washing and nursing. For, in her vocabulary, those are just other words to say ‘I love you’ to her husband; for looking after her in-laws; for expressing her concern for her daughters and son and grandchildren… This is a far cry from her husband’s definition of a dream partner. For Biswanath, the proprietor of a fabled bookstore, has unending curiosity about the world and wants to travel beyond the map… 

The five relationships depicted in the film attempt to define the life-long companionship we brand as marriage. Do marriage vows ensure the fairy tale ending of happiness ever after? Is married life built upon promises kept and love requited? Or do unfilled expectations and unarticulated expressions also cement the friendship? Is it possible to walk into the sunset hand in hand?

Soumitra Chatterjee and Swatilekha Sengupta in Belasheshe. Photo sourced by Ratnottama Sengupta

Bela Sheshe made on a budget of Rs 1.1 crore reaped Rs 2.3 crore. More importantly, while reviving faith in institutionalised partnership it also breathed new box office appeal in the screen partners, Soumitra Chatterjee and Swatilekha Sengupta. In Belashuru (A New Beginning, 2022) the latest outing of Nandita Roy and Shiboprasad Mukherjee, the director duo have again cast them as Arati and Biswanath. This time, though, it is a new beginning for the husband is eagerly striving for his Alzheimer afflicted wife to recognise that the ‘stranger’ who follows her everywhere, even her bed, is her now-aged groom. For, Arati now lives in the past she left in Faridpur, along with the pond she’d fish in with Atindrada and the textile shop of her comrade in crime, when she got married…

The film pivots on Arati, and Swatilekha outshines one and all in the cast. Not surprising: the actor’s total commitment to the character is borne out by Zinia. She recalls that, “when the rest of the unit sat listening to Soumitra Da’s [3]enthralling anecdotes and Kharaj Da’s [4] humour filled recitation, Swati Di[5] refused to join in. Instead, she retired within herself, just as Arati would.”

Swatilekha Sengupta as Ammi in Dharma Juddha, a film that will be released in August 2022. Photo sourced By Ratnottama Sengupta.

This is echoed by Raj Chakraborty, the director of Dharma Juddha (Religious War ) which was screened in the recent Kolkata International Film Festival. He recounts that the film was shot in Purulia that suffers extreme summer, but “since the sequence was set on a winter night, she kept her warm clothes on all through the shoot. Such was her dedication to the character and the script!”

Having followed her theatre over a long time Raj counts it amongst his blessings that he could work with her. “I’m certain there was more left to learn,” he sighs as he awaits the masses’ response to the film which once again, rests on the sturdy shoulder of Ma/ Ammi/Dadi[6]. Raj could envisage none but Swatilekha as the protagonist who shelters to two sets of men and women when Ismailpur is seized by an apocalyptic night of communal rage. The pacifier succeeds in instilling brotherhood in the four victims from rival camps – until the tragic truth about her son’s death is revealed. It drives home the realisation that the foremost religion is humanism.

Like Swatilekha, Soumitra Da too had a strong presence on the stage. And fortunately, the screen pair’s daughters – Sohini and Poulami, respectively – are also deeply into theatre.  “I had chosen theatre when I wanted to direct,” he’d said to me when Sangeet Natak Akademi had decorated him, “because, if I make films, people will always compare me with Manikda[7].”

That is why I am doubly delighted that the makers marked the release of Bela Shuru [8]– the duo’s last film – around Swatilekha’s birth anniversary[9], with a unique exhibition. it showcases Soumitra’s typewriter, the script he penned for a play, a collection of pipes acquired on travels abroad; his paintings, poems, letters to his daughter from his Jaisalmer shoot for Sonar Kella (1974)… And it showcases Swatilekha’s violin and mouth-organ; the costumes she wore in Nachni and Bela Shuru; and, a congratulatory letter to Swatilekha, from a star admirer — Amitabh Bachchan…[10]

Soumitra Chatterjee and Swatilekha Sengupta in Bela Shuru. Photo Sourced by Ratnottama Sengupta

Surely a far cry from the bias that you lamented when you celebrated the 150th birth anniversary of Notee Binodini [11] in 2013, Rudra Da[12]?

*

Yes, theatre people the world over agree, that the ‘Moon of Star Theatre’ was deprived of her rightful honour when the theatre that was founded by her not named after her. Why? Because “the aristocrats would not like to enter a place named after a noti.” Thespian Noti Binodini might have been, but she was a fallen woman, wasn’t she? So what if this contemporary of Tagore was the first South Asian actress to pen her own story – Aamar Katha — a lucid memoir that portrays the 19th century society in Bengal which was at ease with European ideas but confined women to homes. So what if the sage Ramakrishna had gone into a trance as he watched her essay Chaitanya Mahaprabhu (1884)? Such was her portrayal that thespian Amritlal Bose wrote, “Whenever I bow to any wooden or painted image of Sri Chaitanya, I see Binodini before my eyes.”

Binodini Dasi had gone onstage at age 12, under mentor Girish Ghosh (1844-1912), and her career had ended when she was just 23. Merely 11 years, but those were the years when the proscenium theatre modelled after European convention was spreading in Bengal. In those 11 years Binodini enacted 80 roles, playing Sita, Draupadi, Radha, Kaikeyi or Pramila, Mrinalini, Motibibi, Ayesha. Please note: She pioneered modern stage make-up by blending European and indigenous styles.

“Because of this, people who had seen her in one role could not recognise her in another,” Girish Ghosh himself wrote. Yet this same stalwart of theatre, to please whom Binodini had drained her own resources and founded Star Theatre in north Calcutta, refused to write a foreword for My Story as it contained uncomfortable truths about Binodini’s patrons!

Why did the chroniclers of Bengal Renaissance overlook the contribution of this marginalised star to the land’s cultural mileu? “Because of the class-caste divide,” Soumitra Chatterjee suggests in his foreword for the memoir. “How could the Brahmo-Brahmin dominated upper crust acknowledge the talents of a lowborn ‘prostitute’?”

More than a century later, Swatilekha took it upon herself to train the spotlight on the fact that the years had failed to change the plight of another set of dancing artistes – the Nachnis.


[1] Women in Theatre suffer bias.’ – quoted from Times of India, article by Ratnottama Sengupta.

[2] Strike where transport was halted

[3] Soumitra Chatterjee (1935-2020)

[4] Kharaj Mukherjee : Actor and comedian

[5] Swatilekha Sengupta (1950-2021)

[6] Grandmother

[7] Satyajit Ray

[8] Release date: 20.5.2022

[9] 22. 5. 1950

[10] Amitabh Bachhan, one of the most nationally and internationally awarded and influential actors

[11] Play based on the life Binodini Dasi

[12] Rudraprasad Sengupta, husband of Swatilekha and a theatre personality

Ratnottama Sengupta, formerly Arts Editor of The Times of India, teaches mass communication and film appreciation, curates film festivals and art exhibitions, and translates and write books. She has been a member of CBFC, served on the National Film Awards jury and has herself won a National Award. Ratnottama Sengupta has the rights to translate her father, Nabendu Ghosh.

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL

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Contents

Borderless February 2022

Winter in Africa. Painting by Sybil Pretious.

Editorial

What’s Love Got to Do with it’ … Click here to read.

Interviews

Sriniketan: Tagore’s “Life Work”: In Conversation with Professor Uma Das Gupta, Tagore scholar, author of A History of Sriniketan, where can be glimpsed what Tagore considered his ‘life’s work’ as an NGO smoothening divides between villagers and the educated. Click here to read.

Akbar: The Man who was King: In conversation with eminent journalist and author, Shazi Zaman, author of Akbar, A Novel of History. Click here to read.

Translations

One Day in the Fog, written by Jibananda Das and translated from Bengali by Professor Fakrul Alam. Click here to read.

Mahnu, a poem by Atta Shad, translated from Balochi by Fazal Baloch. Click here to read.

A Superpower in the Pandemic, written and translated from Korean by Ihlwha Choi. Click here to read.

Eyes of the Python, a short story by S.Ramakrishnan, translated from Tamil by Dr.B.Chandramouli. Click here to read.

Raatri Eshe Jethay Meshe by Tagore has been translated from Bengali as Where the Night comes to Mingle by Mitali Chakravarty. Click here to read.

Pandies’ Corner

These stories are written by youngsters from the Nithari village who transcended childhood trauma and deprivation. The column starts with a story, Stranger than Fiction from Sharad Kumar in Hindustani, translated to English by Grace M Sukanya. Click here to read.

Poetry

Click on the names to read

Rhys Hughes, A Jessie Michael, Jay Nicholls, Moonmoon Chowdhury, Mike Smith, David Francis, Ananya Sarkar, Matthew James Friday, Ashok Suri, John Grey, Saptarshi Bhattacharya, Candice Louisa Daquin, Emalisa Rose, Ryan Quinn Flanagan

Nature’s Musings

Penny Wilkes explores dewdrops and sunrise in A Dewdrop World. Click here to read.

Poets, Poetry & Rhys Hughes

Rhys Hughes explores the paranormal with his usual wit in Three Ghosts in a Boat. Promise not to laugh or smile as you shiver… Click here to read.

Musings/ Slices from Life

Requiem for the Melody Queen

Ratnottama Sengupta sings her own paean in which a chorus of voices across the world join her to pay a tribute to a legend called Lata Mangeshkar. Click here to read.

Forsaking Distant Hemispheres for the Immediate Locale

Meredith Stephens introduces us to the varied fauna found in South Australia with vivid photographs clicked by her. Click here to read.

Breaking the fast

P Ravi Shankar takes us through a breakfast feast around the world. Click here to read.

Musings of a Copywriter

In Life without a Pet, Devraj Singh Kalsi gives a humorous take on why he does not keep a pet. Click here to read.

Notes from Japan

In Bridging Cultures through Music, author Suzanne Kamata introduces us to Masaki Nakagawa, a YouTuber who loves Lativia and has made it big, playing for the President of Lativia at the Japanese coronation. Click here to read.

Essays

Farewell Keri Hulme

A tribute by Keith Lyons to the first New Zealand Booker Prize winner, Keri Hulme, recalling his non-literary encounters with the sequestered author. Click here to read.

Satyajit Ray’s Cinematic Universe: Can Isolation Lead to a New World?

Rebanta Gupta explores two films of Satyajit Ray, Kanchenjunga & Charulata to see what a sense of isolation can do for humans? Click here to read.

‘What remains is darkness and facing me – Banalata Sen!’

Rakibul Hasan Khan explores death and darkness in Fakrul Alam’s translation of Jibanananda Das’s poetry. Click here to read.

Dhaka Book Fair: A Mansion and a Movement

Ratnottama Sengupta writes of a time a palace called Bardhaman House became the centre of a unique tryst against cultural hegemony. The Language Movement of 1952 that started in Dhaka led to the birth of Bangladesh in 1971. In 1999, UNESCO recognised February 21 as the Mother Language Day. Click here to read.

The Observant Immigrant

 In To Be or Not to Be, Candice Louisa Daquin takes a close look at death and suicide. Click here to read.

Stories

Navigational Error

Luke P.G. Draper explores the impact of pollution with a short compelling narrative. Click here to read.

The Art of Sleeping

Atreyo Chowdhury spins an absurd tale or could it be true? Click here to read.

Dear Dr Chilli…

Maliha Iqbal writes of life as a young girl in a competitive world. Click here to read.

The Literary Fictionist

In MissingSunil Sharma gives us a long literary yarn. Click here to read.

Book Excerpts

Two Banalata Sen poems excerpted from Jibanananda Das: Selected Poems with an Introduction, Chronology and Glossary, translated from Bengali by Fakrul Alam. Click here to read.

An excerpt from Mahasweta Devi, Our Santiniketan. Translated from the Bengali by Radha Chakravarty. Click here to read.

Book Reviews

Indrashish Banerjee reviews The Best of Travel Writing of Dom Moraes: Under Something of a Cloud. Click here to read.

Gracy Samjetsabam reviews Masala and Murder by Patrick Lyons. Click here to read.

Rakhi Dalal reviews Kavery Nambisan’s A Luxury called Health. Click here to read.

Bhaskar Parichha reviews Growing up Jewish in India: Synagogues, Customs, and Communities from the Bene Israel to the Art of Siona Benjamin, edited by Ori Z. Soltes. Click here to read.

Special Issues

Cry, Our Beloved… Click here to read (For Peace)

Born to be Wild …Click here to read (World Wild Life Day)

Categories
Essay

Satyajit Ray’s Cinematic Universe: Can Isolation Create a New World?

 By Rebanta Gupta

The Hungarian Marxist philosopher György Lukács coined the term “transcendental homelessness” in his essay The Theory of the Novel, to explore the feeling of homesickness prevalent in the arena of modern philosophy. The ecosystem of the epic was governed by the cosmic laws of fate, the transcendental signified was ever-present to protect mankind, and the human soul found a transcendental home in that cosmic destiny. The celebrated Postcolonial scholar Edward Said, in his essay, ‘Reflections on Exile’ observes, “Classical epics, Lukács wrote, emanate from settled cultures in which the values are clear, identities stable, life unchanging.” Novel, the brainchild of modernity, is the site where this “transcendental homelessness” functions. The European novel emerged out of a changing society, where the omnipotent figure of God had been effaced, with the invasion of skepticism and rationality. Novels germinate from a societal structure, Said writes, “in which an itinerant and disinterested middle-class hero or heroine seeks to construct a new world, that somewhat resembles an old world left behind forever.” A sense of retrogression, an insatiable urge to return to that erstwhile home haunts the modern world, which suffers from an ontological homelessness. The shadow of this sense of homelessness and estrangement also haunts cinema, which has a novelistic structure. Cinema, which is engraved on celluloid, is written by an auteur, the director, who is analogous to the author of a novel. The characters of the celebrated Indian filmmaker Satyajit Ray’s films suffer from a sense of perpetual homelessness; pangs of isolation and estrangement haunt their sinews and nerves, in the midst of a kaleidoscopic world. This essay would focus on two of Ray’s films: Kanchenjungha (1962) and Charulata (1964) and try to analyze how they create an atmosphere of isolation and estrangement.

Satyajit Ray. Courtesy: Creative Commons

Kanchenjungha (1962) narrates the saga of a wealthy aristocratic family, during the final lap of their vacation at Darjeeling. Inclement weather has shrouded the peak of Mount Kanchenjungha with mist, and a parallel mist of confusion, contradictions, unrequited desire, and unspoken words has enveloped the characters. The film describes the primacy of the father figure in the family ecosystem through the character of Indranath (played by Chhabi Biswas), who is a snooty, pompous, and authoritarian figure, who wants his daughter Manisha (played by Alokananda Roy), to marry a wealthy man whom he has hand-picked for her, but she seems to be reluctant to accept this unilateral decision of her father. William Wordsworth, in the poem Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey (1798), had instructed his sister Dorothy to believe in the ways of nature, which fills the mind “with quietness and beauty” and “lofty thoughts, that neither evil tongues, rash judgments, nor the sneers of selfish men” can demotivate her. But Indranath, it seems, stands vertically opposite to the arena of Wordsworthian exhortations; he is completely alienated from nature, his materialistic drive has effaced his capacity to appreciate the beauteous aspects of Darjeeling and the Himalayan wildness. When the ornitho-enthusiast Jagadish, his brother-in-law (played by Pahari Sanyal) talks about his search for a bird, Indranath nonchalantly asks, “Roast hoy? (Could it be roasted?”). He is marooned in his sequestered island of materialism, and his desire to catch a glimpse of the snow-clad Kanchenjungha is basically a competitive desire to acquire a coveted product, real love of nature is not associated with that. He has high opinions about Banerjee (played by N. Viswanathan), the potential groom for Manisha, because he has a starting salary of twelve hundred rupees, which was indeed a handsome amount in the postcolonial context of the film. Indranath’s wife Labanya (played by Karuna Banerjee) is a subjugated woman, who has a feeble presence before the domineering existence of her husband, and her subjectivity finds no outlet. She, therefore, sits on a bench by the abyss, and at the hour of descending fog, sings the Tagore song E Parabase Rabe Ke Hay (“Alas, who will live in this forlorn and alien land”), set in the Hindustani Classical Raga Kafi, which uses the notes komal gandhar (E-Flat) and komal nishad (B-Flat). The raga creates a melancholic mood, as the song touches the somberness of gandhar and the solitary bohemianism of nishad (which is widely used in the mercurial and melancholic Bengali folk music), and it reflects the alienated state of a woman, who has not had her share of love from her husband. Fog dilutes the outlines of the horizon, as her hopes slowly get extinguished and desperation reigns supreme, and the last line, “Temon apon keho nahi e prantare hay re (There is no one dear and near in this alien world)” mingles with the fog to create an atmosphere of perennial loneliness. Jagadish’s comment, “You have sung after such a long time,” indicates that Labanya’s daily hectic life and Indranath’s iron fist have isolated her from her artistic persona. Rabindranath Tagore talks about the importance of aesthetics in his seminal work Japan Jatri (Travels through Japan, 1919) if humans become too much obsessed with the utilitarian domain, they become machine-like entities, whereas the domain of aesthetics is the area where they can actually realise the true nature of their existence, leading to the experience of the Lebenswelt (life-force)described by Edmund Husserl. The song not only translates Labanya’s melancholia into musical notes, but it also signifies her urge to rediscover her real self, as she expresses concern over the possibility of the smothering of Manisha’s artistic qualities and urges after the marriage. The golden Kanchenjunga, which appears in the last few frames of the film, signifies that cosmic home, the abode of hope, which has hitherto remained elusive to the characters. But in this journey to the cosmic abode, the rogue Indranath is left behind, as he frantically searches for his compatriots, and a terrifying wave of isolation hits him, along with a mocking, derisive tune of a hilly song.

Charulata (1964) is widely regarded as one of the premier achievements of Ray. The film, which is based on the 1901 novella Nashtaneer (The Broken Nest), written by Rabindranath Tagore, narrates the heart-wrenching saga of the eponymous heroine (played by Madhabi Mukherjee), who walks down the solitary passages of an aristocratic house like a spectre. Her husband, Bhupati (played by Shailen Mukherjee), the editor of a political newspaper, nurtures the dream of expanding his business, while Charu suffers from lovelessness; sexual and intellectual dissatisfaction simmers within her. The much-lauded opening scene sets the melancholic tone of the film. The scene where Charu is seen knitting the initials of Bhupati’s name on a handkerchief might remind the audience of Alfred Tennyson’s Lady of Shalott, who is imprisoned in an island castle. She weaves a colorful web in her solitary chamber under the shadow of an unknown curse, which will befall her, if she looks down at the city of Camelot. She can only catch glimpses of the “shadows of the world” in the mirror that hangs before her. Charu, like the Lady of Shalott, is imprisoned in an urban mansion, where household chores are managed by a fleet of servants. She watches the activities of the outside world through binoculars, in an effort to reconcile the differences between the home and the world. The images of the palanquin bearers, a man with monkeys, a fat man with an umbrella crossing the road- all these are reminiscent of the “shadows of the world” in Tennyson’s poem written in 1842, which have now appeared on the glasses of Charu’s binocular. But the Lady of Shalott had to pay the price for abandoning her loom and looking down at the blooming water lilies and the “helmet and the plume” of the gallant knight, as Tennyson writes,

Out flew the web and floated wide;
The mirror crack’d from side to side;
“The curse is come upon me,” cried
      The Lady of Shalott.

Similarly, the curse of infidelity and adultery hits Charu, with the arrival of Amal, her attractive brother-in-law (played by Soumitra Chatterjee). He enters her life in a tempestuous way, which echoes the knight’s entry into the lady’s life. Charu’s isolated state makes her desperate to efface the boundaries separating the home and the world, and the entry of Amal signifies the eruption of the outside world in Charu’s domestic discourse. Ray portrays the psychological gulf between Bhupati and Charu by making Charu stare at the fleeting image of Bhupati through the binocular. He is engrossed in his world of political journalism with no time to accompany his wife, while the latter tries to find solace in literature and other artistic works. But the binocular episode underscores the irreconcilable differences between them. The camera unprecedentedly backtracks, as she lowers the device and stares at her husband with a note of derision in her eyes. This derision anticipates the arrival of Amal, who will occupy the void left by Bhupati will emerge as his sexual and intellectual rival.

The last scene, which incorporates the freeze-frame technique, is reminiscent of the final scene of François Truffaut’s film The 400 Blows (1959) where the teenage protagonist Antoine Doinel stares at the audience by rupturing the fourth wall, and the camera zooms in on his face and refrigerates time, to show the signs of discontentment on his face. Charu and Bhupati face each-other, and the latter’s heart is exploding because of his wife’s supposed infidelity. Though a note of reconciliation is hinted at, when Charu invites Bhupati inside, the frame eventually freezes, the music halts, and Bhupati cannot hold Charu’s extended arm, underlining the impossibility of their conjugal bond. Antoine’s discontentment, along with a sense of guilt, now appears on the couple’s faces, as the word Nashtaneer or “Broken Nest” appears on the screen.

Tagore had celebrated the grandeur of a peaceful abode when he wrote the song “Ohe sundar mama griha aji paramatsaba rati, rekhechhi kanaka mandire kamalasana pati (Beauty, I have laid down the bed of lotus in the golden pagoda for you, on this auspicious night of festivity)”. But Charu and Bhupati fail to construct that resplendent home, since they are separated by circumstances. They could be inhabiting the same house, but with an abysmal gulf between them, they would be suffering from a sense of metaphorical homelessness. In this regard, Charu, Bhupati, and Amal anticipate the ménage à trois between Bimala, Nikhilesh, and Sandip in Ray’s Ghare Baire (1984). Bimala (played by Swatilekha Sengupta) too becomes a victim of the broken nest syndrome, as her nationalistic aspirations are at loggerheads with her conjugal fidelity.

These two films illustrate the urge to reach a cosmic abode of love, unity, and security, which is throttled by the constraints of worldly relationships and circumstances. Charu is searching for that elusive home, where she can find her true self, and fine-tune her soul with the ethereal harmony of the universe, but her failure to touch the perimeters of that utopian abode fills her hearts with pangs of isolation and estrangement. Labanya’s personal moments of discovery through the song by the abyss marks the intersection of solitude and loneliness; solitude has a personal dimension, when an individual can explore the hidden self away from the worldly bustles, but loneliness has an excruciating and universal dimension, that unravels her marooned condition, when materialist forces have encroached and decimated her subjectivity. Kanchenjungha and Charulata underscore the desire of these characters to travel from the world of loneliness and estrangement to the world of solitude, where they can re-explore and rediscover themselves to understand the divine mechanisms of the universe. It is an inward spiritual journey, which intersects with the journey of Christian, the protagonist of John Bunyan’s magnum opus The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678,1684) who had embarked on a quest for the Heavenly City.

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Rebanta Gupta has completed his Postgraduate studies in English Literature from Presidency University, Kolkata. He is interested in Literary Theory, Hindustani Classical Music, Hermeneutics of Film, Narrative of Bengal, and Cultural Studies.

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL