Direction: Q (Quashiq Mukherjee)
Actors: Joyraj Bhattacharya, Soumyak Kanti DeBiswas, Tinu Verghese, Imaad Shah
Tagore’s play, Tasher Desh (The Land of Cards), from which Q takes his source material, is supremely absurd and satirical. There is influence from Lewis Caroll – in its fantastic settings and characters borrowed from playing cards. But Tagore creates a world that’s not just bizarre but symbolically dystopian (the kind Samuel Beckett would go on to create later in plays like Waiting for Godot). Tasher Desh isn’t so much anti-establishment as it is anti-totalitarian and anti-unreason. It provokes, it makes you question, it celebrates chaos over insipid subjugation to order.
It is also right down self-appointed agent provocateur Q’s alley. He decides to amp up the absurdity – “Tagore on an acid trip” is how he reportedly describes it. His first film, Gandu, was proof that he doesn’t play by rules. What he creates here seems less like a film and more like a 112-minute video installation, even an electronica video mixtape. While he keeps the original story progression, he breaks down the linear narrative. He uses black-and-white, quite effectively, to portray a world without; and a colour-saturated kaleidoscope of visuals to look within, down the rabbit hole of the mind’s eye.
A narrator watches the sameness of trains as the story plays in his head. A prince, tired of the monotony of his existence, leaves the kingdom with a friend, only to end up in the absurd land of cards, where everyone is in uniform, and uniformly painted white, where things happen because that’s the “niyom” (rule). Into this zombified existence, the prince breathes laughter and sings of dis-order in the ears of the queen and the princesses.
But Q’s Tasher Desh is less story, more abstract visuals. He’s like a postmodern artist telling you to ‘go figure’. So you have dialogue and visuals repeated with a shift in perspective (the film is in Bengali, subtitled in Hindi and in English), and a long shot of a table tennis game as a metaphor of sameness. Yet, at times, he seems to be trying too hard to shock, like a man who will come naked to a black-tie affair to make a self-convinced statement about upturning the social order.
As the women, led by Horotoni (Ace of Hearts), find liberation, they shed uniforms and parade around in seductive lingerie. An indulgent wet dream ensues, like an extended Axe commercial. The clan of cards becomes a clan of models – cast for their looks, in spite of some terrible Bengali accents.
Yet, the anti-fascist message drives home, there are some arresting visuals, and the trippy versions of Rabindrasangeet are remarkable. Now, if only the artist wasn’t trying so bloody hard to look clever.