Kaushik Ganguly’s name commands respect in the Bengali film world, and it’s not always an advantage as a filmmaker. It is easy to wilt under the burden of expectations to deliver a best-selling story every time, and many have. Ganguly, however, keeps doing it each time he makes a film. Laptop, Shabdo, Khaad, Apur Panchali... you name it and he would whisper a brand new story in your ears.
At a time when the Indian film industry makes no bones about being influenced by the West, Ganguly churns out character-driven films which, apart from bringing out the plight of human existence, also serve as a vehicle to spread information about critical diseases and situations. It helps that Ganguly is still far away from being labeled an arthouse filmmaker: He is as engaging and entertaining as anybody else.
Ganguly’s film Chotoder Chobi (A Short Story) is one of the top contenders for the top award at the ongoing 45th International Film Festival of India.
Chotoder Chobi is about the lives and sentiments of people who work as jokers in circus, also called dwarfs. The circus premise works as the background for the film, but this is not the only space used in it. In fact, after a while it transforms into a beautiful, intense and hard-hitting love story.
Shibu is a trapeze artist who is confined to his bed after a horrific accident. His juniors are angry with the circus manager for paying only Rs 15,000 as compensation for the family, but they can’t do anything about it as the circus is the only place where they can earn a regular income. Khoka (Dulal Sarkar), Shibu’s closest friend, is moved by the condition of the family and decides to protest the manager’s apathy, and finally leaves his job. He becomes the go-to man for Shibu’s family which constitutes of his wife and daughter Soma (Debalina Roy). Struggling with debt, poverty and the society’s indifference to them, the film takes flight when Khoka realises that he is faling in love with Soma.
The narrative is complex despite being linear in structure. It’s a tussle between two perspectives – the world’s indifference to dwarf people, and how they look at the world. The fluctuation of time and space displays the religious acceptance of the ‘Waman Avtar’ but rejection of ‘Unholy Spirits’ in real life. And, it’s beautifully done. The scene in which Soma performs the last rites of her father shifts focus to a lot of things including the social rejection of dwarfs and liberals.
In another scene, Shibu’s family is preparing the pyre and some fellow jokers from the circus come to pay their last respect with a piece of cloth, not exactly the shroud but something to put over the dead body. Shibu’s wife throws that cloth away and one of the jokers keeps it back when another one suggests, "It can be used later, we all have the same measurements."
Most of the jokers are afraid of the world outside the circus where they are simply non-existent. People laugh when they cry thinking it’s a part of their act. They are treated as different, and when they retort, their defiance is understood as a mixture of stupidity and false arrogance. Dignity is a word that doesn’t hold any meaning for them.
Khoka falls for Soma but she is too afraid to go ahead with the relationship. She asks her mother, “Can two dwarfs give birth to a tall child?” Her energy is already spent in fighting the world and thus she doesn’t want to make her future child suffer as well. “All dwarfs should die one by one,” she says and decides to cut ties with Khoka. We call ourselves normal but are we ‘normal’ in reality?
Similarly, there is a scene where Khoka helps Soma with some money. She doesn’t know that Khoka has mortgaged his mother’s necklace for it, but she eventually gets to know. She goes to Khoka’s house for explanation and then the feeling of love turns mutual. This scene has so many layers and shades. It’s funny, witty, human, perfectly constructed and penetrating. It is by far the best moment of the story.
Chotoder Chobi is an eye opener. We need to introspect the way we treat our fellow human beings.
Be it acting, sound designing, cinematography or editing, Chotoder Chobi deserves your attention. It’s definitely one of the finest treats of of IFFI 2014.