Sunday, 24 November 2013

Shobdo (pronunciation: the first o as in "doll", the second o as in "roll", the d soft)

Spoiler alert: this post cannot be written (not at least by me) without revealing a part of the plot.

An artist is someone who creates new beautiful things. Some artists are adept at life skills. However, very often one sees an artist so engrossed in her art that she fails to respond to common stimuli of the world. Also perhaps fails to perform duties which others find easy to do. The world struggles about how to fit an artist in a social context. It takes a lot of wisdom to know that one out of ten human beings could be very different from nine others. The society cannot resist but stereotypes, forces its rules and sometimes manages to destroy the artist and transform her into a pitiable person in limbo.

Shobdo, meaning sound in Bangla, is about an artist, albeit in an art which is barely recognized as an art in contemporary society. This film is about a foley artist. An artist who creates the background sounds in a film. An artist so engrossed in his world of subtle sounds that he sometimes fails to hear common conversation. Come to think of it, this is true of many professionals. A teacher demands silence. A scientist is usually immersed in deep thought and ignores the rest of the world. Poets are usually accepted as impractical human beings. So are sculptors, painters and many others. Thus there is artistic freedom and allowance for many categories of well accepted art forms in society. Of course, this has not been achieved in a day. Societies over centuries have dismissed, denounced and labelled artists as misfits. After long hard struggles and after several artists with strong personalities have promptly put the society in its place, modern societies have learnt to behave somewhat non-intrusively as far as artists are concerned.

That brings us to the protagonist of this film - Tarak, a foley artist who develops a problem of hearing conversations because his mind is inevitably caught by surrounding sound elements (insignificant sound bits which would normally be ignored by others).

All of us have heard the saying in our childhood that "A little learning is a dangerous thing". Nowhere else perhaps this is more dangerous than when you have a doctor who thinks she is well learned but is not. Tarak's wife's inconveniences (at not always being heard by her husband) prompts her to talk to an acquaintance who refers her problem to a doctor Dr. Swati. The avalanche started. She is a professional psychiatrist. She makes it her life's mission to "cure" Tarak. God knows why. Her aggression is at an unprofessionally high level. Poor Tarak, who anyway has had little exposure outside his own world of sounds, has no chance to counter such a dangerously articulate, apparently enlightened and innately egocentric product of human civilization. She along with her ageing mentor, who keeps on pronouncing that he is the best, make a formidable team. The situation needed someone like a Charles Strickland to establish the artist's identity and firmly reject the society's intrusion. Alas, Tarak is too naive, too modest, too gentle. He says very clearly though that he has no problem whatsoever. On the other hand, he is actually gifted to hear more than others do.

What unfolds is a saddening story of an unequal struggle between Tarak, the artist and the so-called mainstream society.

Churni Ganguly and Ritwik Chakraborty have put up superlative performances. In an extraordinary outburst which perhaps no psychiatrist will do in real life and has been incorporated in the film to increase dramatic elements, the character of Dr. Swati played by Churni Ganguly calls Tarak "uneducated" and "stupid". The doctor's conduct of herself at this stage is unacceptable, not common in society and is dangerous to someone else, in this case Tarak. In case this is how she treats her other patients frequently, she would be considered deviant enough to undergo psychiatric treatment. Tarak on the other hand simply and politely tells that he has no problem. He is just someone who is somewhat gifted to do a particular thing very well.

The direction is extraordinary in the sense that no judgment is implied. It is up to the viewer to interpret Tarak as a poor misguided soul or an artist who deserved to be left alone.

It does touch a chord to see that Bangla cinema is continuing to take up challenging themes and portraying them very well.