08 Sep 2017 ● Bengali ● 1 hr 26 mins
The rural pastures of Bengal have always provided fodder for the artists to work their magic on. The authors like Bhibutibhushan Bandhopadhyay and Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay have lived their lives in the mud houses and penned down the shabby lives into evergreen stories. The legendary auteurs, Satyajit Ray and Ritwick Ghatak, too have placed their cameras on the lush green fields and captured the muddy lanes on the celluloid. It holds a certain romanticism for the intellectual breed of Bengalis, with several others choosing this subject in their creations. If the post-world war urban cities were the back drop for the emergence of Italian neo-realism, its Indian counterpart found their roots amidst the tall rushes, banana plantations and hyacinth covered ponds of rural Bengal. It seldom fails to attract and even the present students of neo-realism prefer to inaugurate their career with the villages. One such director is Manas Mukul Pal, selecting Bhibutibhushan Bandhopadhyay’s short story ‘Taalnabami’ as his inspiration for his debut feature, ‘Colors of Innocence’ (Sahaj Paather Goppo).
Most of Bhibutibhushan’s tales tend to focus on the poverty stricken lives of the villagers and their constant exploitation by the ever existent feudal class. ‘Taalnamabi’ too was no exception. The real challenge in adapting these stories is to prevent the film from going overboard with the emotions. There is just too much pathos and only a brilliant director can put a leash on it. Satyajit Ray had proven it in ‘Pather Pachali’, making it into one of the best movies of all time. Manas, in ‘Colors of Innocence’, had fervently studied Satyajit’s book on neo-realistic filmmaking but never copied from it. Much like ‘Pather Pachali’, this film embodied the village itself as a principal character of the story. Unlike the former, this story didn’t have the character depth, but harbored an innocent emotion that couldn’t be ignored. When a poor rickshaw puller meets with an accident, his entire family falls into shambles due to the block of income. His small boys, Gopal and Chotu along with their grief-stricken mother is left to fend for themselves. At an age to learn from Vidyasagar’s ‘Sahaj Paath’ (Hence the title), the kids are left to scrounge for menial jobs in order to provide for food. Circumstances lead Gopal to become more mature and fancy himself as the breadwinner for the family while his younger brother Chotu harbors daydreams out of his wilful innocence.
Manas had expertly shown the difference in the mindset of two young boys under similar circumstances. The innocence takes off in different shades, painting the mentalities of the brothers and transforming them into separate individuals. While Gopal molds into a practical businessman, opting to sell the Palmyra fruit to the local lord’s house for a festival, Chotu retains his innocent fervor, daydreaming about his invitation to the festival and believing a donation of the fruit would increase their chances of tasting the manna-like pulao. This contrast is told heart-wrenchingly with dreamy eyes and endless hope that keeps them alive. Manas had used this hope of a child to bring about the heartlessness of socioeconomic divide and wills the audience to breakdown into tears after confronting them with the harsh truth. The child-like purity and the fantasy of a ‘good wins all’ fairytale drives Chotu into ‘gifting’ a sack of Palmyras to the rick old lady for the festival. As he leaves hesitatingly, almost pleading for an invite with each retreating step, the audience can only hold on to their tissues. The lady ignores the child completely, perhaps taking it as a gift for the ‘God’. This was a clever contrast to a moment earlier when Gopal steals a couple of eggs during one rainy afternoon. Chotu, truthful as always, asks his brother if God would be angry for committing a sin. A question about religious beliefs is thrown and the audience is left wondering who the actual sinner is.
The usage of two dream sequences for the two brothers was a masterstroke and helped to highlight the psychological difference between them. While Gopal dreams of a morbid future when his father succumbs to his injuries and dies and he witnesses his mother’s suicide, Chotu sees a vision when he attends the feast and is adoringly treated to a pulao dish by the goddess like landlady. Fear and hope are the two most important pillars which hold the family together and Manas personifies them through the persona of the brothers. The scenes were shot in perfect chronology to the prior real time events and it was hard to distinguish as a vision. The audience were captivated and jerked awake when the dream ended abruptly. The following shot of Gopal tying up his little savings in his mother’s sari and feeling his sleeping father’s breathe is a touch of class and keeps in the tone of realism. Chotu’s ultimate shattering of his fantasy is shot with excruciating pain as the little dreamer screams out in frustration, abandoning his meal of rice and cooked leaves and breaking down in tears in their compound. Manas showed us in a tearful way the pathos that is still prevalent amongst the poorer section of the society and how the others fail to pay any heed to their sorrow. The interlocutors for the aforesaid exchange were two children who display their innocence in an emotional conversation and shows the frustration of a young kid when separated from his peers.
It is extremely gratifying to see Manas make full use of the abundant ambience and make the village an uncredited character of this film. The onset of the monsoons is a quiet nod to the master auteur, with the first drops on the village pond shown with astute clarity. The muddy roads, the piles of hay, the lines of palm trees and the green ponds set up the village scene perfectly and the audience becomes a villager, feeling the monsoon breeze on their skin and smelling the fresh odor of the earth. The aftermath of the monsoon in the form of village women gathering up weeds from the pond banks and a villager in a makeshift tub, wading across to collect lotuses is one of the best in cinema and perfectly fits into the theme of rural Bengal. The random shots of the birds and the ever changing landscape of the sky seem to complete the story and fill in all the nooks and crannies. While shooting in the confines of a mud-walled house, Manas is careful enough to use natural light and lets the sun rays play on the faces of the inmates in a beautiful fashion.
Amidst all the despair and debauchery, Manas instills the ever persistent hope and dreams in the story. He implies constantly that without them, life isn’t worth living for. He gifts us some evergreen moments of humanism in the form of the brothers getting drenched in the rain and making up to each other after a brief fight. The ending shot of the brothers lying among the swaying ‘kash fuls’ and talking playfully about who their favorite person on earth is, sums up the film perfectly and sprays the colors of innocence all over. ‘Sahaj Paather Goppo’ is one of the best films made in this era and like its counterparts, remains hidden from the glory seeking eyes of the masses. Oh rustic Bengal! Thou hast taken my heart!