Monday, 27 January 2014

The Projection Room


Went to the projection room to ask them to stop the screening. The dvd was getting stuck, it was pointless to watch. They were having tea. One of them offered me a biscuit and said that he had thought that i was a Bengali till then. Asked me where i was from. 'You came all the way from Kerala at this age to study?!' He exclaimed. When i said that there were no film schools in my place he pretended not to listen. Asked me if my parents were at home. If they called me regularly. Went on to say that he knew what the parents felt when their children were far away from home in their youth. His own son had gone to work somewhere and he was of my age. One night his wife had woken up with a start asking him to call the child and ask if he had taken the mosquitoe net. Such was their worry. 'You should start working after passing out' he said. The other man in the projection room intervened saying people from the institute made movies after passing out and not work. But my man was pretty confident. 'She is a good girl. She will start working and get married to a nice man'. Another biscuit came my way and tea offered. Declined. Made him happy saying 'zaroor'. At least for him my future is secure. A nice job and a nice husband.
Was amused to see that 'me' playing in his head for a while. Outside it was cold, my sleeveless sweater wasn't helping. Cycled back to hostel shivering and thinking of all the movies i will never make, the job and husband i will never have and the million dreams of all of us here about life and cinema. I think the fog here is not of the season. Its all our dreams hovering around, on parole from the prison of our minds. There they mate. When they go back into our heads they are not the same ones. Zygotes. Novel.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Ranu Ghosh's Documentary Screening


Ranu Ghosh's documentary 'Quarter Number 4/11' was screened in the Main Auditorium. It was followed by an interactive session with the director.
South City Mall is the biggest here. It is the biggest I have been to. We were taken there in I semester as a part of our observation exercise in Direction practicals. Later had gone there to buy my first pair of branded jeans. Recently during the edit of our first Demo Film Sankha had told us that there is an interesting story behind the mall. It was then that I first heard about this man who refused to leave the compound taken up by the corporate group for the construction of the mall and the flats. But he presented it in a jovial manner that it never occurred to me that it was a serious issue.
Quarter Number 4/11 is about this man- Sambhu. Before South City bought the place it was housing quarters of employees of Usha company which manufactures sewing machines and fans. The company shut down following this buying of land and they were all dismissed and asked to leave their homes. As usual they were paid a nominal compensation. All of them left the place except Sambhu and his family. He had a case going on in court with the company and refused to leave till they paid him compensation.
I asked a classmate from here if everyone is aware of these issues behind the famous South City complex. He said it was not a big issue here and that most people are unaware of it. On my part I have decided never to go there. It doesn't make any difference to what has already happened. The metro project to Dum Dum airport which is progressing in full swing is sure to displace many such common people. I won't stop using that service because of that. Metro is one of the cheapest means of travel in the city. Activism is elastic depending upon your comfort for a hypocrite like me. Nevertheless it makes me feel better when I take some steps possible from my part in protest.
Sambhu's lone quarters was taken down by the South City authorities at night one day. He started sleeping in the bus in which he was working as the conductor. Some months later he was killed in a hit and run incident.
I didn't like a lot of things in the documentary. But it deserves attention due to the issue it talked about. Lone person's struggle against huge power structures is important any day. Everyone of us will be in such a situation at some point in life.
The director during the interactive session said something I really liked. Often documentary film makers are questioned about what they did about the issue they were talking about in their films. She said something to the effect that make the film is what they did. I agree completely. When people watch something or read something about an issue somehow they tend to think that the creators are irresponsible people who just made something because that's what they do and left the people there with their issues. But one needs to understand that one does not 'just make films'. Doesn't 'just write about it'. These are all ways of expressing solidarity or protesting or raising voice. This cannot be ignored and seen different from a dharna or hunger strike in protest. This documetary was made over a period of five years. The director was asked why she did nothing to investigate the death of Sambhu. She replied that she had moved on to other projects and was very straightforward while saying it.
She also said that she didn't care much about the quality of the image as long as she got to say what she wanted to. In this film some parts are shot by Sambhu himself. The director was denied permission to film the constrction workers of the complex. So she taught Sambhu the basics of operating her camera and asked him to shoot them. She said that when she watched the rushes she realized that her footage and his looked alike. This was because Sambhu was observing what she was doing and had tried to do exactly that. So most of what he shot she didn't use in the film. But a lovely sequence of what he shot of his wife remains in the film. While shooting that Sambhu had hit the zoom button by mistake and the image is super close-ups of his wife using an Usha machine.
I will remember Sambhu who fought and fought and succumbed only to death in his struggle. I will remember Quarter Number 4/11 which stood alone amidst that towering structure of South City for a long time. His wife and son who stood by him throughout.
Kudos to the director.

Indian Coffee House, College Street

29th November 2013

Stayed at Hyderabad for more days than I intended to. I didn't want to go back at all. Had the director's study on Antonioni to do and hadn't watched enough films for that. Wasn't in any mood to do that. Even now I feel like going back there. But then again, life goes on.

Its my third semester here. In this one we are all supposed to do our demo films. We'll be doing three of them. Demo films are the ones directed by faculty and are assisted by us students. I personally don't see the point of this exercise but that's the way it is for now.
The first demo film will be directed by P Mahmood. She told us that she will be doing an excerpt from 'Crime and Punishment' by Dostoyevsky. It was an emarrassing moment when she asked how many of us had read the novel and only two had. She told me that its a shame that I haven't read it. Well, it is.

So in our first demo film we will have a young medical student who stays as a paying guest somehwhere in Kolkata kill his house owner. He takes this decision sitting in the famous Indian Coffee House in College Street. Yesterday RK, D Banerjee, S Moitra and I went there for a location recce. The place is just amazing. It buzzes. Thats what best describes it, I feel. People sit there for hours on end discussing all things under the sun. People once in there seldom leave. The Coffee House rings bells to remind people to leave and make space for new customers. There is a dark stairway leading to the place in the first floor. People do weed there. There are paintings lining the three walls. It was all so marvelous for me except for the constant buzz. But that's what makes the place what it is too.

But yesterday somehow in one of my bizarre trips of mind I started feeling very uneasy there with that group and left after a coffee. But I still remember the face of a very beautiful woman I saw there. She had springy hair and had a big round bindi. Was dusky. I was worse than men when I was ogling her. Must have done it for five whole minutes.

On the way back to the metro station, a man dressed in dhoti, shirt and a black overcoat like the old munshis passed me. He paused, turned back, came to me and asked me the way to College Street. I directed him. When he continued in Bangla I told him that I wasn't Bengali. He said that I looked like one. [I get that a lot here. Must be the kohl]. He said he was from Siliguri and that he didn't have children. I am used to strange things but I was starting to wonder where all that was going. He said he was an advocate and his wife a teacher. He asked me for my number, I refused. Then he gave me his number and said that he considered me his daughter and would like to have me over for lunch some time. I politely nodded and left.

Its interesting to observe people. Observation is one of the greatest tools any artist should possess and perfect, in my opinion. But sometimes intriguing things happen to you rather than having you as a silent observer. Its enough to get your mind thinking about the various possibilities of it in an artistic medium. I will never call this man, I know. But this incident is enough to make me think of him every time I visit Indian Coffee House, College Street.

Finished shoot there. Was a delightful experience. We were all given a food bata of a hundred and had sandwich after sandwich and coffee after coffee. The food is bad, but the place is a bustling hub of interesting people.

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Trip to Santiniketan

On 31st December i set out on an adventure trip to Santiniketan. The idea was to stay away from campus on New Year's. Left campus at 9.30 pm. Took a metro to M G Road and from there a bus to Howrah. From there i took a train called Kavi Guru express to Bolpur. It reached around 2.30 am. Santiniketan is around 3.5 kilometers away from Bolpur station. I decided to walk. I used the navigation function on my phone to find my way. In between when i thought i lost it i asked some police people who were stationed in a jeep in a junction which way Santiniketan was. They were sceptical, but directed me nevertheless. 
Soon after that three people on a motorbike stopped me. They asked me where i was going. When i asked them who they were they said they were police. I asked them for their id proof. One of them gave me a folded paper which read some name and nothing else. I asked for a photo id proof. They snatched the id they had given me and asked for my id card and what i was doing at that hour of night. I insisted they showed me ther id and asked them which rule denied girls freedom to walk at night. The man who had given me the impoverished id pulled out a passport sized photo of his from it's polyethene slip and said that that was his photo id. I wanted to laugh but managed to control it and make a serious face. After a while they either got bored or scared and left.
[Always ask people who say they are police for id proof. These people were clearly not police. Not that what i did was the safest thing to do. It wasn't. Especially on New Year's]

It was much colder than Kolkata. I walked for an hour in campus looking for a place to stay. I could hear faint beating of drums from far and was trying to locate that. But it was like in The Blair Witch Project. I was going in cirlcles never reaching there. Then i saw a couple on a bike. I stopped them and asked if they could show me a place to stay. They offered to walk me to the place. They were foreigners neither British nor American but they talked in English to each other. May be because i was there. I found that really sweet. The guest house they showed me was shut. I tried banging the lock and getting it opened, but nobody came.
I kept walking for another hour and found a horse shoe shaped rink. I decided to sleep inside that. It was enough to hide me from people. I couldn't get sleep even after half an hour so i decided to go back. It was almost sunrise. 4 am.
More walking in circles. I was famished and my feet were aching from walking. Found a cycle rickshaw after some time and took it with great regret. [I try not to take the cycle rickshaw because i think just like human pulled rickshaw this is also a case of humans carrying the weight of humans. Cycles after all don't have motors. In Kolkata these are almost as frequently opted a transportation option as autorickshaws. There are human pulled rickshaws too here, especially towards North Kolkata. Recently read an article praising the public transport system here and i agree to most of it. But the existence of these two in my opinion is a major blemish on this status of the city] He took me back to the station. The train to Howrah was late by an hour so i caught one to Sealdah. 
On train a fellow passenger was curious about the navigation function on my phone. I tried to explain it as best as i could. He wanted to find Bardhaman on it. Strangely, i was unable to locate it.
Sealdah to Central metro and then back to institute, where everyone was still asleep from the previous night's hangover. I felt rejuvinated. 

Santiniketan is vast. But it was a bit strange to find a dead campus at 3 am. Its never the case here. Someone or the other would be playing music or drinking or even playing badminton. Here 3 am is the average sleeping time. I also found Santiniketan very Hindu. People who have been there tell me that the sense of time there is different. 'Wait for some time' could mean waiting for a couple or more of hours. 

I intend to go there once again to spend some reasonable amount of time, in daylight. Also on the list are Siliguri and the hills thereafter.