Goutam Ghose’s new film was screened recently in New Delhi to general enthusiasm
According to Goutam Ghose, “A film is a director’s baby. The director doesn’t know until the film is screened whether the baby will become a sage or a robber.” At the recent premiere of his latest film Shunyo Awnko at India Habitat Centre, New Delhi, Ghose had a chance of finding out for himself.
A follow-up to the acclaimed Moner Manush, Shunyo Awnko is a rare regional film with pan-Indian concerns. Priyanshu Chatterjee plays Agni, a Blackberry toting employee of a fictitious mining firm named Yuganta, and is responsible for placating the tribals who live on the hills where an ambitious mining project is underway. He is married to Jhilik, a former air hostess whose freedom has been clipped by the domesticity of married life. To repair their strained marriage, the couple undertake a holiday to Manali, where they put up in a home stay run by an elderly Muslim couple — Kabir and Laila, played by veteran actors Soumitra and Lolita Chatterjee. Kabir is a wheelchair ridden former scientist, who is working on a hacking system to bring about world peace, while Laila suffers from a psychological affliction. Their son ‘disappeared’ in Kashmir while working as a stringer, we are informed.
During their stay here, Jhilik suspects that her husband is in an affair with Raka, an idealistic journalist embedded with the Maoists, played by Konkona Sensharma, who is updating him on the happenings at the mining site in his absence. Through Raka, we are also introduced to Dr. Prabal Roy, played by Dhritiman Chaterji and seemingly based on Dr. Binayak Sen, who runs a clinic in a tribal region in Chhattisgarh, and is later arrested on trumped up charges.
The film borrows its name from a curious device employed by Ghose, wherein the action of the film is split into 10 acts. Instead of being act 10, however, the last act is act 0. Explaining the significance of this, the National Award winning director said, “With zero you can create miracles, and with zero you can also become stagnant.”
Prior to the screening, Ghose hoped that the film would leave the audience with more questions than answers. He got more than he bargained for when audience members talked about the form of the film, which they felt lost coherence in an attempt to raise too many issues.
“Maybe I am ageing, and I want to tell too many stories,” Ghose joked in response, before outlining his intention once again. “It is an attempt to know India. We live in many different Indias and I have tried to bind them together. In a way, it is a patriotic film. Patriotism is not just about singing a song, it could also be an attempt to know one’s own country,” he said. Identifying the problem of development as the chief one facing the country today, Ghose echoed the views of one of his characters, saying, “For growth to be meaningful, equality and justice are very important.”
Calling his film “a record of the memory of the contradictions of time”, Ghose said these contradictions could be resolved only through tolerance for the other. The film advocates a ‘composite culture’ along the lines of the teachings of Dara Shikoh, Lalan Fakir and Rabindranath Tagore.
Although his next film will be primarily in Hindi, Ghose challenged the perception that “National cinema is only Hindi cinema. Each and every film, be it Bengali or Tamil, is simultaneously regional as well as national,” he said.