Sharmila Biswas makes three powerful short films

Sharmila Biswas in Upeksha   | Photo Credit: Sharmila Biswas

As part of Sangeet Natak Akademi’s ‘Antarang’ digital series, Sharmila Biswas premièred three poignant stories, ‘Departure… moving on,’ ‘Upeksha… disregard’ and ‘Apeksha’. “They were compositions to explore disunion,” said Sharmila.

They are not films on Odissi, but dramatised stories with mime, abhinaya, music and monologue, and essentially solos featuring Sharmila. Her presence is stark, dressed in plain, unstarched cotton saris, and most often unadorned. She is not a glamorous dancer, choosing instead to remain subservient to the dark emotions in the air.

Understated, absorbing and artistic, the films take you over 45 minutes into diverse worlds, populated by women with different aspirations. The context is set early through a narrative, which is either a running introductory text, or a monologue by Sharmila, done quietly, without distracting from the portrayals. Silence is used as a tool that becomes powerful.

The imagery is stunning. Simple props like drapes, lamps, flowers, and cutouts with accent lighting bring out a happy outdoor feel or a sombre intense atmosphere, as warranted. Movement within the frames is minimal. Except the first frame that has vibrant Scottish-dance inspired steps for Rabindranath Tagore’s Scottish tune-inspired song, ‘Phule phule…’. Through it all, the camera remains an unobtrusive storyteller.

From the film ‘Departure’

From the film ‘Departure’   | Photo Credit: Sharmila Biswas

In ‘Departure...’ a young girl (Raaginni Hindocha) bursts into a black-and-white frame dancing, along with her adoring mother, when suddenly the sights and sounds of the world outside catch her attention. The mother tries to distract her, but the world they watched together, from atop a step ladder, lures her away. She waits until the wait becomes hopeless. The lights darken and the mother is left alone with memories. The evocative soundscape is highlighted with soft renditions of mridanga sollus, mardala and tabla bols.

‘Upeksha’ is the centrepiece, opening with Draupadi in her abode. We see her going through her chores, lighting lamps, then going up to the balcony and perhaps she sees Arjuna’s arrival. She says, “My husband returns to me after 12 years with a new wife.” Strong words signifying strong emotions. Though Draupadi is in shadow most of the time, we see her battling raw emotions.

‘Upeksha’ is darker and has multiple locations — a stairway dotted with lamps, a balcony, a bed chamber. The movement between locations is smooth as are the long shots used. The sense of continuity is never lost, and neither are the ironies of the situation — Draupadi dressed in black with her hair open strikes us as a figure of power, and yet she is a victim of circumstances. She welcomes Subhadra, adorning the new bride with ‘the symbols of being a wife,’ before sending her to the bridal chamber. Through the shock and sarcasm, there appears a chink in the armour. ‘Wasn’t I good enough,’ she asks. The monologues are powerful, but it is the overall presentation that adds the punch.

‘Apeksha’ is also from the Mahabharata. Krishna has left Vrindavan leaving behind Radha. Radha waits endlessly, her lament showing her hopeless state as she oscillates between happy memories, the futile wait, and moments of madness. Even the setting is poetic — Sharmila dressed in the same orange as the long marigold strands she holds on to, set within an all-black space.

Swaramalikas are used for Radha and Draupadi, one has a voice layered with shehnai and the latter with the flute and mardala bols rendered by Sharmila. They add depth to the sensitive portrayals without detracting from the protagonist.

The artistes have created a solid impact in a short time-frame of about 10-20 minutes each. There are many ‘aha’ moments in the films, the credit for which should be shared by the team — Sharmila (concept and choreography), Neelay Sengupta (film direction and set design), Bejoy Jena (music), Srijan Chatterjee (music adaption), and Debottama Sarkar (film editing).

The Chennai-based author writes on classical dance.

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Printable version | Jun 23, 2021 2:48:18 PM |

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