Friday, April 6, 2012

Notes on Kaal by Bappaditya Bandopadhyay, India , India: 2007

The film is a kind of sequel of KANTATAR and it deals as well with human trafficking.
Young women from the Indian-Bangladeshi border are picked up by well organized bender gangs. They take advantage of desperate women. One of them from Bangladesh is gang raped by Indian patrol men, another one is ditched and robbed by her "husband" shortly after the marriage. She is pregnant and will get her unborn child aborted.From the beginning these women are prisoners.
They allure the women into the big city with money and the promise of a better life. Most of these women are even to desperate to believe such promises, but they have to survive in one way or another. The point of view in this film is a Stroheim-like, a bleak and very pessimistic view on this civilisation. Most of men are either horny machos or greedy gangsters who want to earn money on the cost of the women.
In the city there is always the threat that every prostitute who tries to escape will be murdered. The police in the native village some women came from are corrupt, they don´t accept even the most obvious proof of a rape.The police chief is even himself a "client".
Bandopadhyay´s contemporary India is as merciless as Mizoguchi´s feudal Japan. 
Once taken to a big city (probably Kolkata) the benders take thei womens passports and command them "not to give their real names nor their address away". As a matter of fact, they are alrady robbed of their addresses and names. One of them is a refugee whose odyssey just goes on like her previous one from the previous film KANTATAR ended. Most of the money they earn from their "clients" they are allowed to keep are just for surviving, dresses or pleasures to help them forgetting that they are captives. Their deeply injured souls are now hidden behind fency dresses, make up. Sometimes they walk through shopping malls, or going to a film theatre. The false glamour of these malls and the false glamor of female sex slaves in a total diseased world. One of the most touching and at the same time most eloquent scene is a long moment where some of these women are walking through a shopping center. We hear a rock song. It is a strange and deeply sad moment hard to describe because it is pure cinema.
The lightning in the bars, or shopping malls makes this women even more anomymous. The traces of pain and suffering in their faces are hidden. Human trafficking, illegal prostitution are already part of the economy in the shadow of the signs of the legal one like the shopping malls. And finally most of the "clients" are representents of the legal world, business men or even politicians. The exploitation of these women is not even a secret anymore but  rather an accepted fact in modern India.
They are some signs in the film that its grim went beyond what the Indian Board of Censorship could bear. Just at the beginning when the raped woman from Bangladesh is looking for justice at the police station, the police chief said something like "how hard it is to proof a rape". Then suddenly his lips move silent and we hear a strange beep. (my source is the Indian DVD). It looks like some dialogues are at least for the Indian version deleted.
There are a lot of pans in this film like a try to overcome the claustrophobia with movements who measure the space like a permanently looking for a "way out". The CinemaScope format which is often used for its ability to capture wide and endless landscapes has here rather the effect to emphasize the captivity of the women.
While some of the women dream of saving money for "going to another big city" despite all the threatening of their bender, some try to improve their situation with solidarity towards the other women.
And while these women are struggling with their situation in one way or another, the next women will be picked up soon from villages or from the border to Bangladesh.
First of all, KAAL is a very disturbing film and it remains disturbing in your memory long after the film is over.
Beside that Bandhopadhyay has a strong sense when the films has to be direct and when it has to be subtle. Sometimes it is the eloquence of the CinemaScope photography which makes this film even more bleak.
The films (now 3 to be correct) by Bappaditya Bandhopadyay, I discovered by accident just following an advice. As my access to contemporary Indian art cinema is quite limited, I am depending on such advices. For once I am sure. There was a time at big international  film festivals like Berlin when they had selected a film like KAAL without hesitation. The more I see from this hidden gems of Indian cinema  like KAAL, the less I can understand the lack of interest, even the ignorance in the "Post Ray"- period of Parallel Indian cinema.
All three films by Bappaditya Bandopadhyay I have seen so far are neither trendy nor fashionable. He just follows his own orientation and vision.

I am really looking forward to see more of his films.

Rüdiger Tomczak