Monday, January 7, 2013

Notes on Ranjana Ami Ar Ashbo Na by Anjan Dutta, India: 2011

First of all – this film is a musical. A musical, in this case a Rock-Musical has the strange phenomen, that the songs have a presence in the spectator´s memory, sometimes connected and sometimes independent from the story the film is telling.
As it is the third film I saw by Anjan Dutt, I can resume that his films I saw so far are full of different actions all happening at the same time. And from time to time it happens that these different actions are clashing with each other.
The plot is finally only one element, sometimes paraphrased through the music, sometimes opposed.

Abani Sen (Anjan Dutt) is an aging Rock-star. He has ruined his body already with alcohol and drugs.  During a concert at the beginning of the film he has a physical breakdown. Even though already a living legend as a musician and song writer, he is also a destructive character hardly able to communicate with the few people really close to him.
After dismissed from the hospital and already preparing for his next concert, a young woman, Ranjana (Parno Mitra) gets the chance to sing a song before he and his band will enter the stage. Ranjana´s beautiful ballad, accompanied onlyby her acoustic guitar is nearly destroyed by an impatient audience who just wants to see their stars. This is one of the many scenes of disillusionment which oppose not only the wonderful music but as well some engrossing moments. Between the fiction which captivate us, sometimes even make us dream, there are often these moment like ice cold showers.

Abani invites the girl to sing a song on his next album and promptly - a few days later - she knocks at his door. But Abani´s intention is just to seduce this girl. And Anjan Dutt performs the attempt of seducing the girl in an almost Stroheim-like naturalism. There is only the sexual greed of a male who is aware of his power. Ranjana is just saved because she faints from the drugs hidden in her soft drink.
Later, Abani tells her about his true intentions and what he really thinks about her talent. When she finally decides to leave, Abani gets another breakdown caused by his excessive use of alcohol and drugs. Wit the help from her aunt (a nurse) via telephone, she saves Abani´s life. She is disillusioned by the character of her idol. Finally, Abani promises to help her start a career as a singer. The human relation between an aging cynical Pop star and the young singer with dreamy eyes seems nearly impossible. The communication they build, they do just through music.
Ranjana learns from Abani´s house keeper that Abani killed some years ago his wife and child while driving a car in a drunken condition. Abani´s obvious human failure is in  contrast to his music and whenever the film switches into a musical scene, it turnsinto another dimension.
Unforgettable is the performance of Suman Kabir as Abani´s brother in low, who is also a musician (and Abani´s idol) but has given up public concerts after his sister´s death. Suman Kabir, who is in reality a living legend in Bengali contemporary music has a presence which is hard to describe. Impossible for me to say if he just is or if he performs. When Abani visits him, he plays his guitar in his living room and sings with a voice which seems to me from another world, every word which is sung seems to me has lived by him. It has the fervency of the Blues. And Kabir´s character Stanley Bose lives not anymore for concerts and records but for the underprivileged villagers whom he teaches music. It is a magical scene and probably one key for the understanding of the film´s  often abrupt change between the harsh story of a destructive and destructed Pop star and the story of the wonderful songs. The use of Neel Dutt´s  music beside the songs and mostly in moments when we see Abani drinking and alone, is mostly disharmonious, emphasizing the emptiness of Abani. Outside of his music, Abani is always on the edge to a breakdown.

One remarkable scene: Abani suggests to Ranjana to sing a Tagore-song. The whole performance leads to a spontaneous session between Ranjana, Abani, Stanley Bose and Abani´s band and this song bridges playfully different locations. Only in his music, everything works, Abani´s difficult relation with his friends and with Ranjana is like as his last energy of life mobilized only for the music.

The irony of this film is that Anjan Dutt as a director managed to attract attention to these different characters, while the fictive character Abani performed by him is almost blind for all the people around him.
Abani is going to die gradually. For a few moments he is able to see in Ranjana a mirrror of his enthusiasm as a young man and not the object of his desire. But as soon as the shy young woman becomes more self assured, he considers her as a competitor.

Like in Bow Barracks forever, the film tells not just a story but several stories simultaneously. Sometimes it is visible in a single shot. While Abani lets Ranjana play a simple accord, he ignores her and talks with some members of his band. Ranjana is always present in the background, her accords became enraged. As ignored by the aging men who drink and talk, we are the ones who can´t ignore her. She claims her presence and we have to choose where to focus our attention in the foreground or in the depth of the frame.

When I saw this film the first time, I found it partly disturbing, rather a demontage of the myth of a fictive pop star. Like so often – this films as well became richer during the second time I watched it. It is quite impressing how the director Anjan Dutt undercuts the enormous nearly narcissistic screen presence of the character he performs. The presence of such wonderful characters like Suman Kabir´s Stanley and Parno Mitra´s Ranjana for example are more and more evident as Anjan Dutt´s strange strategy to tell several stories simultaneously. Just the changes in the face of Parno Mitra which shows during the film all facets of emotion is worth to see the film alone three times.

And there are quite a lot of reasons to watch this film several time.
And well, I am quite tired in these discussions with Indians and Non-Indians about how bad Indian films are. Even though in my own limitations to have access or an overview as well of the films recently made in India - this country became one of my favorites in contemporary cinema. I have no problem to mention just from the last 12 years around 30 films which would have been worth to show abroad on big international festivals.
Ranjana Ami Ar Ashbo Na by Anjan Dutta belongs to these discoveries.

Rüdiger Tomczak

Read also on Anjan Dutt´s Bow Barracks Forever.

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