Saturday, July 27, 2019

Notes on Kia and Cosmos, by Sudipto Roy, India: 2018


It became for me a little tradition each year to watch a film at this strangely named “Indo-German” Film festival in Berlin. It began with Konkona Sensharma´s highly praised first long film A Death in the Gunj and one year later I saw Anup Singh´s The Song of Scorpions, films which are difficult to find on the big screen of my city. This year it was Sudipto Roy´s first long film Kia and Cosmos.

The title suggest a double meaning, first it is about the 15 years old autistic girl Kia who investigates the murder of a pregnant cat from her neighbourhood but it is also about Kia and her cosmos. Her cosmos that is the concrete city landscape of her neighbourhood in Kolkata but also her imagination, her passion for mathematics, writing stories or reading the detective novels about Feluda and Byomkesh, these two most popular detective characters among Bengali readers.
Her social cosmos is her single mother (separated from her husband), her teacher Souvik and the young rickshaw driver Rabi. Rabi picks her up every day for school and backwards. Her every day life follows always recurrent routines, like school or the quarrels with her always stressed mother Dia. But part of her cosmos are as well the streets and small alleys of her environment which we see often through her eyes. These alleys, streets or backyards are more colorful than in my memory. Under the influence of the street lightning it appears as a mystic place of dreamlike beauty, the ideal background for the murder mystery novels Kia loves so much.

Roy sometimes uses subjective shots in which we follow Kia´s movements, moments in which we see how Kia sees the world. In other moments the subjective perspective is replaced by long, hardly moved shots when she is alone in her room, with her teacher or her mother. Especially the shots when she is quarrelling with her mother, who is often overstrained, are very long, very intense and they often leave the bitter aftertaste of alienation and the lack of communication which reminds me in the films by John Cassavetes. That is sometimes emphasized through the spatial distance between the characters through the mighty cinema scope format.

These moments of a sober naturalism which puts the confidence in the precise and seismographic ability of the cinematic apparatus is contrasted by these moments of imagination when for example Kia is making with Rabi a forbidden excursion through the nightly city. These are dreamy moments which strangely evoke in me the imagined city landscapes in the animation films by Hayao Miyazaki which are inspired by real architecture but recreated into a mystic dreamlike landscape.

The relationship between the subjective moved shots and the long almost static ones from a rather objective point of view reveal the movement between Kia´s difficulty to communicate with her social environment or define her place in the world – or if we want- in her “cosmos”. But it also reveals the energy she needs for managing her life and the imagination that gives her the strength to live.
The film does not even comes near any conventional sentimentality or pity-provoking dramas about handicapped people. Roy´s playful and versatile visual style makes both equally present: Kia´s suffering but as well her strength to live.

In all its playfulness poetry and dreaminess, the cinematic richness this film is offering, bases as well on hard and very grounded work. One of these foundation from which the film unfolds its glory, is the performance of Ritwika Pal, which reveals all colors of human feelings and moods like a kaleidoscope.
The body language, the lack of a proper verbal or non-verbal communication the hyperactivity and even slight primary troubles must have been accurately researched. Even Kia´s obsessive behaviour in her every day actions look of amazing authenticity. It is one of these indescribable moments when it is hard to distinguish the poetry and imagination an actor evokes and the sense for the physical work of acting which causes this. traces of exhaustion in Pal´s face which could be the exhaustion of the character´s or the actress herself. Her performance reminds me in some glorious performances by Konkona Sensharma or Kalki Koechlins acting in Margarita with a Straw by Shonali Bose – and sometimes as well in the young Robert de Niro.

Finally, Kia leaves her “cosmos” for a while. With the stolen credit card of her mother she makes the long journey to the far distant city Kalimpong to look for her father. Her father, a dreamer and activist of a movement (which is only vaguely described) has left her mother. Kia finds out the reasons why her parents had separated themselves from each other. From a murder mystery and Coming of Age-drama, the film reveals now a family drama. On her journey by train, the young girl occurs as lost and vulnerable but as well admirable for her courage to confront herself with the truth about her dysfunctional family. She describes the encounter with her father “as a journey to a far distant star “and the mother “as the power which will bring her back to earth”. That sounds as well like a beautiful description of the two big movements of the film which complement each other. .When she looks down to the panorama of the city Kalimpong, the lights look like a cluster of stars in space. Kia explores the unknown parts of her cosmos. Like most of all great films with a strong “Coming of Age”-element, Kia and Cosmos ends with a question. Kia has to choose how she continues with her life how to go on with the search for her place in the world.

In a perfect world, this film would run in the good old repertoire,- or art house cinemas (as far as they are still in existence in India and elsewhere else). In India and some other countries (USA or Germany not yet included) Kia and Cosmos is available at Netflix. Now, I really understand how lucky I was to have watched Sudipto Roy´s wonderful film on the big screen where it belongs. My persistent effort to explore Indian cinema outside the merciless commercial Indian film industry was rewarded once again with another hidden gem.

Rüdiger Tomczak

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Notes on Ahaa Re (The Two Lovers) by Ranjan Ghosh, India: 2019

At the beginning, a boat is floating on a mighty river. Except a young couple, no one else is visible. It is the head chief Raja and his fiancée Shahida. They argue about how to coordinate their professional with their love life. Shahida went to Paris for professional reasons, Raja will now go to Kolkata for working in a restaurant. Both are from Bangladesh. It seems the spectator is on this boat on a sightseeing tour but suddenly distracted by this arguing couple. This is not only an introduction in the film´s story but as well into an idea about cinema. The boat and the couple is embedded in this mighty river landscape like this piece of fiction is embedded in the reality far beyond the film. From the first moment on, Ahaa Re is not only a film about relationships between family members, lovers or colleagues, it is as well a film about the relationship between the framed fictionalized piece of world and an idea of an equally present reality beyond it, outside of the frame and outside of fiction. If each shot is decision, it is here as well in contact with the whole world.

At the first sight, Ahaa Ree appears as a soft comedy about family and love relations and about the art of cooking, the sensual pleasure of food. But behind the more obvious themes, the film also reflects always about work. In this case it is not only about preparing dishes but picking up fresh ingredients from the market and always checking out new nuances of taste. And the work of cooking appears to me as well as a metaphor for film making. As the film often reveals working hands which select and compose it gives also a hint about the film as a result of searching and selecting itself. The film is not only about food but as well about very different kinds of persons and how they define their place in the world, their attitude about the world and from very different perspectives. It is also for example about perceptions of the world of a Muslim from Bangladesh and a Hindu widow from Kolkata.

As the story begins to be more branched, Raja meets Basundhara, a Hindu widow who runs the catering service of her father in law. Raja who begins to be interested in her makes friends with her brother and father in law. Basundhara does not talk much in this film. For a long time, all tries of Raja to propose her remain unanswered by her. Even though all other persons talk a lot about themselves, the film remains very economic with expressed emotions and therefore emotions are rather optional than directly revealed for most of the time.

Another example for Ranjan Ghosh´s dealing with fiction and reality are the moments when Raja alone, with Basundhara or with her father in law visits the market places for picking up fresh ingredients for his kitchen. It is like in the opening scene when the narrative and stylistic decisions visible in the frame stand in a context to a reality which is nearly untouched by the film´s fiction. It is like an open door where one can walk between these two dimensions, the things the film is focusing on and the perceptible world outside the frame. This enriches the film by a fresh breeze, a seeming lightness which reminds me in the films by Eric Rohmer, Yasujiro Ozu or Rudolf Thome.

Bashundara´s father in law watches the night sky and is rambling about the birth and the dead of the stars. It is again one of these moments, when the narration of the film pauses for a moment with a rather reflective moment and not only the characters but also the film seems to reflect about itself.

Rituparna Sengupta´s Basundhara is another example for the versatile options the film is offering. For a long time she hides her emotions behind a facial expression between fathomless melancholy and stoicism. For most of the time Sengupta acts restrained a bit like Shefali Shah in Kanwal Sethi´s Once again. But nearly the end of the film when her tragic story is revealed she has a fierce and unexpected emotional release. It is like a meteor strike on the quiet and sorted suface of this film. It also evokes in me memories in the incredible scenes of regrets and sadness of Setsuko Hara in Ozu´s Tokyo Monogatari and Supriya Choudhury in Ghatak´s Meghe Dhaka Tara.

There is a moment when Raja is watching at the window in his fancy apartment. At first the window emphasizes the natural limitation of cinema by the frame of the image. Later the whole screen shows the greyish clouded sky over Kolkata. And again the film has opened it´s door from it´s fiction to the universe of what it is a part of.
In another moment the house of Basundhara´s father in law is ridden by a heavy thunderstorm. The windows are still open and the house is totally exposed to this force of nature. For this short moment, human culture often evident in this film by apartments and living rooms becomes vulnerable.

The nearest thing which comes to my mind to describe the impact the film has on me, is a strolling through the paths, the rooms and places, the human landscapes the film reveals or through the versatile cinematic ideas, the film is offering.
The paths in the films are fixed but we are free to move and it is on us how we look around or how we explore the cinematic options the film has offered.
Ahaa Re by Ranjan Ghosh is another example for the vibrancy of contemporary Indian cinema outside the more and more commercialized film industry and which deserves much more attention by the international film community than it gets these days. And despite the future of cinema is threatened as an art form, there are especially some young filmmaker from India who gave me in very different ways confidence in the future of cinema, people like Rima Das, Pushpendra Singh, Konkona Sensharma, Kanwal Sethi or Anamika Bandopadhyay and there are probably even more to discover. And for sure, Ranjan Ghosh is one of them.

Rüdiger Tomczak