Sunday, June 14, 2020

Notes on Finally Bhalobasha, by Anjan Dutt, India: 2019

The tears I never shared have become a song somehow
The song I never sung has became popular now.”
(from the song Chhiley Bondhu, lyrics Anjan Dutt))

As a child - even though it was strictly forbidden - I loved to stroll in and around old abandoned and almost declined houses - but also on construction places where new houses were built. The ruins promised traces of stories about people gone long ago, the construction places promised stories to come and especially here began everything with sand, concrete and bricks, the first rooms appeared and finally people moved in with all their stories
I often dream films as buildings, dwellings, especially since my passion for Ozu decades ago and recently with some films by Aparna Sen or Anjan Dutt. Among so much other things, Anjan Dutts Dutta Vs Dutta was as well a portrait of a house divided in rooms like the film offered different stories about different family members.

Finally Bhalobasha, one of Dutts more recent films begins almost like a cinematic construction place. The three (at the first sight seemingly unconnected) stories are separated by titles and shutters and they appear in two cycles and a short finale. They grow together gradually and before we are aware of it, we begin already to “dwell” in it. Sometimes it feels like we see rushes of three different films.
The first one, “Insomnia” is about a young man called Bibek, “Bobby” who is hired by a mobster who often abuses his young wife Malavika violently. The second one “Arthritis”, is about an aging ex military officer who brings a young woman to his home who collapsed in front of his car and the third one “HIV positive” is about the relationship about a young man who is going to die of Aids and his male nurse (a wannabe boxer and a former rickshaw driver).

As a film is always built and edited, sometimes the art of cinema offers as well an idea about this kind of work which is needed to for all the moods, thoughts and feelings which the film will evoke in us – or that what mean to “dwell” for a temporary time in a film.

I have seen Finally Bhalobasha last year at my friends place in the USA for the first time (where it was streamed at Amazon) but was very much distracted by my fascination for his previous masterpiece Aami Ashbo Phirey. This year I rediscovered it for myself. It was the time of a worldwide lockdown which brought the 125 years old history of cinema to a halt.

As each of the three segments include a song, it was especially the song Chhiley Bondhu (for the segment “HIV positive”) which gave me a new access to this film, like a hidden door in a building which I have missed before. This mesmerizing song (composed by Neel Dutt, lyrics by Anjan Dutt) stands for the wonderful work of Neel Dutt for most of the films by Anjan Dutt but among others as well for some recent films by Aparna Sen. But its appearance in this film is as well a key to the hidden magic in the films by Anjan Dutt.

Like in most filmy by Dutt, the characters are too much involved in their life in the Here and Now for being able to explain themselves. But between their every day routine, their patterns and habits there are often moments which reveal a deep sadness about the loss of dreams and about the inability to have lead the life they dreamt of.

In “Insomnia”, the first narrative segment with a tendency to the gangster film genre, Bibek tries desperately to make up with his girlfriend. He tries to phone her often but a real communication does not take place. Out of pity wife of his boss he plans with Malavika and a friend to stage a ransom extortion. They stage the abduction of the unhappy gangster bride Malavika to free her from her violent husband.

Arthritis” the second segment has more a tendency to Ozu´s famous “home dramas”. Dinesh the former military officer and the young woman Ahiri the trumpet player of a Folk Jazz band suggest at the first side a kind of romance between an aging man and a much younger woman. But soon it turns into a melancholic dialogue between the different times of a human life. Dinesh lost his wife during the birth of his only son (about whom he does not like to talk very much). His wife must have been in the age of Ahiri when she died. Piece by piece the film changes our perception. Is “Insomnia” still close to the gangster genre, “Arthritis” moves anywhere between Proust and Ozu between the Here and Now and memories as part of human consciousness. I had to think about the simple newspaper article which inspired Ozu to his very last film Sanma no Aji: Aging widower feels reminded in his late wife by a bar hostess.
Behind the Here and Now, the film reveals as well these “beings of time” according to Proust of which a human life is built. Like I mentioned, in this seemingly clearly arranged “cinematic building” other hidden doors are opened.

The cinematic landscape offered by the third segment “HIV positive” is again another possibility of cinema. It takes place in Darjeeling, a region which always had a special meaning for Anjan Dutt. Joey, he dying young man who wanted to be an actor cites without pause dialogues from films to override his fear of death which irritates his male nurse. At the beginning they seem stuck together. They quarrel in the middle the wild beauty of Darjeeling´s mountain landscape like in the middle of the cinematic glory, the dying man is dreaming of. At the same time their mortality and frailty contrasts with the mighty old landscape.
The notion of death is always present. Close before the young man´s death they make an excursion to the environment of Darjeeling. They visit the boarding school the young man once visited (if I am not mistaken it is the same boarding school Anjan Dutt or his Alter Ego Ronno in Dutta Vs Dutta attended once). The moment is a strange moving celebration of fragments of happiness (imagined or really lived) contrasted with the certainty of death and it belongs to the most heartbreaking moments in Anjan Dutt´s work. The song Chhiley Bondhu appears as an advanced requiem.
Neel Dutt sings:
Are you my friend from long long time ago?
The friend who shared my happiness my woe?
If we meet again in some other world
Will you love me like you did once before?”

As the three segments begin to connect more and more with each other one is astonished again how much a film can tell about life (and how much one can learn about cinema) in less than 2 hours film. The short finale lets the single segments dissolve all into one after “Insomnia” ends with a harsh tragedy, “Arthritis” with a journey and “HIV positive” with death. All three paths lead to Darjeeling and the cinemascope images gain landscape images of often mythic quality.

Like in Satyajit Ray´s legendary masterpiece Kanchanjangha, the landscape is divided in paths and viaducts build by men and made for men and which are at the same time the borderlines between civilization and nature.Dinesh´s confession that he failed as a father takes place in front of this landscape. Finally Bibek and his girlfriend are meeting again. But soon they turn their backs to us and with them we can only look into the infinite landscape into the infinite sky. The landscape , the fictive narration and the frame of the cinemascope image are melting into an impressing cinematic landscape close to the relationship between people and landscape in some films by John Ford. In Anjan Dutt´s films there is place for the failed, the mourning, for the ones who lost their dreams and the ones who still believe in their dreams, the ones who lost the strength to hope and the ones who are still able to hope and dream.
In this sense, Finally Bhalobasha is also a love letter to cinema.

Rüdiger Tomczak


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  2. I am mesmerized after reading this amazing review - to the extent that I saw the film again, this time with your eyes. Like you, i too gave the film a casual viewing not really paying too much attention to details. But on second viewing, which later became third and fourth, I stumbled upon that closed door that i missed in the abandoned building. I saw that door again. Thank you for writing this captivating piece.

    1. Thank you. Yes, I think Bhalobasha is one of several underrated masterpieces by Anjan Dutt.