"Pink" bleeds colour in the face of questions raised by "Chaukaath"

By Nataranjan Bohidar
HUSBAND & WIFE: In that dis-order?
If you've been brought up on a surfeit of court room dramas, as Raja and I were in the early Seventies, you'd know that Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury may not have lost his plot there but surely his  dramaturgy in posting a needle of suspicion in the haystack of the Indian legal system. Raja Dasgupta on the other cinematic hand brings the court house to your home, bed, breakfast spiced with gossip included, and generates such heat that it sears the screen and peels your domestic skin...initially of your bhadraloukic  face and anatomy and then gradually inexorably grindingly off your dastardly middle-class soul.  But that is not the only difference between the two films and the two posited directors.

More Than 3 Crore Court Cases Pending Across Country - NDTV.com
With more than 30 million cases pending at the time "Chaukaath" went to camera, it is well that Raja did not trust the courts for  credible denouement of his rather sensitive case...watch Manoj Bajpai in ALIGARH...he actually nods off to zzzzzsleep at his own trial!)

Back then, when Raja and I were growing up in Delhi, faith in the criminal justice system was high. We rushed off to watch films that turned into "milord movies" by sheer default. Bangladesh had just been liberated and all seemed well with our world unforsaken yet by blind Justice in his or, if you like, her heaven. We simply forgave Hindi film makers  for neither having the talent nor the imagination to fashion a dénouement outside the "kaathghaar".

But Aniruddha is young still...and perhaps missed that phase and therefore we must graciously forgive him for believing that courting justice in the courtroom is some sort of a new development on the Indian cinematic landscape. Or is a novel way of losing regional virginity to Bollywoody nationality!

45 years later, and Raja will be in his early Sixties such as I am now, taking anything to court has become in real and reel-terms as foolhardy as to find anything, let alone truth and creativity, in a haystack, and only good for engaging in futile competitive straw chewing , raising parched throated and dry debates in gruff voices, with a para- smart argumentative trick or two thrown in - preferably in the heavy tonal cadence of our very own Old Boy Amitabh's cant, alum at Raja's and my College - over whether the "law is an ass" and if asses do indeed feed on hay nonny nonny and swallow the needle, too, in the process even as they sport bi-polar and pratidwandic visages.

(Ray of Satyajit fame tried to court Hindi via another court, the royal historical Awadhi one and the rest, as we all know, is not much history!)

Such inane witness-box ridden resolutions gratefully fail to engage Raja Dasgupta. And for good metaphoric reasons.

Driving an Ambassador down Calcutta - yes, Kolkata was once  called that - streets, that shared public space with tram lines in those times and not trucks, he had a moveable art in the public place aka a tram gently ram into the back of his car... a day before his departure to Italy to see his mother.

The dicky of the light armoured vehicle among passenger cars of that time that Raja was driving simply collapsed into itself. Raja climbed out of the front and walked away... homewards.... abandoning the Ambassador mid-road. No road rage , no tantrums, no verbal abuse , no anxiety pangs, no hand gun toting, neither collar nor arm twisting, no public drama, no FIR , no "tu janta hai main kaun hoon" police station theatrics, which liberally translates to, "tui janish ami ke " in para-accented Bengali. Raja simply, as i said before, walked. He talked to his dad about the incident. His dad graciously took charge of the matter, and  Raja neither broke his stride  to interrupt his packing nor missed his flight to Italy to see his Mum and step-dad ensconced in Roman-tic realism - suspecting as we always have that Italian neo-realism was and is a romance of gigantic b&w proportions!


If you find this casual gait in the way Raja paces his innings and outings, his through the "Chaukaath" and back and gone again...framing the gentle but purposeful pendulumatic swing of his first full length directorial debut...don't be alarmed. It's an old world charm that has lost nothing of its cinematic intensity.
So, how do you build that proverbial intensity, if you are going to be so laid back? Well, if you know your cinema  you know its power is not in the shouting about in the soundtrack and hammering away at the visuals, but in the cutting and the slicing, the square drive and the glance, the positioning and the juxtapositioning... in the montage and the craftage !

Editing can be such an art in Raja's hands, in his scissoring as also his paring and comparing... of the home-maker's and homebody's psyche...the feminine principle...and the principal female...and the gender candour, stretching it first to snapping limits and then splitting it at the seams, with a tearing sound, of what appeared once, on the face of it, seamless.

It's a simple story of life unnoticeable, hanging by a thread even as it, life that is, deludes you into believing you are firmly grounded, nay entrenched on terra firma. After all , dad is a retired chief secretary and friend a senior serving police officer...and all's well with your wife and his...until you find out you never did find out...and were, oh so, found out!

A drunken driving story, punch drunk but not much drunk, internecines casually into a Spielbergian duel, an accident not bigger than a brush, a band-aid injury, a few drops of blood, nothing profuse, an abduction that Kurosawaically never happened, and therefore unkurosawaically never goes to court,  a rape that is all in and of the mind, that wonderful place to have it in daily media-fuelled or fooled, if you like and if you don't like, too, and the consequences severe, Ibsenic and arsenic, not necessarily in that order, wretchedly lacy and wrenchingly crank-opened as of a worm can, that you have to watch "Chaukaath" to believe!

But tools are useless, technicalities marginal, because none of this was possible if we didn't simply vicariously voyeuristically fall in love with the cast, in the first place, and the affectionate warm colours of their acting relationship supported by a doting camera, in the second place! The leading lady is just a case in point. She opens bright and shiny and then disappears into faceless limbo dictated by both character and plot to emerge again, slowly tentatively and then surely as the giant Nora that she eventually reveals herself to be, drawing power from deep within her lower depths. Easier done in theatre than in a petri-dish under the microscopic camera!

Precision cut in the tradition of Godard, played out in the ambiguous morality of a Truffaut, wrapped in Bengali maudlin only towards the fag end, Raja Dasgupta's "Chaukaath" is a potent power pill that every home maker must swallow, however bitter the taste! And Raja consciously adds that spoonful of sentimental honey to make the medicine go down...dropping his exemplary restraint momentarily to cater to a near diabetic commercial audience...purposely loosening the tight noose around your neck in the hope of some financial redemption, that has not come in over a year...

So, the question is: should Raja have gone the whole hog? Gone the other way? Bucked the trend of over-academic repetitiveness adulterated with Bengali sentimentality that have roiled creative cutting in Tollywood, agelessly. Should have, would have, could have! But without doubt Raja has the talent to do it...actually undo it !

This is a film for those who will survive  drunken driving, even near-fatal accidents thanks to good Samaritans along the way, only to be put to the test of fire in the aftermath...It is so Ramayana in its metaphor that the chaukaath becomes your rekha Laxman ...and the kaathghaar, too...your witness box...and you stand in it, and stew in it, watching your own tragedy of your own making, unfold all around you...as you confess and you hold back...at times conscious, at other times  deep in forgetful trauma and self lacerating self-denial....You will watch yourself helplessly winning a war to steadfastly lose the battle with every kind of help available to you...and eventually wonder which is the battle, which the war!

COURTING CONTROVERSY: Rise in pendency could be inversely proportional to cinema's power to sort out psycho-social issues
Raja Dasgupta simply refuses to take the matter to the police or to the court or to media, because they are all lodged not just in the bedroom, the dining room, the workorridors of professional life  and the lanes and by- lanes of the city of joy but in the deep recesses of the mindless joy that you carry all over and everywhere inside your own self....and in your self-sufficient travelling coffin that you call  your car...( Audi has just launched an edition where you can cook your own rice) and in your behaviourials  outside, too, in the choices you make and , well, don't make too !

The police in the form of a friend in civvies, the government in the form of a bureaucratic father and father-in-lawly bureaucrat, too, the media in the form of a good samaritan and excruciatingly nosy,too, the criminal in the guise of a past-midnight truck, the domestic help - the irony of it - the   "concerned" aunt , the joggers' parkompanions, the teastaller, the school corridors, the joy cities outside and away from the city of joy, are all around you proliferating but they are only the trigger,  the catalyst and springboard, too, of your very own self manufactured, sui generis, dooming paranoia.

Raja is no Scorsese but listen to a laughing conversation between a grand child and her doting retd. chief secretary grandpa that turns diabolical as the laughter amps louder, the guffaw becomes grimace and the fool-playing more sinister in its unfolding...

It is a discussion on how questions can swallow you up...eat into you...gnaw into your entrails, the womb, for instance, irrespective of whether you face them or hide from them...sending you deeper into the well and wallow of your misery...

Circumstances take such a turn that  deep into a final night of a cracking-up family you'd think the little girl will pee herself on the carpet, EXORCIST like, as her father mother and grandpa sit around the dining table trying to grapple with wretched realities...hoping to exorcise the devil of suspicion that has taken hold of them - destroying each to his or her own capacity for suspicious destructiveness - and systematically going about destroying their comfortable easy going lazy self gratifying complacent middling & meddling middle class hubris...that wrecking ball of all relationships that whispers in our trusting ears with a forked tongue cheating with something like this , "....a relationship is forever, you don't have to work on it, it's a closed & shut case...notice that ring in her finger and yours...notice that contented picture of your garlanded matrimony...notice?"

In this way Raja discovers in us not the intellectually lazy, because that we are not ...but lethargic intellectualism that we dolefully practice... and decadently , too...the time delayed response...like the shutter button that once was on your hand-held non-digital...and you pressed the button and the camera whirred as you the photographer ran around in quick motion to join the photographed...in gleeful abandon of assured familial camaraderie...no selfie this...never worrying about someone interrupting your smooth run...never fearing the coitus interruptus... the possible afterthought...the double guess...and so your soft response...in slow motion... lacking the rigour that our intelligent mind is capable of , and yet failing to exercise a mix of intuition and reason,  for reasons as complicated as a love more for the status quo, a cloying greater to protect reputation, a desire intemperate to merge with the very community that you so despise, a fear bigger of discovery, a fright of reality and then the intended flight, letting the skeleton hang and rattle in the cupboard, for sheer Prufrockian ennui, and love for the soporific ...which is how the movie ends ...exactly the way it begins!

With changes, of course...a foetal mortality coming in-between, this side of midnight, for instance. That hopefully will change us all,  from being damningly discreet to becoming discerningly direct...like this hopefully critical piece that aims to say it as it is and as it should could would be!

"Pink" is just surface colour, observed when it is through this kind of frame, of Raja's " Chaukaath"! ....And you can expect Raja to be more incisive and less forgiving in his next effort. Sooner than later?

Readers, please feel free to share your opinion by leaving your comments. As always your valuable thoughts are highly appreciated!  

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