Joy (the other) Bangla?

Posted in Bengal, comedy, Drama, history, movies by jrahman on October 11, 2017

Interesting things maybe happening in the Indian Bengal, and not just with films, though a film is a pretty good place to start.  Aparna Sen’s Goynar Baksho — a family dramedy about changing role of women in the mid-20th century bhadralok society — garners two wholehearted cheers.  Moushumi Chatterjee puts on perhaps the best performance of her career, and Konkona Sen Sharma is in her exquisite elements.  That’s two cheers, not quite a third for Srabanti Chatterjee though, who pales before the two veterans.  More importantly, the first two-thirds of the movie is astute social commentary that is simply fun to watch.  Depiction of the partition-induced transformation of a landed gentry East Bengali caste Hindu family into trade-dependent petit bourgeois is up there with the best of partition-related art.  Indian Bengalis tend to have a hard time pulling off East Bengali accent — this is a rare and pleasant exception.  For all that, however, the movie is far from being a great one because of its last third.  And yet, it’s the ending that made me think.

The story ends with this:


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Divided Bengal

Posted in books, economics, history, politics, society by jrahman on August 14, 2011

(Updates below)

Sunil Gangopadhyay’s Purba Paschim — easily one of the best known Bangla novels ever written — is centred on the lives of Mamun and Pratap — college friends in pre-partition Calcutta whose stories diverge after 1947.  Pratap and his entire family leave their ancestral home in East Bengal for Calcutta.  He faces financial hardship, cramped living conditions, loss of a son, and many other tragedies and tribulations.  But in a sense, he has a normal family life, consisting of birth, marriage, funerals and everything in between.  Pratap dies a fulfilled and content man.  Mamun’s case is different.  He emerges as a well known newspaper editor in East Pakistan, contributing to the democratic movements of the 1960s, participating in the Liberation War, and in the formation of the new country.  While not exactly rich, there is never a hint of him facing penury.  But for all that, Mamun has a rather unhappy personal life — a failed marriage, a complicated relationship which dooms the marriage of a niece, no kids.

I don’t know whether Gangopadhyay means it thus, but to me, the two characters seem to symbolise the paths taken by the two Bengals over the past 64 years — a democratic and stable West Bengal versus a Bangladesh buffeted by the revolutionary highs and counterrevolutionary lows alike.

One can think of a variation of this dichotomy in a number of other works of fiction depicting the diaspora from the two Bengals.  Compare the experience of Ashima in Jhumpa Lahiri’s Namesake with that of Nazneen in Monica Ali’s Brick Lane.  The integration into the west is much easier for the wife of an MIT teacher.  And her son, Gogol, when all is said and done, has existential crises that are not really all that different from Douglas Coupland’s protagonists — a far cry from Magid and Millat of Zadie Smith’s White Teeth.


Once upon a time in Dacca — back to basics

Posted in fantasy, movies by jrahman on March 31, 2011

If it’s not obvious from my writing, I like movies.  I don’t think there is any movie on 1971 that one can call a classic.  And there isn’t a single movie that captures the war element of 1971. 

Inspired by a lot of Tarantino, Leone and the like, back in 2009 I thought about a storyline to redress this.  After the whole Meherjaan fiasco, I am now going back to the drawing board. 

No, I am not doing so because I was imagining some complicated and implausible ‘counter-narrative’ that would make me a target of overzealous Bangla bloggers.  Rather, as Naeem Mohaiemen points out, Meherjaan packs many subplots: the closeted possible lesbian, the last Muslim quasi-feudal, the feisty coquette, the leftist radical — it seemed as if Rubaiyat Hossain wanted to have everything she read/heard/thought on the subject in the two hours.  And it occurs to me that I have been guilty of precisely the same sin. 

So, back to basics it will be.  Over the fold, for record, my initial idea.  Two posts on this are here and here.


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