Article Bengali

Tathagata Ghosh’s short film Doitto a moving metaphor for disappearing values

Ghosh says that he is trying to create his own distinctive style as he keeps discovering more and more of himself both as a director and as a writer.

Shoma A Chatterji

Doitto meaning “demon” is no longer a character in childhood fairy tales introduced to scare children before the “happily ever after” comes. But in today’s world, the demon does exist in real life. He has come out of his fantasy world and mixed with the mainstream so much so that it is really difficult for the common man to recognize him as one.

Newcomer Tathagata Ghosh’s short film Doitto is a moving metaphor of this reality presented against a unique backdrop with a unique perspective.

The director partly uses film noir to narrate a different story that closes on the question of — who, among the three characters, is the demon? Maybe, they all are or maybe, one of them is. But the entire narrative is focussed on the father-child relationship and its various manifestations.

But this is between the lines of the main subject and also, the narrative of the film. It opens on an empty railway platform along the tracks of a remote village. We see a bearded rustic (Soumya Majumdar) looking for a missing baby of 14 months who, he claims, has been kidnapped.

The policemen, two of them, one, the head of the crime branch Bose, (Shataf Figar) and the other is slightly junior (Aryan Roy), but in the narcotics department have come to investigate a chain of serial killings of babies and missing babies.

As they talk, we can sense that there is tension between the two. But more importantly, the missing babies and their quest for this particular baby makes them recall their own sad experiences of fatherhood. The older man’s wife has just given birth to a little girl but he cannot even see his baby as he is separated from his wife and away at work. The narcotics guy confesses that he made his wife/girlfriend abort his child even before it was born. So, there is a personal involvement linked to a missing baby. The question is – is the bearded young man’s baby really missing? Is there really a baby at all or has it been invented by the wretched man to be able to get the Rs5 lakh compensation the government has announced for the parents of every murdered child?

Says Ghosh, "Over the past few years and in recent times, we have seen different sorts of reports of different kinds of abuses. If you take a closer look at the reports, they are bound to make you angry and leave you devastated. As I am from a small suburban town in West Bengal, I have been a direct and indirect witness of incidents like these, leaving the police baffled.

A still from Doitto

"Some of the investigations were not even thorough and all sorts of excuses were given by the police. Many of these victims come from the lower strata of society who were attacked by morbid reactions by the masses. This has led to a rise in the number of cold and unsolved cases. In spite of a lot of outcry, little has been done about it. We are angry, seeing their pitiable condition which is a trap they cannot come out of. Hence, as a filmmaker, I felt the urgency to address this situation through my film.”
The interesting element in this film is that it can be read differently by different people. On the one hand, it shows how there is a criminal quality in every one of us, represented in this film by the desperate father whose baby, he says, has been kidnapped and murdered, and differently by the two police officers investigating this case. They are both guilty of some wrong doing and at the same time, are victims of the system they are trapped within. Are they demons then? Not really because according to Ghosh, “My film is not about passing judgement or commenting on who is right and who is wrong. The film is a character-centric one. It is not about who the killer is or the final twist. It is about how this homeless man (Soumya Majumdar) brings about a change in the two detectives.”

Ghosh adds that he is trying to create his own distinctive style as he keeps discovering more and more of himself both as a director and as a writer. “I am discovering my voice,” he sums up.

The synopsis Ghosh offers states: “Detective Bose had spent sleepless nights working on a serial killing case, but in vain. One morning, he is summoned to a desolate countryside station to look into the claims of a man, who seems to have witnessed the murder of his baby daughter. Soon realization of his neglected responsibilities as a father starts to dawn upon Bose as he finds himself vulnerable to possible threats at his newborn daughter as she too fits the profile of a potential victim of the serial killer.”

Director Tathagata Ghosh

One may take this as the basic story of the film. On the other hand, it opens up possibilities of different perspectives on crime and guilt and punishment, on the state of law and order where the guilty often goes scot-free and is never caught, or a political administration that offers the wrong sops to so-called victims who may actually be perpetrators of crime.

This does not change the scenario of crime in the country where the police themselves appear to be more involved in their personal lives and interpersonal angst than in their official responsibility of solving the crime they have been vested with. The acting by the three actors is natural and convincing while the sparse setting sets off the three different characters in sharp relief representing a microcosm of the larger world we live in.

Doitto has already been screened across 12 films festivals and has been invited for screening to some more. The remote, empty backdrop devoid of people adds a stark element to the scenario. The background score is enriched with the humming of the azaan floating in from a distance, perhaps as an indication of a normal civilisation in the vicinity which adds a different dimension to the film and its subject. This is juxtaposed against the pathetic cries of a baby and yet, we never see any baby, living or dead, in the entire film. In this sense, one may conclude that today, the demon may be read as a concept, an ideology and a real person, either one or a blend of all three.  And the “baby” or “babies” are the values we are losing little by little, every passing day, kidnapped and killed by the demons within us.