Kolkata, 25 Jul 2019 15:17 IST
Ritwik Ghatak's film also projects the wonderful idea of getting a sense of reality through exchanges with the common people, going beyond one's comfort zone and exploring the unknown.
Ritwik Ghatak’s Bari Theke Paliye (1959) completed 60 years yesterday. Based on Shibram Chakraborty’s classic novel, Bari Theke Paliye is a philosophical film set in the aftermath of Partition and one of Ghatak’s many films on the consequences of the cataclysmic event, explored here through the eyes of an inquisitive boy who runs away from home to escape his father’s perpetual wrath.
Bari Theke Paliye’s every moment portrays the stark contrasts of the reality of urban life. There is undoubted nostalgia and a soft corner for the ancestral home in the village. The rural life is neither described in detail nor is there a critical depiction of it. However, it is through the critique of the urban life, its positive and negative aspects, which gradually disillusions the wandering boy who had stars in his eyes about Calcutta, that one can see the reflection of the simple and peaceful village lifestyle he has left behind.
The film is quite dramatic and every sequence has several connotations that hit you hard. The way the director has portrayed the conflicting consequences of modernity are quite fascinating and come as revelations. These sequences work as twists even for those who may have read the novel.
The boy Kanchan (Parambhattarak Lahiri) gets reprimanded by his strict and orthodox priest father every now and then for his mischief, but he does not abide by his father’s rules. He reads adventure books and finds inspiration to break rules and follow his own quest for truth. He is also sensitive towards his mother who has to submit to his father’s dictates. His mother is also his solace, the only one to whom he can turn with his demands.
His mother is fearful as Kanchan always talks about running away from home and earning for her. Eventually, one day, he does so when his father summons him home after learning about some mischief.
Kanchan is fearless and in Calcutta he does not think twice before befriending all manner of strangers. The credit goes to author Chakraborty, who conceptualized Kanchan’s experience of urban life through the exchanges with Calcutta's residents from different social backgrounds. At the end, when Kanchan’s mother asks him to tell her about the Kalighat temple, Victoria Memorial and various other attractions of the city, he replies that he has not seen any of these. And yet his knowledge of the city can only be termed comprehensive.
Kanchan's first encounter in Calcutta is with Haridas (Kali Bannerjee). Haridas’s journey had begun on a similar note. He had travelled from East Pakistan to Calcutta to earn a living. Haridas has matured into a person who understands that survival in Calcutta is a relentless struggle and so dons the avatar of an old man and becomes friends with many others like him and Kanchan, who begin their journey as vagabond souls every day. Though the city has long since shattered his dream of becoming a teacher, Haridas can't bring himself to leave its charms behind.
Haridas is happy to be acquainted with Kanchan and desires his company. However, the latter has not arrived in the city to remain confined under someone’s observation. So he relocates whenever the city offers him a new surprise. The youngster manages to feed himself with his blatant honesty about his hunger and not having enough money.
Kanchan’s first encounter with the snobbish attitude of the so-called sophisticated, modern citizens of Calcutta takes place when he sneaks into a wedding function. There, a girl, Mimi, catches his attention and reminds him of his mother’s wish to find a bride for him at home. However, the other kids at the function are displeased by his interest in Mimi and try to corner him by asking him English spellings. Despite being humiliated, Kanchan is undaunted and sticks around, eventually filling his stomach with the delicious fare on offer.
The reality about his situation first hits Kanchan when an old woman starts looking for her lost son in him and invites him into her small den to offer some food. However, Kanchan’s attention is easily distracted when he finds a hawker in the streets selling goods with which he dreams of gifting his mother a luxurious life. However, the hawker transforms all his desires into daydreams as he refuses to give him anything without money.
In a twist, Mimi finds him at the same place and takes him to her palatial home. Kanchan is exposed to a different kind of family life when he finds Mimi’s father to be extremely affectionate towards her and her ailing mother, promising to take them for an outing the next day. Mimi’s ailing mother leaves a deep imprint in Kanchan’s mind as she traces her jovial life back in her village in her childhood, before marriage.
Initially, Kanchan manages to save himself from the rogues who manipulate talented children into the business of begging to make money for themselves. Later, when his shoes get stolen, he gets disheartened, walking barefoot on the sun-baked streets of the city.
No matter how people discourage his desire to earn for his mother before returning home, he continues to look for opportunities until he gets snubbed by some rogues when he sets out to sell coal. He becomes miserable when he cannot save the childless old lady from being lynched by a mob that accuses her of theft. Dejected, he finally asks Haridas, whom he continues to bump into every now and then, “Why is there so much misery here?”
Heartbroken, Kanchan wishes to get back to Mimi’s mother to find comfort. To his shock, he finds they have left the city. Haridas comforts the tired boy and advises him to return to his mother as well. To cheer him up, he gifts him his accessories of taking on the disguise of an old man.
All of Kanchan’s encounters bear testament to the price one had to pay in an urban setting that was undergoing massive transformation. The country had got independence and been divided only about a decade before the film was released, and already people had to either get their hands dirty to make a living or, like Haridas, give up all expectation.
One of the most striking examples of this is the sequence of Kanchan encountering a few homeless people driving dogs away from the litter of wasted food outside the wedding house. He is shocked to see the people driving the dogs away so that they can find something for themselves from the waste left behind by the rich.
At the same time, there is no generalized portrayal of people from different classes in the film. Kanchan meets rude people showing off their knowledge of English as well as Mimi’s family, whose members are eager to have his company in their outing without being aware of his background. The stark contrast between people with declining values and those with compassion in every social or economic stratum forms the map of the city in Kanchan’s mind.
His takeaway to his village is his friendship with Haridas, who learns to look at life with new realizations from Kanchan’s adventures, and Mimi’s mother’s uncanny attachment to him. Therefore, at the end of the day, when his father, who has changed into a softer soul, asks what he liked best in Calcutta, Kanchan replies in pure joy that home is the best place in the world.
Parambhattarak Lahiri is brilliant as the fiery boy with his bright smile and spirited performance. Author Chakraborty probably deliberately chose the name Kanchan, which translates as gold, as it goes through various stages of purification. Lahiri captures the particular spirit with a consistent dramatic act, occasionally delivering the most striking expressions in close-ups.
Kali Bannerjee’s act lingers in the mind long after the film has ended. Haridas's compassion for the poor souls of the city is palpable every second. He is adorable while entertaining the children with the bulbul bhaja that he sells on the street.
Salil Chowdhury’s songs 'Amare Horidaser Bulbul Bhaja', 'Ami Onek Ghuriya Seshe Oilam Re Koilkatta' and 'Ma Go Amar Deko Na Ko Aar' are varied compositions set in different moods. 'Ami Onek Ghuriya Seshe...' is a unique tribute to Calcutta rendered with folk tunes and rhythms. The background score has an international approach, breathing life into Kanchan's character and his escapades now and then.
Cinematographer Dinen Gupta and editor Ramesh Joshi have done a fabulous job of capturing each and every contrast of the city and the nuances of human emotions that lie at the core of the message delivered by the film.
One of the most gripping factors of the film is its meaningful dialogues as they lend a comprehensive idea of all the characters of the film, even in fleeting appearances. The dialogues make the soul of the film as they represent the collective expression of urban and rural life.
Bari Theke Paliye remains a relevant film as it projects the wonderful idea of getting a sense of reality through exchanges with common people, going beyond one's comfort zone and exploring the unknown. It also shows the divisive nature of modernity and progress, something that is just as true today.
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