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Review Bengali

Kalikshetra review: Traces history with personal stories but lacks engagement

Release Date: 18 Nov 2018 / 56min

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Anita Paikat

The film surely paints a unique picture of Kolkata, but the colours used feel random and lack lustre.

'Personal memories go in crematorium. Histories remain,' reads a line in Anirban Datta's documentary Kalikshetra. This line sums up the situation the filmmaker has tried to capture. He looks at the history of Kolkata from the eyes of those who have lived it.

Kalikshetra walks into the underbelly of Kolkata to trace the city's roots. Artists, historians and activists recount what they remember and have read or heard.

Datta begins from the very beginning, even before the city came into existence. Interestingly, one of the interviewees mentions that the Marwari community occupied the city and introduced the banking system even before Kolkata was formed.

Then comes the story of Jagat Seth, who was supposedly so rich that he lent money to the East India Company.

The documentary takes us through the spaces that form the rich and varied history of Kolkata — from the offices where licensed opium traders worked, an astounding church that Armenian immigrants constructed, the museum of the imprisoned nawab Wajid Ali Shah, to the hotel where revolutionaries, including Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, gathered to write and listen to poetry.

Datta contrasts the richness of these images with the dilapidated state of Kolkata today. Whether it is the demolition of a 350-year-old house or the revered but severely polluted ghats that once had pristine water, the past is in peril; not only in memory but also in its tangibility.

The only major hiccup in the film is the lack of a female perspective. Except for Tapati Chowdhury remembering her childhood days in her now torn-down ancestral home, there is no woman in the documentary. It would have been interesting to know what women have to say about the city's history and their experiences of it, just as the elderly men have shared.

While the film does well in its aesthetics, technically it could have done better. Amlan and Anirban Datta's cinematography seems raw, even when they opt for a hand-held camera. The edit (by Sankha) is abrupt at some places. What an interviewee says in one shot is not relevant to what he continues to say in the next. Though the narrative, to a certain extent, follows history in linear fashion, the visuals sometimes don't connect. Perhaps, this flow was intentional to give an idea of how the present is eating up the past.

Also, the film tries to contain too much in a short time and thus tends to jump from one historical period to another, leaving little time for the viewer to take in the information.

Kalikshetra paints a unique picture of Kolkata, but the colours used feel random and lack lustre.

Kalikshetra was screened at the Urban Lens Film Festival in New Delhi from 16–18 November 2018.

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Urban Lens

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