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Cinestaan Curates: The Gatekeeper is a contemplation of time, isolation and imagination

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Sukhpreet Kahlon

With no dialogues, Atanu Mukherjee's short film reflects on what it means to perform a monotonous, mundane job day after day in relative isolation.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, being isolated has taken on new meaning for many of us as we yearn for normalcy and the company of friends and family, looking forward to the restoration of our lives as social beings. But what about those nameless, faceless workers who undertake small but important monotonous and lonesome work even in normal times?

Atanu Mukherjee’s short film The Gatekeeper reflects on this as it contemplates a day in the life of a gatekeeper (Bachan Pachehra) who operates a railway level crossing.

The gatekeeper in the film leads a mundane life in an out-of-the-way place, raising and lowering the railway barrier when the bell goes off, alerting him to an oncoming train.

While the job is mundane, it is not without consequence. A slip could mean the loss of countless lives. As the gatekeeper spends the hours waiting for the alarm to go off, he finds ways of keeping himself occupied, stacking up his house of cards just so, only to watch it come crashing down when a train thunders by.

As he is biding his time between trains, his mind wanders to his childhood and he imagines himself as a boy, curious about trains, wondering about the machines and the jobs performed by them.

With no dialogues, Mukherjee evokes the monotony of the gatekeeper’s work through the repetitive actions by Pachehra, who delivers a wonderfully understated performance.

The soundscape, too, is used effectively to signify the gatekeeper’s job and his world. He has his transistor radio for company and the news about the share market seems to be an alien world, far removed from his reality. The alarm going off jolts him out of his reverie, being his only tether to reality, pressing him to perform the same studied actions.

The Gatekeeper won the Best Short Fiction award at the International Documentary and Short Film Festival Kerala, (IDSFFK) in 2015. Besides travelling to various festivals, the short was a part of the anthology film Shuruaat Ka Interval (2014) and was released in PVR Directors Rare.

An alumnus of the Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute (SRFTI) in Kolkata, Atanu Mukherjee then directed the feature film Rukh (2017), starring Manoj Bajpai, Smita Tambe and Kumud Mishra.

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