What better way to start a venture in to regional cinema than with a bit of Shakespeare, yet not really an adaptation of one the Bard’s plays, but rather a mix of all of them in a flowing narrative.
Three characters come together as they come in and out of each others lives. Bankim, The elderly man with Alzheimer’s, the call girl Tina and Mun the rickshaw driver who comes to be in contact with both. In the background the East Indian insurgence is battled in the forests where Arjun fights and who is supported by his mother Pabitri.
Jupitora Bhuyan as Tina, the call girl, is more than an entertainer for men’s pleasure. She is a full fledged character whose reasons for doing what she does comes from the fact that her father is ill. She is neither a Madonna or a Whore, but something above all those patriarchal classifications. We are shown the dangers of her profession and the minor benefits of money. According to the writer and screenplay writer Ranjit Sarma this is the first movie to show a call girl in a lead role in Assamese cinema. Her shakespearean equivalent might be Cordelia, who cared for King Lear, or even just the character Billo (Bianca) from Vishal Bhardwaj’s Omakra (another Indian adaptation of Othello) without the trappings of having to do Item Numbers.
Arup Baishya as the auto rickshaw driver Mun who is nicknamed “Othello” by his old school mates because they studied Othello in class, classifying him as a black man among whites, and call him a “fake Othello” because he is a white man amongst the blacks (according to the subtitles). He is notably pale, almost whitewashed and the makeup really isn’t good on him. He is a good man, with a good heart as he drives the members of the city and some of our characters. In a way he is a “fixed if fake” Othello, having his heroic moment to save Tina from a group of men, and having no notion of the inherited sexism his namesake has. Indeed he has the whole Othello narrative turned on its face on him as if lady luck decided to be very cruel to his namesake and had added to him the inside looking Hamlet as well.
Arun Nath as Bankim, the old man suffering from Alzheimer’s gives a sensitive portrayal of a man lost in both the present and the memories. We get shades of his past with his first address to the auto rickshaw driver is a jail, and we are told it is a tradition to him now as he comes to the jail so often even if he doesn’t live there anymore. He reminded me of the title character of King Lear, the old man who looses his sanity throughout the play.
Then there is the character of Arjun played by Bibhuti Bhushan Hazarika who is a soldier in the East Indian Insurgence fighting against the government with a bounty on his head. He is committed to communism and its ideals, having the clay heads of his idols in his room; Karl Marx, Fidel Castro, Lenin, the gangs all there. In a way he is like the title character of Coriolanus of the Bard’s most war-like play where war is love, and love, even of his mother Pabitri played by Runu Devi who wants him to be safe, doesn’t shake him away from the joy he has in it, which is the complete opposite of the original play. He has also a bit of Hamlet in him with the love he has for his mother and it is a loss that we don’t see him doing a soliloquy with a skull.
This plot comes and weaves these characters together carefully to reveal the “what if” these Shakespearean characters were transported in to modern day Assam and turned in to ordinary citizens. This film is a joy even after moments of sadness with tons of references to the Bard’s work. There is even a conversation where these self aware characters acknowledge their roles in Othello and how it has come to play in their lives. They even watch the 1995 Othello with Kenneth Branagh! Then there is the occasional monologue which are splendid, evoking the stage with the camera being still on them as they talk.
This film is free to watch on YouTube with english subtitles. Highly recommend if you’re interested.
Thank you for reading!
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