By Sramana Saha
The film, Ek Phaali Rodh (A Ray of Light, 2014) is a Bengali film directed by the National Award winning director Atanu Ghosh, and produced by Bitan Roy and Antara Ghosh for Teamwork Communications. Pertaining to the genre of psychological thriller cum social drama, the film focuses on the psyche and the social dilemma, albeit with a not too frugal serving of the thrill, with that signature twist in the tale at the end that most Atanu Ghosh creations encompass.
Atanu is a master storyteller as he has proved time and again, and Ek Phaali Rodh is one more scintillating testament to the same. The storyline, at a glance, appears simple, but a closer look reveals that it is quite unique, and what makes it stand apart is the treatment, along with an extremely powerful screenplay.
Social scientist Dr. Somshankar Roy (played by Dhritiman Chatterjee) orchestrates field experiments by simulating scenarios of mock crisis on the streets, in order to gauge reactions of the people. He does so with the aid of his two protégés Anwesha (Aparajita Ghosh Das) and Swagato (Ritwick Chakraborty). Roy is particularly interested in researching on ‘The Bystander Effect’, wherein there is apathy on the part of most onlookers when a person is in an emergency situation, as they do not come forward to help, and more so if there are other witnesses present. ‘The Bystander Effect’ is a social psychology term which came into academic prominence after 28-year-old Kitty Genovese was brutally murdered in front of her apartment in New York in 1964. Though there were 38 witnesses to the incident, none called for help.
Of Roy’s two aides, Anwesha is a postgraduate in Sociology, hails from a well-to-do family and is engaged to Joy (Jisshu Sengupta), a celebrated singer. Swagato belongs to a middle class family, and has a diploma in journalism, though he is not keen to take up any job in this field. His girlfriend Rupa (Mahua Halder), whose mother has been diagnosed with cancer, is the only earning member of her family. There is also Pratim Guha (Tota Roychowdhury), an author of romantic stories, blind, enigmatic, and interested in writing a story developed out of Roy’s experimental findings.
At one point in time, the mock and real life crises coalesce when the six go on a trip to the seaside, and Rupa mysteriously disappears. The emergency situation brings to the fore various shades and emotional conflicts within the characters, which gets resolved at the end, when the mystery unfolds.
A medley of other characters are woven seamlessly into subplots of the larger canvas: Mimi, the aspiring singer who comes dressed alluringly to meet Joy at his apartment for an opportunity to sing with him, but contrary to the stereotype, turns out to be a talented singer with a sober view of life; Swagato’s uncle, the quintessential daily soap addict glued to the television; Anwesha’s mother, the over-protective Indian parent; among a few others.
The film’s social relevance in the contemporary world is stark, when the most significant crisis we experience is numbing of the compassionate face of humankind. The lack of empathy towards others has never been more apparent than now when the world needs to engage in a war against the pandemic and defeat it. But instead, when the pandemic brings out the cruellest in man, as evident all around from the innumerable incidents stemming out of callousness, one tends to lose faith and hope in humanity. And when an ailing elderly man, too weak to board the ambulance on his own, has to die on the road untreated, because all bystanders look on indifferently ignoring his wife’s desperate cries for help to lend her a hand to hoist him to the ambulance, it becomes the last straw! But then, a ray of light does also seep in through the darkness, when one learns of an elderly pensioner with a meagre income donate the major portion of her earnings to the needy, or a doctor goes beyond the call of duty to drive a pregnant patient to the hospital in his own car, as no ambulance is available, and after being refused admission in a couple if hospitals, finally succeeds in delivering the baby on time.
Rupa’s mother refuses to repair a crack in the wall of their dark and shabby room despite the problems it causes, because it is the only opening through which sunlight enters the room (in reality though, there is no money for the same). We all crave for that ray of sunlight in our lives, which sustains our hope when the going gets tough.
Swagato’s father, who voluntarily helps a shopkeeper with his accounts to prevent dishonest suppliers and local hoodlums from swindling him, negates the bystander theory. So does the disreputable gangster who unexpectedly decides to play the Good Samaritan, and rescues Swagato’s father when goons beat him up. Joy, who hitherto appears somewhat lukewarm with respect to predicaments faced by people outside his own small world, surprises everybody when he dives into the water instinctively to save a drowning girl who appears to be a stranger, evincing the Good Samaritan in him. So, one is left with the feeling that while there is a bystander in each one of us, there is also a Good Samaritan in each, validating the title of the film that even in the loneliest and darkest of nights, a ray of light can seep in through a rift and reinstate one’s faith in the solicitude of those around.
A sensitive portrayal of relationships is Atanu’s forte, and in this film too he deals with relationships exquisitely. Joy and Anwesha’s relation exudes warmth, comfort and security in the way Anwesha confides in Joy, or Joy expresses deep concern over the nature of Anwesha’s job or their anguish during their brief falling-out. The film depicts beautifully the chemistry of friendship between Swagato and Anwesha, the mutual attraction and adoration that draw Pratik and Anwesha towards each other, Swagato’s love for Rupa and sense of responsibility towards her family. Human emotions are also dealt with quite well, be it Swagato’s trauma when his beau disappears, or Somshankar’s fixation with ‘The Bystander Effect’ (the reason for which is disclosed towards the end of the film), or Pratim’s pride cum ego on having vanquished his physical disability and emerged self-reliant and successful.
Joy Sarkar’s music is as usual rich, has a fresh sound with ample texture and depth, and justifies aptly the tone of the narrative. The songs have been used at large to articulate the unspoken in the film. The lyrics penned by Suchandra Chowdhury play an important role in achieving the purpose. Musical potential has been utilized almost to its fullest. However, I did feel that had the number of tracks been a little less, there would be more space and opportunity for the characters and the interrelationships to blossom, and the tempo of the narrative would have been better.
Also, I cannot help but mention the spectacular picturization of the songs that introduce an element of magic realism. In the song “Pichgawlaraastay”, Anwesha’s desolate state of mind during a brief phase of her misunderstanding with Joy – in her imagination Joy assumes the role of bystander, after discovering which she cries disconsolately, and seeks to be comforted by Pratim – paints a picture so poignant and lyrical that it pervades the mind and heart alike.
Art director Indranil Ghosh does a fabulous job of creating artistically designed and psychologically appealing scenes, by translating the various moods and emotions into perfect imagery. Soumik Halder’s cinematography and Sujoy Dutta Ray’s editing complements and solidifies the director’s vision of establishing the title of the film.
Ek Phaali Rodh ends on a note of hope and positivity in a dark and gloomy bystander-filled world. It conveys the message that the Good Samaritans not only exist but emerge the brightest, relegating all the negative elements to the background. This reminds one of Van Gogh’s painting ‘The Good Samaritan’, which foregrounds the Samaritan with the brightest of colours, whereas the other passers-by, who are supposedly more pious than the Samaritan but does not care to stop and help a robbed man, are reduced to inconspicuous figures in the faded background. Hence, one need not feel alone or unaided, as there is always that ray of light which manages to find its way into our despondency.
Sramana Saha pursues writing as a passion. She writes on films, literature, music, art, and anything that makes her contemplate. She is a trained singer of Tagore’s songs. Professionally, Sramana has been working in the area of IT Consulting Services. She is a Master of Computer Applications and a graduate with Physics Honours.
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