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Upperstall Review




Bengali, Drama, 1978

A Calcutta college teacher and former revolutionary of the late 1960s generation, Mandar (pradip Mukherjee) marries a young woman, Anjali (Mamata Shankar). When he learns that his wife is pregnant, he leaves her. Anjali however, refuses to reveal the name of the father because she feels she is equally responsible for the pregnancy. After he leaves her, Mandar refuses to give shelter to a Naxalite on the run. The lonely teacher forms a relationship with Nandini, a steno-typist who lives with her insane mother. But the relationship keeps him as restive as ever and finally, winding up his relationship with Nandini, he goes to Anjali, hoping to re-build the relationship within freshly defined parameters of friendship and understanding. In the meanwhile, Anjali has taken up a teaching job and is bringing up the child single-handedly. He is a bit surprised to discover that Anjali bears no ill feeling towards him for having divorced her and is mature enough to accept him as a friend while Mandar learns to shed his earlier prejudices that made him reject her soon after they were married.

Dooratwa, Grihajuddha (1982) and Andhi Gali (1984) form a loose trilogy because the common thread that links the three films is the notion of disillusionment with idealism and political commitment and the spilling over of this discontent and restiveness into the personal lives of the subjects concerned. Each film has an independent story sourced from an original literary piece, re-scripted to suit the needs and interpretations of the director and his medium of cinema. Each film has its own statement and its own plot and theme. Each film is complete unto itself. Yet, they are placed in a time-space setting that has the same political history of extreme Leftist politics in West Bengal. The male protagonist in each of these films has a background of Leftist commitment in his past. The present finds him trying to distance himself and run away from this past. This ‘running away’ somewhere along the way, turns into a running away from Life itself, and from the responsibilities and relationships that form the core of life. Contrary to common expectations, the three films did not follow sequentially. Buddhadeb Dasgupta broke the ‘continuity’ after his first full-length feature Dooratwa with Neem Annapoorna in 1979, a film that is in a different realm altogether. He then made Grihajuddha and Andhi Gali one after another.

Based on a short story by noted Bengali littérateur Sirsendu Mukhopadhyay, Dooratwa was completed in just 16 shooting days on an incredibly low budget, exposing just 20,000 feet of film in totality. On the surface, Dooratwa is a simple story but Dasgupta made a few changes in the original short story to draw it closer to his own interpretation for a different medium that a different language – cinema, demands. The elaborate introduction of the cast and characters makes it clear that Dooratwa is intended to be as much a cinematic exercise as an investigation into middle-class morality in a contemporary urban setting. It is a mature portrait of a middle class dilemma, subtle in its understanding and sensitive in treatment.

Though Mandar, is the protagonist of the film, Anjali, slightly marginalized within the cinematographic space by Mandar, comes across as the stronger of the two. She is much more in control of her life than he is. She is firm in her decision of keeping the baby, of not asking Mandar stay on, of bringing up the child all by herself, of refusing to abort the baby when the man responsible asks her to. Then why does she stoop to deceive Mandar into a marriage of cheap, political convenience? Because basically, she is as conventional as the girl next door and is aware of the support she needs from a man to bring up the child. She is no sexually permissive woman who believes in being promiscuous. The pregnancy happened through circumstantial pressure, and instead of turning her back on it, she takes it on as her sole responsibility. Yet, she is no dumb woman to accept her victimization of being a single mother readily. Nor is she ready to wallow in the frustration of the divorce thrust on her. Anjali knows exactly what she must do with her life, though her pregnancy is a sort of sacrifice of values and morals for her family. Instead of using her pregnancy as a means of emotional blackmail of the ones responsible - the family benefactor and the family itself, she accepts the change and the responsibilities that come along with it. Her manipulation of Mandar stems from a sense of ‘belonging.’ Yet, when it backfires, she takes the rejection in her stride and carries on with life as if nothing has happened. She moves on, and when Mandar comes back and knocks on her door, she welcomes him with the dignified distance that defines her persona.

Mamata Shankar essays the character with the restraint it needs and in this, she gets able support from Pradip Mukherjee who portrays the perennially confused and insecure Mandar. Though he speaks of women’s liberation in the classroom, at the personal level, Mandar is unable to accept that his wife is expecting someone else’s child and has married him by deceit. He is completely disillusioned with the Leftist movement he was once so involved in. Yet he lacks focus in life – be it political, personal, emotional, or any other. Dooratwa, which means ‘distances’ suggests a constant widening of spaces between and among people engineered, almost unconsciously, by the protagonist, Mandar. He tries to bridge this ‘gap’ but we do not know if his attempt to ‘correct’ his past behaviour will bear fruit in the future.

Dooratwa does not offer any ready answers to the questions it raises. It slightly brushes the surface of ideological confusion by letting Mandar overcome at least a part of his moral conflict that just right to make him take the rather unconventional step – for him – to visit his ex-wife with hopes of a possible friendship. The clash between life and ideology is presented as a human problem in the original story. The straightforward, mood-lit cinematography and appropriate editing that keeps the footage limited to 96 minutes sustains the intensity of this multi-layered celluloid statement on the impact of disillusion in political beliefs on the Indian urban family. Dasgupta gives it a political perspective without making it look like a strident political message or a plea for social change. He tries to present people and things as they are, and the social responsibility they must face if being what they are and how they behave entails risks that might topple moral and social concerns within urban lives, creating distances in emotional and social space between and among people and in their interactions with one another.

Dooratwa bagged the Silver Lotus at the National Awards and a Special Critic’s Award at the 1979 Locarno International Film Festival.

Upperstall review by: Shoma A Chatterji

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