Buddhadeb Dasgupta’s Uttara (2000) is a film with rare poetic vision. It went on to win the Special Award for Best Director at the Venice Film Festival. A Silhouette review.
Poetry and polemics were the two things which Budhdhadeb Dasgupta got accustomed to at a very early part of his life. Though his political identification was revealed in Grihajudhdha and Andhi Gali, Naxalism failed for him rather early. And he moved from the harsh realities of those earlier polemical or so called ‘political’ films to the lush backdrops of the more poetic ones— Bagh Bahadur, Tahader Katha, Charachar, Lal Darja and now Uttara.
Uttara is a poetry made on celluloid. It is an allegory where fact gets impeccably juxtaposed with fantasy – a commentary on our present day lives, our social values, our fears and traumas that lie within. This is a film that disturbs our inner credentials as a human being. Unlike some of Dasgupta’s earlier works, this film is multifarious, and it moves unobtrusively from one layer to another and takes us along a journey which is worthwhile to cherish. The film thrives on the various threads which we feel at the end were closely held by the filmmaker himself.
The film is based on a short story by Samaresh Bose named ‘Uratiya’ which deals with two young men and a woman, the wife of one of them. The filmmaker expresses his love for Mother Nature right from the first shot and his seemingly endless admiration for it unfolds subsequently. The film starts with a sparse forest with the camera moving so slowly that one can really perceive the stillness of time and touch the apparent delightful languor induced by the surroundings. As the film progresses, this serenity apparently gets disturbed by human intrusion. But in the end, the human impact on nature is minimal — nature maintains its lurid grandeur. The storyline evolves round the two wrestlers who were railway guards by profession and who took to wrestling as their only recreation. They engage in these friendly bouts, largely admired by the villagers specially the young boy Mathew, who hero-worships them. The marriage of one alienates them from each other. The night life of the bachelor gets miserable, and they engage in fierce combats. The basic existence theory comes in vivid openness as they fight for the woman’s body. She starts hating them.
In the meantime, a Christian missionary who was accused of religious conversions, was burnt to death by hoodlums who deprave the innocence of the place. The wrestlers fought on till death, turning deaf ears to the woman’s frantic cries for the missionary’s life. Young Mathew who lived with the missionary also starts hating the two wrestlers. He had to save his life from the hoodlums by going behind a mask given to him by a band of masked singers and dancers. The woman wanting to break free from the burdens of her present life was ready to embark on the journey to a new life beyond the hill in the land of the dwarves—but she cannot. The hoodlums raped and killed her.
The dwarves were inhabitants of the other world, the world which bears testimony to discipline, love, and hardwork. Their world shuns the cruel passions of our own world. The religious and political unrest have stolen the halcyon days of our innocent rural villages and has stripped us of mental peace and love. The utter silence which engulfs these dwarves as they pass by the land of the “tall men” stealthily, is ample testimony of the stifling world we live in.
The masked dancers, like the dwarves, also came as a motif, as a symbol. They sing songs of love, hope and perhaps a better future. They come in and out of the main narrative and help in changing the course of the film. Its them, who save the life of Mathew who must go behind a mask for self protection at a rather naïve age.
After the great disaster of the death and rape, the nature till remains majestic, oblivious of the cruel drama. The smashing of bottles by the hoodlums, a slithering snake, were enough indications of the ensuing tragedy.
The non-narrative style blended with the exotic colors are so very familiar of Buddhadeb Dasgupta. His usage of silence in the dwarves’ scenes or the slow motion of camera in the forest are grappling for their inherent tragic undertone. The frames separately are picturesque and mesmeric as of trademark Buddhadeb Dasgupta films. The veracity of rural life continues to entice the filmmaker and this film adds pride to his enthralling repertoire. The basic innocence of human life had always been Dasgupta’s pivotal attraction. And he shows deviation of it with miserly narrations. To him, it’s a ‘misinterpretation’ to coin ‘Uttara’ as a ‘political’ film, which, a section of the media is trying to project.
He believes, its important for a film maker to know “how many shots he can do without”. And he moved away from his earlier works not only in content but also in form. Solitude of human beings and interaction with nature continues to haunt him and he developed his unique style which carefully avoids the conventional art of story telling. The inner violence of man is what inspires and disturbs him, and so his films remain so minimally visually violent. Only the feeling of fear levitates from within leaving one stunned by its impact.
As the film went on to win the “SPECIAL AWARD FOR BEST DIRECTOR” in Venice (incidentally, the only award for directorial performance), it was lauded highly by western critics. As the famous American Film critic Noah Cowan wrote, “Dasgupta’s characteristically spectacular cinematography and lovely performances, especially by Jaya Seal as Uttara, ensure that this tragic, beautifully made film is both politically urgent and a lasting Cinematic experience,” while Roberto Pugliese (IL GAZETTINO) found “Uttara is a poetry on celluloid. It has a unique cinematic style…Dasgupta is the only hope of Indian Cinema after the death of Satyajit Ray.” Mariuccia Ciotta (IL MANIFESTO) is bold enough to quip “Dasgupta’s Uttara is a suitable answer to the brainless American Cinema.” To sum up the views of the critics, Alberto Barbera (Director International Film Festival of Venice) considered Uttara to be “really very strong, very poetic and visually stunning, the best Indian film in years.”
The adventures of film making dwell aptly with the inherent dream that ultimately remains for a better world in all of Dasgupta’s earlier films. Uttara is no exception. The fervent style of Buddhadeb Dasgupta which is becoming omnipresent in all his recent works has perhaps developed to its full in Uttara. Amidst all the brouhaha that engulfs our soul, the ultimate longing for a better tomorrow remains so firmly rooted that the film transcends to a new height hitherto unnoticed in Indian cinema.
(The article was originally published in South Asian Cinema, Vol.1, No.2, 2001)
More to read
Whether you are new or veteran, you are important. Please contribute with your articles on cinema, we are looking forward for an association. Send your writings to firstname.lastname@example.org
We are editorially independent, not funded, supported or influenced by investors or agencies. We try to keep our content easily readable in an undisturbed interface, not swamped by advertisements and pop-ups. Our mission is to provide a platform you can call your own creative outlet and everyone from renowned authors and critics to budding bloggers, artists, teen writers and kids love to build their own space here and share with the world.
When readers like you contribute, big or small, it goes directly into funding our initiative. Your support helps us to keep striving towards making our content better. And yes, we need to build on this year after year. Support LnC-Silhouette with a little amount – and it only takes a minute. Thank you
Silhouette Magazine publishes articles, reviews, critiques and interviews and other cinema-related works, artworks, photographs and other publishable material contributed by writers and critics as a friendly gesture. The opinions shared by the writers and critics are their personal opinion and does not reflect the opinion of Silhouette Magazine. Images on Silhouette Magazine are posted for the sole purpose of academic interest and to illuminate the text. The images and screen shots are the copyright of their original owners. Silhouette Magazine strives to provide attribution wherever possible. Images used in the posts have been procured from the contributors themselves, public forums, social networking sites, publicity releases, YouTube, Pixabay and Creative Commons. Please inform us if any of the images used here are copyrighted, we will pull those images down.