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Ek Nodir Galpo: The Name of a River

August 22, 2015 | By

From a simple story of a motherless daughter and her doting father, filled with the pranks that evolve from the naughtiness of the little girl to the motherly care of an adolescent, Ek Nodir Galpo changes mid-stream, like the river that runs through it like a lifeline, to a tale not as much the tragedy of a father who has lost the only emotional crutch he could lean on, as it is the story of a strange mission that raises questions about the futility of aspirations, ideology, material affluence in the face of a man’s unique mission.

Samir Chandra

Samir Chandra

Ek Nodir Galpo released on August 14, 2015

Samir Chanda was one of the best production designers in Indian cinema. He began by assisting art director Nitish Roy. He then turned independent and went on to win a string of awards including several National Awards for excellence in production design.

Ek Nodir Galpo was screened at the KIFF for the first time in 2007 followed by screenings at the Goa IFFI. But the film produced by Chanda himself, was never released and following Chanda’s untimely demise in 2011, it appeared as if the film went into the deep freeze. But his brother and a Bengali producer Kaustuv Roy finally decided to release the film theatrically on August 14, 2015. Here is a brief tribute to the filmmaker through his only directorial film.

What makes a filmmaker turn to literature for inspiration, adaptation or interpretation?  Literature lacks the immediacy, the dynamism and the live action cinema offers through visuals and sounds. Literature, unlike cinema, lacks the quality of acting on two images at once, the eye and the ear. Over these years, cinema based on a literary piece of work has changed dramatically, even radically, throwing up the filmmaker’s personal vision through the littérateur’s original story. For some works, the film begins to stand independent of its literary source. In some, one can see a straightforward celluloid translation of the story.

Where does Samir Chanda’s directorial debut Ek Nodir Galpo stand? Based on Sunil Gangopadhyay’s Ekti Nodir Naam, this award-winning production designer’s maiden directorial film Ek Nodir Galpo, remains loyal to its original source and yet defines a character of its own within a different time, space and language – the language of film.

Ekti Nodir Galpo Mithun Chakraborty

For Darakeshwar, a simple postmaster, life takes a 180-degree turn with a single tragedy. (Mithun Chakraborty as Darakeshwar)

From a simple story of a motherless daughter and her doting father, filled with the pranks that evolve from the naughtiness of the little girl to the motherly care of an adolescent, Ek Nodir Galpo changes mid-stream, like the river that runs through it like a lifeline, to a tale not as much the tragedy of a father who has lost the only emotional crutch he could lean on, as it is the story of a strange mission that raises questions about the futility of aspirations, ideology, material affluence in the face of a man’s unique mission. He stops going to the post office; he hops from one official to another with his appeal; he goes on a crazy signature campaign in buses and along roads and at market squares; no one even tries to understand him; he stops shaving or getting a haircut; his clothes get tattered; his hair remains unkempt and uncombed; little boys pelt stones at him; everyone gives him up as mad. But nothing can make him give up.

For Darakeshwar, a simple postmaster, life takes a 180-degree turn with a single tragedy. It makes you wonder about how a life less-than-ordinary, can take on a mission no one has ever heard of – changing the name of the village river from Keleghai to Anjana, after his dead daughter. Hundreds of fathers have lost their daughters to gang rape and murder. Their immediate and natural response is revenge, or at least filing a FIR at the local police station and seeing that it is acted upon.

Darakeshwar thinks differently. He takes on with single-minded dedication, not revenge, not retribution through the police, but eternity for his daughter by getting the name of the river rechristened with hers.  Is he trying to reinvent his daughter through the river’s infinite run and flow, ebbs and tides? Is he seeking a substitute for his dead daughter in the river that can never die? It is the river his daughter loved so dearly, the river in which the rapists dumped her body, the river where he insisted his daughter be given a burial, the river he repairs to at the end of the day, oblivious to the vagaries of time, weariness, intense loneliness and hunger, to talk to his dead daughter.

Ekti Nodir Galpo Sweta

Shweta Prasad as the adolescent Anjana

Darakeshwar finally meets an empathetic soul in the district magistrate, who, however, cannot help him legally or professionally. Who has ever heard of getting the name of a river changed because of one man’s ardent desire? There is no rule in any book of law or in the statutes that tells how to, when or why. The intrigued and sympathetic district magistrate sets sail in the middle of the night on a boat on Keleghai River to try and help him. He finds Darakeshwar digging a hole on the banks of the river to plant a pole with the name of the river ‘Anjana’ flagged to the top. “Hand me the spade please,” says the DM to this crazy man. “I will not,” says a desperate Darakeshwar, “I know you will not let me plant this flag.” “No,” says the DM, “I will dig and you will plant the pole,” and sets about his task of helping this man in his mission.

The film suggests that behind the steely exterior of officialdom, somewhere, Darakeshwar tugs at the heartstrings of the DM as a human being, if not the DM as a representative of an unfeeling and indifferent bureaucracy. It is also the director’s way of pointing out that not everyone that represents the bureaucracy is as bad and as corrupt as we know him or her to be. There is perhaps a humane mind ticking away behind every ruthless official face. Perhaps it needs a man like Darakeshwar to bring it out in the open.

Ekti Nodir Galpo Sweta Prasad

Anjana keeps haunting Darakeshwar’s present through flashbacks.

Ek Nodir Galpo is Mithun Chakraborty’s one-man show from beginning to end, complemented beautifully along the way with Shweta Prasad as the adolescent Anjana who keeps haunting his present through flashbacks. Within the brief time-span of the film’s story, you watch him grow from a young father to a man who ages much beyond his chronological years; you are mesmerized with the way he brings alive a father crazed with a mission no one has ever heard of. He changes his voice, his gait, his body language and his facial expression as he grows along with the film. It is perhaps, his career-best till that date. Krishnakishore Mukherjee as the DM, Anjan Srivastav as his ingratiating secretary and Jisshu Sengupta as the police officer are very good.

Shot almost entirely on location in Burdwan District at a place call Naliapur, on the banks of the Bhagirathi river, the film vests the river with a life of its own, much like the life of its protagonist Darakeshwar. His life rises and falls like the ebbs and tides of the river that for him metamorphoses to become his dead daughter at the end of the day. It is the river his daughter loved so dearly. It is the river where her rapists dumped her body. It is the river in which he floated the body of his beloved daughter. With his new goal of renaming this river, he finds another reason to live, and die, for.

Rajen Kothari’s cinematography captures for posterity the beauty of the riverside at all times of day and night, as brilliantly as it does the ragged indifference of the market square, the drab and dry interiors of government and municipal offices and state bus services. Nachiketa’s melodious musical score offers a lyricism in keeping with the flow of the river, taking it in all its moods – happiness, anger, grief, sorrow, desperation, violence, peace and patience. He reinvents a couple of old folk numbers to fit into the rustic ambience of the village.

Sanjib Dutta’s editing and Anup Mukherjee’s sound design add to the texture of the film. Add to this the screenplay, dialogue, direction and production design by Samir Chanda and you have one of the finest films gracing the Indian screen in recent times. Unlike films that have drawn inspiration from a literary source where comparisons are obvious, this film stands apart. It does not matter whether you have read the story or not. It does not matter whether the film has remained faithful to its literary source or not. It is a human and humane cinematic documentation wherein aesthetics and story are seamlessly interwoven to create harmony and trigger introspection at the same time. Ek Nodir Galpo challenges critics’ attempts to be judgmental about fidelity to the original literary source without moving away from its fundamental narrative, thematic and aesthetic features.

Darakeshwar defines grief as an overwhelming trigger that moves him towards a different mission, transforming it from the personal to the political. The film is an ode to the pain and the crusading spirit of a human being. For Ek Nodir Galpo, all questions on adaptation are rendered futile. This film is and will forever be the last word.

Ek Nodir Galpo (a glimpse)

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Dr. Shoma A Chatterji is a freelance journalist, film scholar and author based in Kolkata. Her focus of interest lies in Indian cinema, human rights, media, gender and child rights. She has authored 24 books mainly on Indian cinema and on gender and has been jury at several film festivals in India and abroad. She has won two National Awards - for Best Film Critic in 1991 and for Best Book on cinema in 2002. She has also won four fellowships over the past 10 years.
All Posts of Shoma A Chatterji

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One thought on “Ek Nodir Galpo: The Name of a River

  • Antara

    A very touching review. The way you have expressed the grief, anguish and helplessness of the central character Darakeshwar connects deeply. I read all your writeups with a lot of interest and learn much from them. The emotional connect in this review is simply outstanding.
    Thank you for sharing this Shoma di.

    Best regards

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