Kaushik Ganguly’s latest release Chotoder Chhobi (2015) deals with the predicaments of the dwarves or midgets. Apparently labelled ‘abnormal’ due to their incongruity in physiological structure, the dwarves in his film are invested with dignity and hearts which tower above the ‘normalcy’ of the ‘tall’ ones.
In the last two decades, we have seen Bengali cinema traversing a long and enriching path, reflecting on our social, cultural and personal identities in various meaningful layers and nuances. In these two decades, we have seen the emergence of talented filmmakers whose works have celebrated the myriad aspects of an individual and society through their brilliant cinematic vision. Rituparno Ghosh’s Unishe April, released in 1994, turned out to be a game-changer for the Bengal intelligentsia and brought back a sense of déjà vu; which made us remember the soulful films by Satyajit Ray. Bengali audience queued up in front of the theatres to witness the birth of subtle sensitivity which was a relief from the contemporary trends in mainstream Bengali cinema made in those days. The inner conflicts and the drawing/bed room dramas, bordering mainly on the women psyche found a considerable audience. His sudden death in 2013, however, stalled the industry for some time and created a void which was eventually, courageously and challengingly filled in by his contemporaries.
Ghosh’s legacy has been carried on by the likes of Kaushik Ganguly, Srijit Mukherji, Anjan Dutt, Sanjoy Nag, Shibopraad Mukherjee, Nandita Das, and Kamaleshwar Mukherjee. Kaushik Ganguly has remained invincible as long as good story-telling and infotainment are concerned. Neither labelled as a ‘commercial’ nor an ‘art-house’ director, he has proved his mettle time and again. His films have roped in several discourses and have addressed plethora of social and domestic issues, transforming the personal into political. However, his mastery is reflected most in portraying ostracized characters, oppressed, ridiculed, marginalized and rejected to the core, who struggle every day to create a space of their own in our society. Ganguly’s characters raise major questions on acceptance and heterogeneity, and probe into the mindscape of the audience who learn to accept the veiled truths.
Kaushik Ganguly’s latest release Chhotoder Chobi (2015) deals with the predicaments of the dwarves or midgets. Apparently labelled ‘abnormal’ due to their incongruity in physiological structure, the dwarves in his film are invested with dignity and hearts which tower above the ‘normalcy’ of the ‘tall’ ones. Ganguly’s ‘tunnel-vision’ posits a serious debate and offers a solution which is so rooted that the cathartic climax brings a profound realization, besides bringing tears to the eyes. Ganguly’s mastery of craft in handling the struggles of common men is apparent in this film too, as he makes room for an alternative thinking; an acceptance of the hitherto unaccepted.
Kaushik Ganguly’s protagonists are rooted to the earth. They are commoners with stories to tell. The director questioned the male gaze and fake masculinity in Shunyo-E-Buke (The Void Within, 2005), and also addressed the trials of a cancer patient torn between love and responsibility in his debut film Waarish (Heir, 2004). Homosexuality finds an outlet in Aarekti Premer Golpo (Just Another Love Story, 2010), while his National Award winning Shobdo (Sounds, 2012) is a tale of artistic crisis faced by a foley (not sure what you mean here) artist. He treats humanity with a pinch of surrealism in Khad (Cliff, 2015), and also raises the dwarves to newer heights in Chotoder Chobi (A Short Story).
Chotoder Chobi (2015) is apparently a simple love story. The story begins with the devastating death of Shibu, a dwarf-clown, whose trapeze act goes horribly wrong. He is bed-ridden, leaving his wife and daughter in utter distress, and the circus company offers a meagre amount for his treatment and sends it to the family through the Khoka’s hands (Dulal Sarkar). Khoka, Shibu’s colleague and a dear friend is pained to see Shibu’s family in financial crunch, and the news of Shibu’s death (in fact a suicide) aggravates his wrath. He leaves his job instantly and befriends Soma, the deceased’s daughter and becomes his confidant.
The complexities in the story are woven in an apparently linear plot. As the story progresses, the tussle between two worlds, the vulnerabilities, the trials and the tribulations of these characters surface. Dulal Sarkar and Debalina Roy do justice to their tailor-made roles. Their nuanced performances are intermittently complemented with melodious background score by Indradeep Dasgupta, adding soul to the script.
In the film, Ganguly expresses how liberal and widened the beliefs, thoughts and attitudes of dwarfs are, in spite of their small stature. Their musings are a blow to the traditionalists. The futility of an organized religious funeral and the denial of austere rites concerning death are portrayed with an impressive and lasting effect. The scene in which Soma performs the last rites of her father are top-notch. Khoka’s bold, forthright public utterance, “I am not handicapped”, as he declines a seat in a crowded bus and Soma’s rejection of Khoka’s conventional love proposal are framed diligently. The scene where Soma pays a surprise visit to Khoka’s house only to realize what she means to him is a delight. The recurrent symbols and images of monkeys (a trope to satirize the ‘normal’) and trains convey deeper insights to an otherwise linear narrative. The incorporation of Khoka’s room-mates, each one of them describing their plight and their grievances, their struggles with debt, poverty and social rejection are poignantly and subliminally interspersed within the main narrative. In one such situation where Khoka weeps and laments Shibu’s death and the agony of his family with a Mickey Mouse mask on his face, Kaushik Ganguly reveals his supremacy as a director.
It is not the conventional marriage of the two hearts that win in the end. Soma blatantly refuses her liaison with Khoka so that she doesn’t give birth to more dwarves. She admits that as a mother she would not be able to make her children go through the same misery of which she or Khoka has been a part. Soma shines in her eloquent silence and realistic approach while Khoka initially gets hurt. However, he soon realizes her sentiments and extends his friendship for life. The closing shots capturing collages of their new found happiness, promising a prelude to a new beginning.
Ganguly’s Chotoder Chobi is not meant for the extraordinary. It is as ordinary a tale as the characters are. Soumik Halder’s cinematography, involving lower movements of the camera dealing with the short people are to watch out for. The pan movements and the long shots add magic to the world of these ‘chhoto’ (little) characters from which they see the world. The story of the dwarves has never been a part of mainstream cinema. They have either been portrayed as comic figures arousing laughter, or treated with sympathy. After Budhdhadeb Dasgupta’s heart-wrenching tale Uttara, where the dwarves gained significance in the multi-layered narrative, albeit in a limited screen space, Chotoder Chobi is the first full-length feature where the protagonists and the supporting characters are all centred on dwarves.
Not all love stories culminate in a ‘happy ending’; not all films are meant to make the Box Office cash registers ring! Kaushik Ganguly’s contribution to contemporary Bengali cinema remains uncontested. Winner of several International Awards including the Best Actor at the 45th International Film Festival in Goa, Chotoder Chobi is a big leap of faith for mankind. It is a dark, witty and soul-melting cult film that leaves room only for introspection and questions. Like all other Ganguly’s works, it leaves us questioning and reshaping our perspectives towards the normal-abnormal dichotomy.
(All pictures used in this article are courtesy the Internet)
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