While the plot follows the story about Alo as the traditional narrative of causality, Majumdar etches out a thematic quotient to the narrative of Tagore’s songs and poetry.
Alo (Light) is an adaptation of Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay’s 1938 short story “Kinnardal” (‘The Performers of Heaven’).
Alo is the story of an educated city-bred woman moving to her husband’s ancestral village post-marriage. The interaction between the uneducated, poverty-stricken villagers and the educated woman is the crux of the short story, as well as its film adaptation.
Majumdar seems to understand that a “social” (as Ray called them) film like Alo, necessitates the use of melodramatic elements. He also understands that in order to reach a larger audience, there must be “simplicity of approach” in the story telling, as Ray puts it.
As is the acknowledged hallmark of Majumdar’s films, Alo (Light) uses Rabindranath Tagore’s songs extensively. While the plot follows the story about Alo as the traditional narrative of causality, Majumdar etches out a thematic quotient to the narrative of Tagore’s songs and poetry.
He manipulates the “legacy of the theatrical-operatic traditions” (Ray 40) of the jatras (rural dramas of Bengal) in Bengali films in the form of songs and dances, primarily focussing on the protagonist. He chooses to introduce the film to the audience with a poem that does not, at all, refer to the central protagonist of the film.
The credits are rolled out along with the recitation of a section of “Dui Bigha Jomi” (A Strip of Land). The selected passage is a salutation to the beauty and simplicity of rural Bengal. The sense of calm that the audience settles into is disrupted, as they realize that, it is used as an antithesis to the reality of rural life.
In his essay on village life, Himu, Shubho’s younger brother, refutes the established notion of the placid beauty of village life, by citing the instance of his chaotic ancestral village, Kaloshdanga. He argues against the impossibility of polarising the rural as beautiful and the cityscape as ugly. In the process, the impossibility of easily formulating valid ‘absolute ideas’ is argued. The author attempts to follow the dual narratives and establish them as synchronous during the course of the article.
Alo is introduced twice – first to the audience, and then to her prospective groom, Subho. The first song used is, “হারে, রেরে, রেরে, আমায়ছেড়েদেরে, দেরে-/ যেমনছাড়াবনেরপাখিমনেরআনন্দেরে।” (‘O my, let me be free/ as free as the bird in the forest’). The song is from Shrabongatha (Monsoon Songs), where, Nataraj introduces this song as the one that captures the “দুর্ললিতচাঞ্চল্য” (the unsophisticated restlessness) of the monsoons. Alo and her siblings are not introduced with one of the suave, graceful monsoon songs of Tagore. Instead, the song that introduces them is filled with the spirit of adventure.
Ha re re re
Alo’s character is further marked out as Majumdar picturises “ঘনশ্রাবণধারাযেমনবাঁধন-হারা” (as free as the thick rains) on Alo alone. The free spirit of Alo is coupled with the idea of the woman as the nurturer and nourisher in the next song: “দাঁড়িয়েআছতুমিআমারগানেরওপারে–/ আমার সুরগুলিপায়চরণ, আমিপাইনেতোমারে॥” (You are at the other end of my song/ My song can find you, but I can’t seem to).
Dariye Acho Tumi Amar Gaaner Opare
The image of the humble woman, waiting for her beloved is further driven in, by making Alo hum another monsoon song of longing and love: “আজি ঝরোঝরোমুখরবাদরদিনে/জানিনে, জানিনেকিছুতেকেনযেমনলাগেনা॥” (On this rainy day/ I do not know why the mind is so restless).
Alo and Subho interact personally for the first time now, the romantic attraction being evident. The tune of the last song is played out as their conversation proceeds. The introduction of the central protagonist comes to a full circle as the suave restlessness of the feminine spirit of the monsoons (“ললিতচাঞ্চল্য”) finds expression in Alo.
The following two songs used in Alo provide “clues about what is going to happen” (Verstraten 156) in the plot. While one (“ফুলেফুলেঢ’লেঢ’লেবহেকিবামৃদুবায়,/তটিনীহিল্লোলতুলেকল্লোলেচলিয়াযায়।” The flowers are flirting with the soft breeze/ the river flows on rippling with noise) hints at the romantic sub-plot involving Himu and Roma (Alo’s younger sister); the other , (“প্রাণচায়চক্ষুনাচায়, মরিএকিতোরদুস্তরলজ্জা।/ সুন্দরএসেফিরেযায়, তবে কারলাগিমিথ্যাএসজ্জা।।” If the heart yearns but doesn’t acknowledge it/ If beauty returns unattended, what’s the use of such desire), captures the joyful mood in the household, prior to Subho and Alo’s marriage. These two songs act as the zone of transition from the personal her-story of Alo to the stories of the women living in the dilapidated village, Kaloshdanga.
Praan Chai Chokkhu Naa Chai
Along with the spatial shift from the city to the village, the narrative now shifts from the closed familial life of Alo to the communal life she encounters. While Himu’s essay is prejudiced against the poetic idyll of rural life, Alo approaches village life with tabula rasa. She is touched by the humaneness of life here and is shocked at the unbelievable degree of poverty in which the villagers are forced to live in. She is not shocked by the meanness that grows in such extreme situations, since she empathises with them.
The song that Alo chooses to play to Shanti and Kali (two young unmarried village girls) on her sarangi, “নিশিদিন ভরসারাখিস, ওরেমন, হবেইহবে। / যদিপণ করেথাকিস সেপণতোমাররবেইরবে।” (Keep your hopes alive although/ If you are determined, the desires will be fulfilled), is a song calling for the freedom of the mind from non-reason, and, for a life filled with pro-active determination.
The significance of the song and its use at this particular stage in the film is metaphorical, since the villagers have no clue about its meaning. Though aesthetic ideas can not satisfy hungry bodies, the music from the sarangi floats across the village and revitalises them with an awareness of something beyond the daily struggles that sap their life force.
As the girls run down the village lane, after the recital, the tied ends of their sarees are loose and flying in the wind. The rhythm in which they run is purposefully slowed in the shot while the background score is made to have fast beats. The incongruence of the music and the visual will remain a vital technique employed by Majumdar to weave the thematic narrative into the plot.
The desire to change is manifested in a couple of shots later when the village women unexpectedly come to hear Alo sing. Overruling the predominant dictum of the village men, disapproving anything besides household and reproductive acts, the women encourage Alo to sing. This rare act of empowerment will gradually seep into their daily lives as they gain the courage to do things that they like without explicit confrontation with their male counterparts. The next song and its presentation is the highest point reached in the plot as well as the thematic narrative of the improbability of exclusive classification.
As Alo settles down and begins to sing “শ্রাবণের ধারারমতোপড়ুকঝরে, পড়ুকঝরে/ তোমারি সুরটিআমারমুখের ’পরে, বুকের ’পরে।।” (May your music rain down on my face, on my heart, as the monsoons do), the characters listening to her song become more significant, in the frame, than the song or the singer. The song speaks of the deadness of life and seeks the enlivening touch of music for regenerative healing. The accompanying music to the song begins on soft notes.
Sraboner Dharar Moton
In the interludes, the camera focuses on the women’s faces filled with wonder. While the first interlude uses music in keeping with the rhythm of the song, the second interlude uses intensified and louder beats. The beats do not blend with the song as it did at the end of the second stanza. It is distinctly different. During the second interlude, the camera pans along the listener/audience. The loud musical strokes are used to reflect the individuating realisations of the womenfolk of the village, who have a base existence.
The song and its melody initiate introspection. As the women ask leave for the evening, their coldness towards Alo had dispelled. Her song haunts them and it becomes their anthem. In the dead of the blue night, their reflection in the pond seems to be a continuing stream of flow that has been born with this song. The choral humming of the verses continue into the night, as the women retire for the day. The air of alienation, that had engulfed their souls, is dispersed with this song.
Alo’s siblings and cousins come to Kaloshdanga to organise a cultural evening during the Durga Puja, bringing along further vibrations of poetry and music. The proposed evening of music and dance is transformed into an evening of showcasing the creativity of the city and the village alike, as Alo plans to organize an exhibition of the handicrafts of the village women.
Alo’s dream-like performance of “আমার রাতপোহালোশারদপ্রাতে।” (‘My night ends at this dawn’) enchants the village women. This song is about the cyclical nature of birth and death, as believed in the Hindu philosophy. It initiates the falling action of the plot. The interlude used is the melody of another Tagore song: “আনন্দলোকেমঙ্গলালোকেবিরাজসত্যসুন্দর।।” (In the realm of pure joy, in the realm of pure grace resides the pure truth) harps on the same theme of natural change.
Amar Raat Pohalo
The change that Alo had initiated was single dimensional – creation from deadness. The change that ensues now is cyclical in nature. While Pintu, Alo’s cousin brother dies untimely, Alo becomes pregnant. The cycle of life and death concludes with Alo’s sudden death at childbirth. The news of Alo’s death is received with the wails of the village women blending with the refrain- “আমার রাতপোহালোশারদপ্রাতে।” – from the last song with which Alo is associated. The fact that regenerative processes and decay in natural life are simultaneous truths is a philosophic idea. Majumdar doesn’t strain to weave this philosophy into the plot of this social drama.
The final song in the film is a recorded song in Alo’s voice The song: “যখন পড়বেনামোরপায়েরচিহ্নএইবাটে” (When no footsteps of mine will cross this threshold) is used in the film much like the way in which “শ্রাবণের ধারারমতোপড়ুকঝরে, পড়ুকঝরে” was used. Using two levels of music – the one that technically accompanies the recorded song, and, the other, is the emotional music articulated by strong intense beats. The diegetic and the extra-diegetic music are used simultaneously. This is possibly the most explicit scene in which the narrative of the plot and the thematic narrative meet.
Jokhon Porbe Na Mor Payer Chinho
The film progresses from the problematised differences of city life and village life, to the problematised interaction of life and death and the philosophic idea of the cyclical nature of life. However, in keeping with the idea of simple approach, he refrains from assessing either of the complex thematic ideas deeply. A theoretical assessment of the complex aesthetics of the narrative is, beyond the scope of the article. This article limits itself to the vindication of the argument that such a thematic narrative does develop in the course of the songs that Majumdar weaves into Alo.
Alo. Dir. Tarun Majumdar, Prism Entertainment Pvt. Ltd., 2003.
Bandyopadhyay, Bibhutibhushan. “Kinnardal” (1938), Bibhutibhushan Galpasamagrah,Pratham Khanda. (Collection of Stories by Bibhutihushan First Volume), Kolkata: Mitra & Ghosh, 1997, Pancham Mudran(Fifth Edition) pp. 234 – 246.
Ray, Satyajit, “Problems of a Bengal Film Maker”, Our Films, Their Films, pp. 38 – 43.
Tagore, Rabindranath, “Dui Bigha Jomi”, Kahini,1900.
Verstraten, Peter, Film Narratology, Trans. Stefan van der Lecq, Toronto,Buffalo, London: U of Toronto P, 2009.
The translations of Tagore’s texts are by the author.
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