Soukarya Ghosal’s latest Bengali film Rainbow Jelly raises hopes and questions, a welcome relief from the clutter of films that are unrealistic and unnecessarily didactic.
Four years back two Hollywood films – Touched by Grace and Where Hope Grows caught my eye for their soulful depiction of narratives involving two young persons, a female and a male respectively, both suffering from Down Syndrome. As mostly in Hollywood films, both the films ended happily. But by then they had successfully let the audience shed buckets of tears for the protagonists. Now, that is how Hollywood films generally work – restoring belief in the so-called ‘happy’ society of justice and equality even though that is absent largely in real life. Yet, the salvage point of Hollywood is the fact that even though the endings are pre-determined, the films stand out due to their diverse range, their staggering options of content, in bringing out binaries and in celebrating differences.
Indian cinema, be it Bollywood Hindi films or even the mainstream regional ones generally stumble in this ideation process. Our films repeat the unrepeatable, with minimum success and yet fail to come out of the rut. The intelligent directors point fingers at the producer, the producer turns his gaze on us, the audience. In today’s rapidly changing informational world of narcissistic social sentiments it is the audience’s duty hence to push back and say – it’s enough! This fight, a battle or even a war with the bands of entertainment providers is a long one, and it must continue.
It must continue because of two things – one, there are, even if sporadic, attempts at breaking the pattern though in feeble ways and in small numbers, and these have to be championed; and two, related with the first point itself, these attempts are not reaching the entertainment seekers, us, again due to an oft-known paranoid case of exhibition-distribution fiasco/dilemma that shrouds Bengali ‘indie’ cinema.
The case in reference is Soukarya Ghosal’s latest Bengali film Rainbow Jelly. The film involves a young boy Ghoton who we are told has low IQ and as a result he is stripped of his academic pursuits. He draws well and is quite a street-smart in building up stories to save his maternal uncle who is otherwise a bit of a non-mentionable slang. The uncle abuses the ‘special’ child, makes him do all the household work while the boy has his moments of loneliness and celebration also when he thinks of his deceased parents. The director draws heavily from popular Bengali mass culture – from Leela Majumder’s literature to Satyajit Ray’s filmic references. But he spices his narrative with animation flicks in between which are a nice alternative to the real-action flow though at times are either too short or a bit redundant. It is through Pari-pisi, the fairy aunt that Ghoton wins his way back at the end – his uncle passes away rather ambiguously and more importantly he gets the key to the wealth his father has left behind.
Bengali children’s fantasy literature is not strewn with fairies particularly and hence Pari-Pisi’s motherly command is affecting and endearing. What also pulled the strings is the apparent openness of the ending.
Things do become better we know as Ghoton pays off the threatening money-lender and who in turn takes him to a school he joins finally. Does money rule only, in the end, in creating trenches between souls and also in mending them? The film’s ending hints that but to its credit it does balance that with more nuanced and innocent portrayals of trust and love as well – between the young girl Poppins and Ghoton and between Ghoton and the road-side tea-seller. The apparently endless ending (or is it me who is looking it at it that way?) saves the film from going down the typical ‘lived happily ever after’ way.
This is because there is a sense of loss. A paramount sense of grief even if no one dies on screen or even if one does (the uncle), that is to our relief. There is no unbearable lightness but a weight – of our own guilt in not being responsible enough to the society at large, for the numerous times we look the other way seeking a Hollywood ending. Soukarya’s film has excesses – in the narrative build-up, the cinematic moments as well, but I am grateful to him for also creating a void, in putting things essentially in perspective. For that somehow I felt Ghoton need not have been a ‘special’ child. His misfortune is not due to the matters inside his head but otherwise. That realization hits hard beyond the apparent sympathies for Ghoton.
The Western world, primarily in the US, the government is extremely strict against abuse and neglect. They have gone further recently in controlling the parenting rights by putting questions whether a couple is intellectually capable of raising children. Which is now known as the Oregon case, Amy Fabbrini and Eric Ziegler have been fighting for four years for the custody of their two sons since they have to prove that in spite of their below-average IQs they’re intellectually adept and adequate to raise the children. A modified version of Sean Penn’s melodramatic I am Sam, may be. Whether this State intervention is justified or not is a different conjecture but it is this urgency to put things ‘straight’ the way the State wants, is probably the seed for Hollywood’s panache for happy endings.
But where do we stand? What happens to Ghoton and others with perfectly fine IQ who perish and wither in the troughs of our society? What will the school offer Ghoton? Will his learning abilities improve (he can read and write already as is shown in the film) with alternative brain exercises that will help him comprehend and solve problems with the use of modern photographic memory learning strategies? Or will it push him further to the margins? Will Ghoton grow up one day to become a Forrest Gump? The answer is unknown. But the question lingers, it lingers more than the viewing time of Rainbow Jelly. In an impoverished film-viewing culture which either favours unrealism or is unnecessarily didactic based on a staple of foreign films, Rainbow Jelly as was Sahaj Pather Goppo in the last few months, raise hopes. To look beyond the obvious.
To look back, at us.
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