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WAY BACK HOMEEdit
Dir: Supriyo Sen
Filmmaker Supriyo Sen narrates the story of his parents who had to migrate from their small-town in East Bengal, present day Bangladesh, to Calcutta (India) after partition of India in 1947. After 50 years Sen takes both of them on an emotional journey back to their place of birth. During the course of it, they talk about their home, their neighbors, their flight and their new life in independent India. In this connection, both of them reveal that they have physically adjusted their life in Calcutta, yet they remained mentally attached to their `Desh'. The film is, on the one hand, a remarkable document of modern India's history because Sen questions also the rationality of India` partition. Winner of the Golden Conch at the Mumbai Int'l Film Fest and the 2003 BBC Audience Award for best documentary at Manchester's Commonwealth Film Festival.
Way Back Home (2003) A review by Tushar K Shukla
Director: Supriyo Sen
Producer: Rajasri Mukhopadhyay
Supriyo Sen’s documentary, Way Back Home, is seated in an emotional milieu, that goes further from being a personal account of a person yearning from the feeling of homelessness or as Andrei Tarkovsky, the famous Russian film-maker and the herald of personal and spiritually elevating cinema, would call it- Nostalghia. The narrator’s attempt at realizing his parents’ dream of reconstructing their partition-struck past is reminiscent of the protagonist’s endless self-destructive quest in Tarkovsky’s Nostalghia. The intentions are different however; the soul of a homeless bird remains the same. The film establishes a chord with the viewer almost in no time, and moves further without any attempts at being ‘intellectual’ or ‘a probing-eye’, an approach which rather worked for me. The director is appreciably non-indulgent in his effort to show the pain and longing as felt by his parents. In fact, his father is an avid storyteller himself who vividly describes the deciding events in his life and the broader scene at the time of partition. The film intelligently uses music and montage to give a structure and a human strand to the oft-told tale of partition. I am not too sure about the historical accuracy, but I could not find any visible anomalies in the presented facts. The grimness is captured in a real color, which might get telling on one’s patience but the overall effort is rewarding when the director moves a step further from a personal journey to a holistic perspective on the rationality of partition and questions and chronicles the very string of events that led to it. However, one could have differences upon the way the famous scenes from history are interspersed with the narrative (especially in the grayscale film reels). For example, the famous Tryst at Destiny speech looks almost mocking the state of affairs at the time when people are dying all around. The director eventually succeeds at attaining an emotional proximity with the viewer which stays as lasting and indelible as the echoing songs of the boatman. Some reconstructions/reflections inspired from the film-
• We were lost in the middle of nowhere, damned by a newly formed polity that was unsure of its own fate, betrayed of all sense of a history, culture, identity, dignity or society.
• There was no time to indulge in nostalgia, we had to survive and run for our lives.
• Abandoned from our homeland, they were called a permanent liability anywhere they went.
• Refusal to leave what was our birthright became our nemesis.
• There is an old saying, we dream what we think, all these years I dreamt of my village, my homeland. And now I face a present which has no semblance with the past, I cannot change it even if I wish to, the past can be reconstructed, but the present stares me in the eye and refuses to budge. I have crossed the time and space that I once belonged to.
• For many days, we, a Hindu family who refused to leave the memory of our ancestors, our home, was safeguarded by Muslim neighbors in a terror-struck city. Finally the day came when they said they can’t protect us any longer and that its time for us to finally leave if we wanted to survive.
• O boatman, when did the small river between us turn into a vast ocean?
• These people might not recognize me, but I have a relation with the sky, the wind, the trees, which can’t be disregarded.
• It turned out to be a 10-12 hours journey that took 50 years to complete.
• When the unfortunate one dies in a foreign land, the neighbors might not know but the mother surely knows…
• It was better in my memories, now I can’t recognize a thing. Some memories are better left as they are, memories.
The film also captures the poetic brilliance of Jibananda Das, a post-Rabindrian Bengali poet. You can read more about him at: http://www.sriaurobindocenter-la.org/newsltr/jibadas.html & http://www.independent-bangladesh.com/news/oct/23/23102004ar.htm
Excerpts from some of the works of Jibananda Das:
Long have I been a wanderer of this world, Many a night,
My route lay across the sea of Ceylon somewhat winding to The seas of Malaya
I was in the dim world of Bimbisar and Asok, and further off In the mistiness of Vidarbha.
At moments when life was too much a sea of sounds, I had Banalata Sen of Natore and her wisdom.
I remember her dark hair as night at Vidisha,
Her face an image of Srvasti as the pilot,
Undone in the blue millieu of the sea,
Never twice saw the earth of grass before him,
I have seen her, Banalata Sen of Natore.
When the day is done, no fall somewhere but of dews
Dips into the dusk; the smell of the sun is gone
Off the Kestrel's wings. Light is your wit now,
Fanning fireflies that pitch the wide things around.
For Banalata Sen of Natore.
Translated by Jibonando Das himself
I shall return once more
I shall return once more to the banks of the Dhansiri, to this Bengal
Perhaps not as a man, but in the guise of a white hawk or shalik
Perhaps as a dawn crow to this land of autumn's new rice harvest
Floating on fog's breast
I shall return one day to the shade of a jackfruit tree
Perhaps I shall be a duck -
some young lass's, her crimson feet adorned with bells
I shall spend the day floating upon duck-weed scented waters
I shall return - loving this Bengal's rivers, meadows and farms,
This gentle green land, washed with the waves of the Jalangi
Perhaps I shall descry buzzards soaring upon twilight's breezes
Perhaps I shall hear the cry of a spotted owl from a Shimul branch
Perhaps a young child scatters puffed rice in some courtyard
Or a youth guides his dinghy with its torn white sails
upon the murky waters of the Rupasa;
Rubiscent clouds swim by, and perchance I shall see white herons
returning in the darkness to their nests;
This is where you shall find me - amongst them all.
Translated by Zunaid Kazi
A Windy Night
Last night was thick with wind, a time of countless stars.
All night long, a vast wind played within my mosquito net.
At times that net swelled like a monsoon sea's belly.
Tearing loose from the bed every once in a while
It would try to fly to the stars.
Now and then it seemed to me-perhaps while half asleep-that there was no mosquito net over my head at all,
As it soared like a white heron upon a sea of blue wind, skirting the hip of the star Swati!
Last night was such a marvelous night.
All the dead stars awoke last night-there wasn't the least little space in the sky. I saw the gray faces of all the world's beloved dead in those stars.
In the dark of night, in aswattha treetops, those stars glittered like a lusty hawk's dewy eyes.
The huge sky gleamed in the moonlit night like a shining cheetah stole upon the shoulders of Babylon's queen.
Last night was such an amazing night.
Those stars in the bosom of the sky that died thousands of years ago, They, too, brought with them through the window last night countless, dead skies.
Those stunning women I saw die in Assyria, Egypt, Vidisa, Seemed last night to stand shoulder to shoulder, javelin in hand, in far- off mist and fog at the sky's horizon:
To trample death under foot?
To proclaim full victory for life?
To excite the sullen, frightful stupor of love?
I was overwhelmed-overcome, As though torn by last night's compelling blue tyranny.
on the sky's endless, expansive wings The earth, like some insect, was swept away last night.
From the sky's bosom came the lofty winds Sighing through my window, Like so very many zebras of a verdant land, startled by the lion's roar.
My heart filled with the scent of a vast green grassy veldt,
With horizon-flooding blazing sunlight scent,
With the restless, massive, vibrant, woolly outburst of darkness,
Like growls of an aroused tigress,
With life's untamable blue intoxication!
My heart tore free from the earth and flew,
Flew up like a drunken balloon into an ocean of blue wind,
To the mast of some distant constellation, scattering stars as it flapped away like some mischievous vulture.
Translation: The Poet