An unexpected chunk of free time I came into recently, will end this month. The weather has been pleasant allowing for long walks in the morning - a rare indulgence for me. To fight off what was turning into an afternoon nap habit, I thought to catch up on movies from home instead. First on my list was Midnight's Children and then some Bengali movies - Antaheen, Mach Mishti & More and Goynar Baksho. I am several years behind at this time and picked three that received positive reviews.
Deepa Mehta's Midnight's Children was a perfect treat. In the movie, the book had come to life bringing back memories of the time I had read it over twenty five years ago. Back then it had been a hard book to read but interesting enough for me to persevere. An intricate web of stories with complex references to Indian politics, society and history - it was certainly no bed time reading. The movie is able to keep the essence and spirit of the novel (not surprising being that Rushdie wrote the screenplay) but make it very easy to enjoy.
On the Bangla front, I found it hard to like the portrayals of modern day Kolkata and Bengalis which all but the last movie are. The music is consistently painful lyrically and tonally. Blank verse set to discordant tunes does not bear any resemblance to music from my home state that I can associate with - and I grew up with a lot of Bengali music. The characters speaking a strange mix of English, Bangla and Hindi, generally struggle to find their way in the world. Their sense of self is either defined externally or non-existent.
In Goynar Baksho, the ghost of Rashmoni the matriarch of a zamindar family who was widowed at twelve is a robust character. The supporting cast are real people too - they have flaws, foibles and passions. No one is confused about who they are and what they are meant to do with their life. Based on the movies, it would appear that in a span of about seventy five years we as a people went from three to two dimensional, gave up our Bengali identity for a confused state that is struggling to be pan Indian and global.
Back in my own home, there is J - largely incurious about India or Bengal. The stories of my childhood mean nothing to her - the humor in them is frequently lost in translation. She is surrounded by kids whose parents have made a concerted effort to introduce India and their regional culture to them. J would rather blend in the larger population than be one of them. By when she is an adult all that would be Bengali about her maybe a few of her favorite recipes - I hope some of the music will stay with her. India will remain in her name and physical appearance. She would be just as far away from Bangla as Kolkata locals though for entirely different reasons.