If a film had to be made on the life and times of a theatre actress who had died under mysterious circumstances nearly 35 years ago, one may have expected a contemporary dimension with its human, investigative and technical aspects to justify the revival of a murky past. As it stands, Natoker Moto becomes a foggy tribute that scarcely reveals more about the actress on whose experience the screenplay is based than what is already known. Director Debesh Chatterjee is a theatre personality who apparently considers himself qualified to reproduce the ambience of what was described as group theatre. The actress was drawn into the vibrant climate of creative ecstasy that reached out to everyone from Shakespeare and Brecht to the masters of Greek tragedy. But it was also the time when those committed to the theatre were taught that they couldn’t devote their minds and hearts to the stage if they had other obligations, even under dire circumstances.
The director was an integral part of that climate and had good reason to be inspired by the sacrifice made by the actress, Keya Chakraborty, to the extent of supporting her group with the cash and jewellery that her mother had kept for her own future. The name has been distorted in the film but the echoes are clear. So are the names of the two men who enter her life. Both belong to the group — one the director who becomes her husband and the other the main actor who is her main source of creative inspiration. The triangular relationship is not clearly defined, perhaps deliberately. That is not the main problem with the film. What does raise questions is why the film had to be made if the director-writer wasn’t making a biopic to reveal hitherto unknown aspects of the human drama or of the tragedy that finally cut short a promising life.
As it turns out, the screenplay doesn’t set out to be anything more than a dramatised documentary. Even in this respect, it is hopelessly inadequate. It begins with the drowning during the shooting of a film — a purely commercial venture compared to the artistic heights that are sought to be scaled by the plays in which she performs. There was an element of mystery in the disaster that took place more than three decades ago. Was it a cruel act of callousness on the part of the director and his production team that caused the actress to agree to jump into the river when precautionary measures were not in place? Was it a desperate move on the part of an actress to do justice to the role — a minor one in what by all accounts was an inconsequential film? Or was it a premeditated disaster stemming from the tensions she was experiencing in the theatre?
The questions that had been asked then continue to be asked. The writer-director puts all the speculation together in the screenplay without seeking to come up with fresh ideas. Obviously, the director is treading on sensitive ground. The personalities on whom the main characters are much too respected to become subjects of a daring investigation.
The best option is to produce a stream of reflections with just thumbnail impressions of the main players. The screenplay provides for some concentration on the actress&’s mother (played with the assurance that Rupa Ganguly has been showing in her recent work). But it is at best a diversion built around familiar sentiments. The handling of the two men is a trickier proposition and that is where the conflict doesn’t leave much impression. The screenplay falls back on the safer device of group rehearsals and snippets from the plays staged by Nandikar (the group‘s name is also changed) in the 1970s with just fleeting impressions of the struggle that was experienced to keep the convictions of the theatre movement alive. In the end, it is much too sketchy and the best that the director could have done is to tell the audience after it is all over that the show must go on.
But all that is still not good enough to justify the reopening of an old wound. If there were exciting possibilities in a real-life narrative steeped in personal tragedy, middle class struggles and sentiments, ideological convictions revolving around the theatre, crime, disaster and human conflicts, all that is virtually drowned in cliché-ridden memories that don’t make a very convincing document. The tentativeness extends to the performances by Saswata Chatterjee (the husband) and Bratya Basu (the leading figure in the group). The silver lining is Paoli Dam&’s sensitive portrayal of the actress who must sustain a fluctuation of moods. But her competence cannot give the character the power it deserves largely on account of the basic weaknesses.
Debesh Chatterjee had perhaps felt that a film would be the best medium to pay homage to Keya Chakraborty. But with virtually no new insights, it becomes a colourless portrait that does not reflect the energy or the sensitive qualities that had distinguished the real Keya.