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Runanubandha: Marked by abstract lyricism

The new Bengali film — the only one to compete for the jury and audience awards at the 7th Festival des Cinemas Indiens de Toulouse — explores mythology and the city of Kolkata through an innovative cinematic vocabulary

Shoma A Chatterji | Kolkata |

Runanubandha(The He without Him) is a term used in spirituality, which refers to the body’s memory comprising of genetic memory and memory of intimate physical connect. It is this memory, which is said to bind a parent and a child, a husband and a wife or any other relationship. A film by the same name has been directed by Amartya Bhattacharya.

It is the only Bengali feature film —slated to be screened on 12 April —to compete for the jury and audience awards at the 7th Festival des Cinemas Indiens de Toulouse. It featured as one of the three Indian films in the international competition section at the 24th Kolkata International Film Festival last November. It then found a place in competition at the 11th Bengaluru International Film Festival last month. In March, the film also screens at the 14th International Film Festival of Thrissur.

Bhattacharyya is not only an independent film director but also a poet, writer, cinematographer, editor, painter, actor, lyricist, recitation artist and a photographer. He won the national award for best cinematography for his fantasy documentary Benaras: The Unexplored Attachments at the 63rd National Film Awards. He also won the best editing award for his feature film Khyanikaa: The Lost Idea at the 29th Odisha state film awards. He has won around 15 international awards as director, writer, editor and cinematographer.

Khyanikaa is a powerful statement that comes from the poet in Bhattacharyya where “Idea” takes the form of a beautiful woman who a young man falls in love with. Though the presentation is abstract, one can discover several storylines within the complex, poetic structure. On the other hand, Benaras looks at the holy city differently by imagining it is a young woman who is distanced from attachments but there are people desirous of attaching themselves to “her.” So, it is the anti-narrative approach that appeals to Bhattacharya and he does not believe in linear storytelling.

Having watched his three films, this writer feels that it is poetry — its lyricism, rhythms and visual potential that influences him more than cinema. For him, the language of aesthetics is expressed more through poetry, abstract visuals, music and songs than through the language of cinema. Responding to why his focus in Runanubandha is so abstract where the narrative must be searched for and is not organically visible, Bhattacharya says, “Linear progression doesn’t interest me. A key reason I did not like cinema initially was its linearity. I think it oversimplifies an idea and does not give space for a viewer to participate.”

He adds: “As a viewer, I want to see a film in which I can creatively participate and can find multiple meanings. I want to see the unseen, hear the unheard, and know the unknown. When I make films, I do it from what I spontaneously feel. Runanubandha is a blend of reality and abstraction, with certain metaphysical and spiritual undertones. The various shades of Kolkata are fast disappearing. Soon, it will no longer remain the Kolkata I once fell in love with. Before sophistication completely takes over, I wanted to make a film in Kolkata and thus Runanubandha happened.”

The film explores a daughter’s search for her father in Kolkata. The daughter Shatarupa finds the voice of her father in a young man who comes to her life as a director. The paternal traits draw her towards him but she finds herself trapped between emotional complexities and simplicity.

The film also draws a parallel with the mythological tale of Lord Brahma, the universal father and creator, who was attracted to his own daughter Shatarupa (also known as Saraswati). The film unfolds the mystic journey of a daughter in pursuit of her father.

Bhattacharya says, “The pacing of the film was in my control and intended to be such. If one just follows the story of a daughter in search of a father, the environmental aspects of the film and the subtle characterisation of a city may go unnoticed. Then it may become boring. Through the film, I wanted to explore Kolkata, the Goddess Saraswati (and her mother image, Durga) as daughters who come to the city in search of their creator. So, right from the opening frames the non-diegetic sound hints at the unreal elements, which later were visually unveiled. The discomfort quotient in the film is the experience that the characters were going through. The only difference is that the entire experience did not happen at an emotional level. Since the viewers are conditioned to a certain kind of emotional experience, the form of the film may not have suited their taste.”

About the role of music in cinema, Bhattacharya says, “Music has always been kept as a support element to create or exaggerate a certain mood, if needed. I feel it is disrespectful of music as an independent form of art. Music should not always be used as a background score. Just like an actor can be foregrounded to create a mood, an object can be foregrounded to create a mood, a colour can be foregrounded to create a mood, music too can be foregrounded to create a mood, and it need not follow the visuals. There are certain notions related to film music. I wish to break that. My film’s music can be loud, intense, and can lead the visuals or the narrative instead of following them. I experiment a lot with music in my film, and I am glad my composer Kisaloy Roy brilliantly supports me.”

Bhattacharya says that he loves the works of Buddhadeb Dasgupta, the later works of Rituparno Ghosh. “I also like the craziness of Q. Ray’s Goopy Gayne Bagha Byneand Hirak Rajar Deshe were very special films. In world cinema, I love the French master Jean-Luc Godard, the surrealist elements of Luis Bunuel, the poetic aesthetics of Kim Ki-Duk, and Tsai Ming Liang’s experimentation with cinematic time and space. Each impacts on me in a very different way. In Bollywood, I have no faith. I feel Bollywood films are dangerous. They destroy all cinematic sensibilities and pamper a pampered class of people. As for other types of Hindi language films, Kamal Swaroop’s Om Dar-B-Dar fascinates me,” he sums up.