Tahader Katha, 1992

A disoriented, lumbering man named Shibnath (Mithun Chakraborty), recently released after an eleven-year incarceration (which he served, in part, at the prison asylum) for the death of a British officer during the country’s anti-colonialist resistance movement, is escorted on a train ride home by a former comrade – now a successful businessman and aspiring politician – named Bipin (Dipankar De). It is a homecoming that proves to be a hopeful illusion as the former respected scholar and militant activist soon discovers that his native village – and bitterly fought homeland, Taherpur – now lies on the other side of India’s post-independence sovereign border, subsequently lost in the country’s culturally traumatic Partition of Bengal in 1947. Instead, his wife Hemangini (Anashua Mujumdar) and their children have been forced to resettle as refugees in the neighboring village of Garshimal after their villages were burned down in the aftermath of the partition, living in desperate poverty and forced to make ends meet by removing their eldest child, Puni, from school so that she may earn extra income for the family by working as a maid for a dubious and lecherously over-familiar statesman. Once cutting a formidable figure as a virile and courageous freedom fighter crusading for a united and independent Bengal to drive away the British, Shibnath now stands in stark contrast: a fragile, fragmented shell of his former self as he awkwardly hobbles along an unpaved road through the countryside, stopping frequently along the way to relieve himself in the woods, unable to control even his own bodily functions (undoubtedly the autonomic legacy resulting from years of physical torture and inhumane treatment that he sustained while in police custody). Hemangini urges her husband to ally himself with the opportunistic Bipin in his bid for political office, who now seeks to capitalize on his old friend’s legendary reputation for patriotism (and near martyrdom) by asking him to accompany him through a campaign tour of the villages in order to testify to his character and endorse his candidacy in exchange for his aid in arranging Shibnath’s employment as a schoolteacher using his extensive political connections. However, Shibnath remains disillusioned and mystified by the life that now lies before him away from his beloved – and irretrievably lost – homeland. Unable to abandon his crushed idealism and put his devastated past behind him, he withdraws further away from family and former colleagues, retreating into the tenuous company of his own fractured and haunted memories.

Acclaimed Bengali poet turned filmmaker Buddhadeb Dasgupta creates an elegantly spare and contemplative, yet richly textured and incisive portrait of broken idealism, exploitation, opportunism, and exile in Tahader Katha. Filming in predominantly medium shots, Dasgupta incorporates underlit interiors and bold, often primary colors that enhance the prismatic qualities of objects and spaces, creating a sensuous juxtaposition that visually and thematically provide a distilled, singular focus in an otherwise murky, somber, and obscured environment – reflecting, in turn, Shibnath’s confusion, uprootedness, estrangement, and ambiguity of direction after returning to a foreign landscape and endemic culture of petty self-interest. Dasgupta further employs exquisitely sinuous tracking shots that create an illusion of continuity within visually bisecting or framing architectural elements and confining, natural objects that reflect Shibnath’s pervasive sentiment of captivity and isolation from his family and native land: the recurring shot of a bridge underpass; the tracking shot through the rooms of Bipin’s home as Hemangini listens attentively to his attempts to persuade Shibnath to join his campaign; the alternating, isolated framing of Hemangini and Shibnath’s late evening conversations as the couple struggle to make sense of their past and determine a course for their future; the repeated, circular panning shots of Shibnath in the woods as he walks with Bipin and subsequently encounters the traveling magician, Abdullah (terminating with a cleverly conceived shot of Abdullah’s ornately decorated mirror that similarly completes the cyclical image). In the end, it is through Shibnath’s refracted view of his brave new world – an alienating and ultimately terrifying clarity borne of idealism and profound suffering – that his fate becomes inextricably sealed: a displaced, anachronistic tragic hero eternally imprisoned in a modern world of seductive conjurers and false idols.

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