Review: BEYOND BORDERS-UNEXPLORED POTENTIAL
Sharmila Maity’s Beyond Borders which she has produced and directed is a 48-minute docu-feature on the Partition. The film opens with Partition looked back in retrospect by the three actresses who featured in one of the most incisive feature films on the impact of Partition on people who stepped from East Pakistan and beyond into West Bengal. The film is Meghe Dhaka Tara. The three are Supriya Devi who essayed the central role of Nita, Geeta Dey, who portrayed her mother, and Geeta Ghatak, who performed Nita’s younger sister Gita. The director brings them together as their real selves within the same frame.
The film opens with a reference to Sir Cyril Radcliff, chairperson of the Border Commission authorized to divide India by defining the borders that reduced Indian Territory and gave birth to Pakistan. On August 17, 1947, Radcliffe equitably divided 175,000 square miles (450,000 square kms) of territory with 88 million people. Few viewers will catch the reference as most viewers do not know who Cyril Radcliffe was. A bit of explanation could have done wonders to this impressive opening. The film picks up on mood and ambience when it focusses on Supriya Devi and Gita Dey reminiscing about the days of Meghe Dhaka Tara. Gita Ghatak (since deceased) looks very ill and senile. Supriya talks about how Gita Dey helped her pick up the nuances of Bengali spoken among the West Bengalis. Supriya Devi, originally from East Bengal, arrived from Myanmar when her father decided to bring his family to Kolkata during World War II. The camera often catches her in a pensive mood, looking out of the window. She explains how a new word, ‘refugee’ entered into her vocabulary soon after she came to Calcutta. Gita Ghatak manages to sing a few lines of Je Raate More Duarguli from the film and later, sings the famous Gandhi prayer Raghupati Raghava Raja Ram. However, it seems pathetic and perhaps is unethical to catch a once-famous singer and actress now reduced to senility on camera for public view.
The second part is pure fiction. It tries to draw parallels between the Nita of Meghe Dhaka Tara and another Nita of contemporary urban Kolkata whose destinies are hooked on sacrifice for the family. This attempt is forced because it has no link to the Partition or to the Nita of the film. The voice-over (Suchandra Bhutoria) points out that before the Partition, women in Bengal were safe in the cocoons of the andar mahal. Were they really? Littérateurs like Bimal Mitra and Tagore suggest quite the opposite. These segments, badly written and enacted, are hollow, contrived and jarring.
Maity has failed to explore the full potential of the three female protagonists she began with. There was a lot of material there. But she has relied too much on outsourcing. As a result, by the time the film ends, there is little of Maity in the film and more of clips from films picked at random that deal with the Partition, over-generous use of stock shots from news reels and lots of B & W stills from the archives of events before, during and after the Partition. The narration praises Gandhi for his progressive views on women. History does not bear this out. The main drawback of Beyond Borders is the director’s lack of focus. Is this film really about the Partition? Or, is it a flashback by three women who performed classic roles in a film that is now an integral part of India’s cinema history? Or, is it about the unchanging status of Indian women? The two positive points the film draws are – the very good cinematography by Premendu Bikash Chaki and the natural and candid performance by two famous actresses of yesterday and today.
by: Shoma A. Chatterji
Note: Beyond Border is the inaugural film at International Women’s Day Special Film Festival hosted by Gorky Sadan and the Eisenstein Cine Club