Mela is a 2010 Bengali Film directed by Dhananjoy Mandal based on a story by Taradas Bandopadhyay. Read the complete critic’s review of MELA Bengali Movie at Calcutta Tube.
MELA – SIMPLE AND HONEST
‘Mela’ meaning ‘fair’ is a fading cultural icon of Indian village life. Mela, the film is based on a story by Taradas Bandopadhyay that holds up a microcosm of the cultural and social paradigms of what goes on at a village fair. It is about one such fair held annually during Rash Purnima in celebration of the love of Radha and Krishna. Dhananjoy Mandal takes his crew to an actual fair to shoot the film before the fair begins, during the fair and after the fair when the stalls are brought down. The acting cast is a blend of professional and amateur actors picked at random from the village where the film was shot. The actors do not wear any make-up and wear their everyday clothes.
Revolving around Bishu Mama (Paran Bandopadhyay) who arrives with his nephew Ratan (Rudranil) to set up a stall for snacks, the story branches out to touch other characters involved as organizers, stall owners, visitors, actors in the jatra performance, etc. Mela opens a window to a world city-bred people do not know about, unless, like Mandal, they are proud of their village roots. When Bishu Mama arrives, his first task is to hire space to put up his shop. The organizers consist of three individuals – Haradhan, who thinks he speaks very good English but doesn’t, Tarak Khuro, an erstwhile jatra performer who breaks into dialogue at every turn, and Biplab, who tries to throw his weight around. Space is taken care of, a quid pro quo for a concession is gained with the promise of serving the organizers evening snacks, Bishu Mama and Ratan build their earthen oven, lay out their utensils and open up shop. They sell papads, batter-fried brinjal crisps, stuffed potato chops and dal-stuffed puris with chutney.
Mela-veteran Brojomohan (Sunil Mukherjee) runs another stall with the help of his orphaned niece, Alta (Mouli Bhattacharya) an ace at frying moong dal jalebis. There is the mad woman who roams around scaring people off with a stick and calming down when offered food. Hriday and Kali with their two small kids sell earthenware pots and pans. Hriday’s drinking bouts add to the family’s woes. A perennially hungry old man waits for discards and leftovers.
Ratan and Alta meet while bathing in the dirty pond in the backyard of the fair grounds. They fall in love and sneak out when they can, to wander around an old temple, scout around the ruins of a once-beautiful mansion that belonged to the landlords of the village, or sit on parapet to talk. Like most love stories born in a fair, this one too, is destined to die. Bishu Mama and Tarak Khuro forge a friendship with their common interest in the performing arts – Bishnu Mama in music and Tarak Khuro in acting. The fair is dismantled on the morning after the jatra performance on Rash Purnima night. The Indrajal – the beaded network that is the main ‘umbrella’ of the fair is brought down. Stalls are dismantled, visitors look back wistfully and walk away. The closing frames show a sad Ratan going away on a hand-drawn van with his uncle, looking back on a love that will never see fruition. Bishu Mama remains oblivious of his nephew’s love story.
The acting is candid, spontaneous and natural. Two brief dream scenes are beautifully orchestrated and positioned. The cinematography captures the natural landscape of the village and the fair. Chandan Roychoudhury’s musical score is a character in the film made to fit into the characters and the mood. Bishu Mama sings his folk numbers, Ratan hums popular Hindi songs. The jatra songs come floating from a distance while the loudspeakers belt out a varied range from Hindi film songs to Bengali light numbers to Tagore songs, with the flute used as the theme instrument.
Mela captures the real landscape of a Bengal village through visuals, sound and music. The hallmark of Mandal’s direction is his simplicity of style and subtlety of statement. His experience with the documentary mode carries over into his feature film as well as it is shot entirely on location in a remote Bengal village. The film holds a mirror to vignettes of a village fair with its happy, sad, dull and tragic moments where friendships are forged and broken, love is born and dies, livelihoods are placed at stake and life is reduced to one long struggle for survival where the corruption, colour, noise and music of city life are absent. Apart from the songs, the too recognizable stereotypes, and the post-production colour processing that leaves room for improvement, Mela stands out for its simple and honest approach that carry strong influences of Italian Neorealism placed expressed in an Indian context. I would grant the film a rating of seven on ten.
by Shoma A. Chatterji