December 4, 2010 (Calcutta Tube): MONER MANUSH is a Bengali Film directed by Gautam Ghose starring Prosenjit Chatterjee as Lalon Fakir. Moner Manush essays the journey of Lalon’s life from a young man till he is around ninety. An extraordinary film to brighten the stardom of Prosenjit in another dimention.
Cast and Crew:
- Producers: Gautam Kundu (India) and Habibur Rahman and Faridur Reza Sagar (Bangladesh)
- Story: Sunil Gangopadhyay
- Script, direction, cinematography, music, choreography: Goutam Ghose
- Production Design: Samir Chanda
- Sound: Anup Mukhopadhyay
- Editing: Moloy Bandopadhyay
- Cast: Prosenhit Chatterjee, Rasul Islam Asad, Priyangshu Chatterjee, Gulshan Ara Champa, Paoli Dam, Shubhra Kundu, Rokeya Prachi, Chanchal Chowdhury, Syed Hasan Imam, Shantilal Mukhopadhyay, Tathoi, etc.
- Date of release: December 3, 2010
- Rating: 8/10
Where shall I find him” My soul man?
I’ve lost him and wander the world through looking for him,
Where shall I find him? My soul man?
Lalon Phokir in Moner Manush
Lalon Phokir is regarded as the Baul of Bauls. Bauls sing their own songs in praise of the Lord. Lalon was probably born in the late 1700s in the part of Nadia district now in Kushtia, Bangladesh, and died in 1890. He lived an amazingly long, productive and devout life, gathering disciples and composing hundreds of songs. Lalon rejected the division of society into communities, protesting and satirizing religious fundamentalisms of all kinds. The only idea we can get of what he really looked like is from a sketch done by Tagore’s brother Jyotirindranath Tagore on May 5, 1889, 17 months before Lalon passed away. He composed 1000 songs of which just 600 have been traced. Legend has it that Lalon was born a Hindu and became a Muslim. When quite young, Lalon had set out on a pilgrimage with friends, but contracted small pox. He was left for dead. A Sufi practitioner rescued him. When Lalon returned home, his mother and wife refused to take him back because he had lived with a Muslim. Though they seal themselves within their own sects and sub-sects, members of the Baul-Phokir faith across all sub-groups differ on subtle details of practice. However, they are unanimous in their acknowledgement of Lalon Phokir as the best of their best.
Moner Manush essays the journey of Lalon’s life from a young man till he is around ninety. The film opens with a Jyotirindranath Tagore of the Tagore family who owned the land on which Lalon Phokir had his aakhara (now in Bangladesh) drawing a sketch of Lalon. The two get into a discussion spanning Lalon’s arguments about religion, faith, humanity, life, death and so on within the bojra (a luxury boat) of Jyotirindranath. The narrative moves back and forth between this discussion in the present (1889) and Lalon’s life beginning as a young man interested only in music and songs and coming back to the end of the discussion with Jyotirindranath taken aback and somewhat transformed in his thinking by the thoughts, philosophy and ideology of this semi-literate, much-maligned yet deeply venerated old man who said everything through his poetry and his music and his singing. This frequent cutting back to the present does not jar or make it discontinuous in any way as the editing and the storytelling are masterly in their grip over the narrative.
The flowing river, forever alive, infinite, timeless, functions both as a metaphor for life, death, relationships, faith, love as well as a parallel drawn with Lalon’s river-like life where he considers himself to be a twice-born man in the same life. He was born Hindu and discarded by his own and then given a second lease of life by a Muslim midwife who rescued him from the waters of the river, floated away to die by his Hindu employers. The sound, the music, the lyrics and the songs – all 32 of them are woven into the cinematographic and narrative space in the film so beautifully that the film does not become a musical. The music and the songs are almost substitutes for needless dialogue.
Ghose’s cinematography stands by itself, tall and regal, lyrical and poetic, romantic and spiritual right through the film. Yet it does not overshadow his directorial command for a single minute. The beautiful landscape of Shimultala, the shimmering moon reflected in the river waters on a full moon night, the candle-lit interiors of Jyotirindranath’s bojra, the beautifully orchestrated sequence of the singing baul women against the backdrop of men dancing on stilts, a boat being oared across the river as the ones holding the oars break into a joyous song are slices of a period brought alive on camera. The same goes for the soundscape with the nights sounding of crickets against an the undercurrent of the lapping waters of the river or the whining of a dog in the distance.
Prosenjit as Lalon has given a performance he might never be able to surpass. With this one single performance, he has silenced all his critics for an entire lifetime and some more. You cannot even recognise him as Prosenjit the star after a point of time so immersed he becomes in his performance. It reminds us of the Hollywood actor Jeff Bridges who considers every performance a product of meditation and deconstruction. Priyanghsu Chatterjee is dignity personified as Tagore. Shantilal Mukherjee is very good in a cameo. Bibi Russell’s costumes for Lalon appear realistic to the time. Samir Chanda might win yet another National Award for his superlative production design in recreating an entire akhaara in Bangladesh without a single frame of reference to fall back on.
Latif Shah and Khuda Baksh who have rendered the playback for Lalon beautifully. Though their voices are distanced from Prosenjeet’s speaking voice, they do not jar. The same applies to Farida Parveen, the famous Bangladeshi singer who lent her voice to the single dance number lip-synced on screen by Paoli Dam. There are no notations for Lalon’s songs. So Ghosh tried to get the songs from the present baul masters at Kushtia, Lalon’s place of birth. Moner Manush lifts you onto a different spiritual plane altogether as it discovers one more function of cinema – to change the ideology of men and women from intolerance to tolerance, from religion to humanity, from hate to love and from God to something that reaches beyond God as we know and limit him to.
Shoma A. Chatterji