Chhoti Moti Baten: An Artistic Exploration of Urban Alienation
A Review by Subho Maitro
Making a feature film based on a true story is a two edged sword. Firstly the viewers will always judge how close the director went to the reality, portray something call ‘authenticity’ and be ready to pounce on if he or she has taken artistic liberty. Secondly, I feel the director himself/herself gets into binary of creative impulse and documentary zeal. But this film, Chhoti Moti Baten, first feature film by Sohini Dasgupta, showed that though a realistic news-story of estrangement and death has been the influence, she as a director left the ‘news-value’ then and there and created what can be said as a proper journey for a film buff.
To tell the story in short a la Hollywood, it is of two young spinsters who after their father’s death barricades themselves to their apartment and slowly this claustrophobia become fatal. Needless to say this is only the core, around which a complex and beautiful exposition of our urban life has been explored. The new urban development and extensions which are so common, we see them as an extension of mechanical, alienated middle class. The inhabitants are nothing but stereotypes who cannot understand the sensitivity and individuality of these two sisters (wonderfully played by Ananya Chatterjee and Tannishtha Chatterjee) and their father (played by veteran actor Kulbhusan Kharbanda). After the death of this old man we see they are lost, they had to deal with the society on their own and it pounces on them. Interestingly the agents of this aggressive world are not the adults but children. A boy, an adolescent rogue, pesters them and his family and all around them feels it is natural, with an adage – children will be children. Just the way we brush away ills of our society as city will be like city or corruption as a necessary evil of development.
Both of them constantly get maligned, because they are alone, they are not so called sociable. They are called sluts but we see men try surreptitiously to have sexual favours from them. All these slowly make them get into their hole, they bar themselves inside their apartment. That brat still constantly goes on to annoy them but they remain inside. Others slowly forget them in that housing complex.
From here onward we see the film takes a turn, the world outside which is harsh, aggressive and insensitive is contrasted with the inside where suddenly a primordial sprouting of flora and fauna takes place. Sohini suddenly exposes us to something unexpected, it is beauty amidst the gloom of death, it is celebration of sensuousness and we don’t know, of life or death or both? This is something bold for a director, in her first feature film she has risked to get out of what the recent trend of ‘films-based-on-true-story’ stereotype in Hindi movies and used a narrative of extended realism which is so refreshingly new especially in the world of Bollywood.
Sohini Dasgupta, though it is her first feature-length fiction, is not a newcomer to the world of cinema. And we see how her long association with Buddhadev Dasgupta helped her in making a film with restraints of a mature filmmaker. The narrative could have gone haywire by pounding on the grim and gory facts of the story. A rookie filmmaker would have gone for this obvious and enjoy the brutality and sordidness and fest on that. This Sohini avoided in the whole film and we see how subtly she celebrates these two women’s individuality even when they are going toward a tragic end. This is a matured exploration of pathos which enthrals us. The art direction of Somenath Pakre and able camera of Sunny Joseph helped a lot in creating this emotion.
This cinema based on intricacies of subtle sounds and images will bring you to realise how films can also be contemplation, we see a Malarmesque ‘cold fire’ in this work. Chhoti Moti Baten can raise a lot of questions, some can see it as exploration of the mind of eccentrics, some can see as the social evils which are turning us claustrophobic, some can read a psycho-sexual exposition. I am not saying these are not present, but a cinephile at the end will realise they are only elements, essentially it is a pure artistic creation which should be enjoyed in totality.
Subhadip Maitra also writes short stories. His Story was selected for Shunya Doshoker Golpo Sangraha, an anthology of Bengali Short stories of first decade of this century. He has attended short story workshop of Kahani Punjab at Dalhousie on 2014. His poetries, short stories and essays have been published in various magazines and web journals of India, Bangladesh and USA. Sahitya Academy’s journal Indian Literature published his poems and translation works.