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Thursday, August 24, 2006

Conversation with the Dead

I was eagerly waiting for the DVD release of Herbert (directed by prolific theater person Suman Mukherjee, incidentally Herbert is his debut venture into big screen), not due to the political meddles it created while releasing in Calcutta (last year) but due to the sheer information that I was absolutely blown away by the original novel (winner of Sahitya Akademy award, circa ’97). Herbert is something which I never read before; the aboriginal dialect, layered unfolding, an implicit carnival spirit…

The protagonist Herbert is a person outside our mundane matrix. At times he is the simplest, possessing a golden heart but with a complex thought processing (similar to the story telling) leading a quixotic life. Herbert belongs to a deceasing north Calcutta family (families inheriting a babu traditions) where cultures, values and lifestyles are shattering day by day. In incessant flow of flash back & flash forward visuals we see how Herbert enjoying a lavish birthday party (why his name is Herbert? his father answers that he could have been Humphrey as in H. Bogart) and in the subsequent scene we see how Herbert is celebrating his birthday with cheap liquors and the local goons, today. Herbert is stranded in a desolated island, where his existence in the world is simply unworthy. He is orphaned, neglected and brought up in charity in his uncles debauched family. He has lost everything, everything he loved in his life is/was snatched and finally Herbert found his solace in communicating with the *dead ones*! The contact helps him elaborating the *business* (some elegant process of communicating with the dead souls) until the rationalists (mimicking the rationalist society of Bengal) threaten him for this counterfeit deed, declare him a fraud and eventually Herbert commits suicide.

Herbert’s life is centered on the small room in terrace and by flying kite. Director Mr. Mukherjee has brilliantly captured the changing faces of people with the backdrop of Calcutta; socially and politically. Herbert goes to see Battleship Potemkin with his leftist uncle (the role of his naxalite cousin is one striking role in the movie) and in the turbulent ‘70s bengal the Odessa steps resembles the steps of Presidency College. We see how dish antennas are replacing pigeon holders in the terraces, karate classes are mushrooming and replacing the evening roadside caroms; all are such minute subtle but sturdy details of the north calcuttan lifestyle, u need to be there....

I read elsewhere that Mr. Nabarun Bhattacharya, the author of Herbert is fascinated by the carnival spirits of story telling; what I really appreciated is that Mr. Mukherjee also was very aware of this fact (scene – Herbert’s death procession, his mom mourns but his daddy remarks – why are you crying? Are you not watching a carnival?). The movie is shot behind the camera of his father (enlightened one will find a Brechtian connection).

The layered story telling is something little weird, but not due to the complexity of the narration, the narration is actually flawless and an amazing editing table really did a great justice to make the movie easier. An explosion takes place while Herbert with his dead bed enters the electric cremation chamber. This unbelievable occurrence hits the media as a posthumous terrorist act, and a top-level investigation is launched to expose the mystery behind. The police hunt relentlessly the connection between Herbert and any terrorist organization but finally end up in delving nothing. The complex desolated life of Herbert finally stays untouched for our everyday civilization. Charlatan or Clown? Innocent or Insidious? Terrorist or Trickster? No rationalist organization with their sheer truth seeking tongues (“Stalin is the best therapy for the ones communicates with dead”) has the final answer....

Herbert (2005)
Directed By - Suman Mukherjee


Blogger Ghetufool said...

very impressive blog. was looking for something like this for a long time. will come again and again.

5:07 PM  
Blogger gIftoFwIngs said...

thanks :)

9:27 PM  
Blogger Shuv said...

particularly liked the way the masturbation scene was handled...bengali cinema is again reaching great heights..would be waiting for a review of 'Shunno e buke'..

2:13 AM  

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