Move along Srijit Mukherjee. This time it’s confirmed. A new pair of directors have emerged as the champions of Bengali middle class. And they are not merely supreme in their atrocious craftsmanship but there is simply no one in Bengali Film Industry at the moment who can put up a challenge to their ideologically offensive content.
— kaahon (@kaahonwall) May 8, 2017
Right from the gayatri mantra scrolling over the animated Eros logo right till the end credits, Posto by Shiboprasad Mukherjee and Nandita Roy is a nosedive into the foul stench of feudal right wing dogma. The film is about the titular character, a seven-year-old boy, Posto, from an upper caste upper class family growing up in Shantiniketan with his orthodox Grandparents. His parents are both working in Kolkata running an insanely busy schedule round the clock and can only manage to visit the child on weekends. The father who started as an artiste with an almost naïve idealism has an added problem of sticking to jobs due to the mostly corrupt environment in his work places. However, when the father gets an offer of a start-up business in London, he immediately plans to shift base with his family. However, the Grandfather voices a strong opposition to the idea of a child growing up with working parents. He claims the father to be incapable due to his inability of retaining a job. He considers the mother to be inept at providing time and ‘motherly’ love because of her professional commitments. Finally, this escalates into a court case where the grandfather fights the father, claiming guardianship of the child.
The director duo who’d been rechristened Shibu-Nandita by the vernacular media, continues with their anti-woman inclination as witnessed in their previous film Praktan. In Posto, right from the very first scene with their entire family, the grandfather Dinu Lahiri is critical of his son Apu claiming that he ‘dances to his wife’s tunes’ or he is ‘dependent on his wife’s income’ and describing the gifts for their son as bribes. In other words, Apu is ‘not man enough’ to be an ideal father and if Posto grows up with him, he will grow up to be a wimp like Apu and not masculine enough according to Dinu Lahiri’s feudal standards. The jabs aimed against working women become even more evident during the court scenes where the Apu’s lawyer is a woman and the only character in the entire film to utter the one sentence which makes sense that ‘Dinu Lahiri’s actions and intentions are regressive’. This gives the film a license to switch on the ‘Praktan’ mode and throughout the court scenes the woman is ridiculed, villainized and dragged through the worst form of reactionary sentimentalism till tears start rolling down her eyes and the film drives its point home. The film’s regressive and exploitative predisposition becomes more evident when the prosecution lawyer pits the parents’ urban upwardly mobile lifestyle against the so-called traditional way of life of the grandparents. The argument is placed as drinking and debauchery against going to temples and reciting scriptures. Upholding the saffron side of national debate, the real-life instance of Abesh Dasgupta’s death is paraded where the 17-year-old boy died at a friend’s party. The lawyer continues with his anti-progressive rant as he brings into the question the hosts of that ill-fated party, a famous writer cum literary critic and his professor wife. The film makes its position clearly heard against liberal thinking and academia and does it in the most harmful fashion by pitting a child’s future, soaked in sentimentalism and feudal values and devoid of any rational thinking. Snubbing out all sorts of parenting statistics from across the world, the film takes a straightforward nationalist stance declaring that the traditional way of parenting a child, which the film imagines to be ‘Indian’ is the best way and the only way to secure a child’s future. Obviously, in this highly exclusive imagination there are certain pre-requisite social and economic conditions which can only be fulfilled by the upper class and upper caste of the country. Who else has an endless leisure and steady supply of time and money?
On the other hand, what does the film show of the child’s upbringing in Shantiniketan? Most of it is done away in an aestheticized song sequence where the child is basically running wild in the house with no sense of hygiene and has no respect for the work done by the domestic help who is obviously from a lower stratum of the society (incidentally the father is the only one to rebuke him for this!). He plays cricket with men who are 11 times his age and as a result has developed zero social skills and thus when he loses a friendly scuffle with other boys of his age, he comes whining and snivelling to his Grandma complaining about his father who ‘didn’t come to rescue him’. His rhetoric is shaped up by the crass soap operas which is considered ‘cute’ but it shocks his grandparents into oblivion to hear him utter ‘shit’! Fair enough. There have been two glimpses into his reading habit, Tintin in America and The Jungle Book. It’s true that both are bona fide classics of children literature but why these two? Why not the likes of Lewis Carrol or the inimitable Sukumar Roy? Before one passes it off as unimportant or coincidental, one must keep in mind that among the entire published oeuvre of Tintin, this book is notorious for its racist and stereotypical depiction of Native Americans and The Jungle Book’s imperialist and racist manifestations are so widely known that even the English are embarrassed about it. The only other book to make an appearance in the film is seen by Apu’s bedside. It was on the life and works of Ramkinkar Baij. Need I say more?
Amid the ideological onslaught, what really makes the film difficult to watch is Gopi Bhagat’s cinematography, if at all it can be called that. It is more like a lens on adrenaline rush as it moves, glides, swings, sways, staggers and does everything else other that stay still through the scenes and sequences irrespective of what is happening on screen. It may be a group of children praying in a shrine or a drunken man returning home, the camera is on a Saturday-Night mode always doing a bit of jig. And obviously when the camera gaze is so excited, the rest of technicalities are conveniently neglected, like composition or focus. Even if the film doesn’t set box office records, it will go down in history as the film with most out-of-focus shots and lop-sided compositions where to put it simply, the straight lines are not straight. Things go even haywire in moving shots and here the editing department also pitches in. Shots begin from unexplained in-points travel through unnecessarily negative spaces and ends at an out-point which has nothing to do with anything. For example, a shot begins with the table in front of the judge when he is not even passing the verdict or anything, and then travels unsteadily through here and there and a lot of furniture and finally finds itself in a corner where the camera can’t move anymore and ends with the image of a mousepad! Why?
While it fails to even qualify as cinema, this kind of films, for the lack of a better word, with their enthusiastic reception among the urban crowd precisely defines the saffron zeitgeist. Upholding its faith in a feudal and reactionary value system and its pestilent apprehension of anything modern, progressive or rational, the film unfolds like a manifesto of powers that be. The presence of Babul Supriyo, Minister of State for Heavy Industries and Public Enterprises, Government of India is just one of markers. Such regressive exercises in the name of cinema is an embarrassment to any modern individual and a slight to the memory of those who fought and died for the cause and are still fighting and dying every day, all over the world. This kind of films makes one ashamed of his society, culture, language. But mostly these films and filmmakers make us truly miss Joseph Stalin and his firing squad. Those were the days…
Arup Ratan Samajdar