Sunday, August 20, 2006

Vasthuhara (The Dispossessed)

Spoiler Warning / Note : This is my attempt to understand and analyse Vasthuhara, a touching story about the trauma of being a refugee. Vasthuhara was directed by acclaimed art director G Aravindan, who was part of the new wave of film making of Kerala that started in the early 70s. Detailed story ahead.

Vasthuhara(1991), a malayalam film by late G Aravindan is a social film which takes a look into the lives of partition refugees from East Bengal. At a larger level, its the universal story of refugees, the dispossessed.

The film takes place in Calcutta, 1971. Story begins with rehabilitation official Venu (Mohanlal) coming to Calcutta in one of his regular visits to shift about 35 - 40 refugee families to Andaman Islands. The current rehabilitation plan is only those who fall under the category of schedule caste farmers. People in Andaman too are not happy about taking in refugees. All the refugees have been staying in Permanent Liability Camp in Rana ghat, West Bengal for the past two decades. Experiencing the shattered lives of poor displaced people deeply hurts Venu, who in his silent moments alone in his small lodge room frequently finds himself lost in the thoughts about the lives of the refuge seekers he meets during the day. Living an oppressed life, their only hope being the occasional promises of land, cattle and other grants by the bureaucratic state.

Aravindan takes us closer into the life of a refugee when Venu realizes that the sorrow of one refugee family is his own. One day, an old lady, Arthi Panicker(Neelanjana Mitra) comes to meet Venu in his lodge. She speaks broken malayalam which surprises Venu. She's a refugee from East Bengal. She desperately wants to move out of the wretched Calcutta for a better future of her children, a daughter (who's completed MA but never appeared of the examination) and a son about whom she's very sad. Her daughter Damayanti(Neena Gupta) quit studies and is a communist revolutionary on parole. Venu realizes that they are no one but his own uncle's family, his uncle Kunjunni Panicker whom he admired so much, a poet and revolutionary who left home long back (probably to join Bose's INA) when Venu was a child.

Venu visits home in Kerala, a typical matrilineal nair household, to discuss about his chance meeting with Kunjunni uncle's family and also to secure their rightful share for them. Venu's mother has no sympathies for Arthi Panicker and her kids. Kunjunni uncle's land is in possession of Venu's aunt Bhavani(Padmini), who, as a beautiful teenager had secret affairs with both Kunjunni and his brother Anandan. Venu remembers his childhood days where he used to run secret errands for a young Bhavani played by Shobana. Aunt Bhavani is more sympathetic towards Arthi. Having never met the wife and children of the man she once loved, she's curious about them. She agrees to give them the land or money, whatever is convenient to them. (One gets the impression that at the late time of her life Bhavani is leading a lonely, guilt-ridden life, having destroyed the lives of both the brothers – She married Anandan who commits suicide, probably due to unhappy marriage.)

Venu returns back to Calcutta and reveals his identity to aunt Arthi. She is pleasantly surprised and she and Damayanti finally feel a sense of security and belonging in their lives. But Arthi rejects the financial help from her husband's family who hadn't allowed her to enter the compound of the house when she visited them years back. Arthi narrates the humiliation of having to return back on a hot summer afternoon from the locked gates of her husband's ancestral house, both she and Kunjunni breaking down on their way back. Immediately after their return back East Bengal, the country gains independence and in the consequent partition they seeked refuge in Indian side. Kunjunni dies of cholera in the refugee camp and a pregnant Arthi is left on her own in abject poverty, with two year old Damayanti by her side.

Venu meets Damayanti's brother who is also a communist revolutionary hiding from the police. Venu's arrival into their life brings long lost hope and happiness. But its short-lived as its time for Venu to return to the Andaman Islands with the selected refugees. As the rest of Calcutta celebrates Durga puja, a few bunch of refugee families are packed in the back of a goods truck and offloaded at the harbor. Arthi and Damayanti arrive at the harbor to see him off. Damayanti is not able to control her emotions and breaks down inconsolably as Venu hugs her, himself overcome by sadness. Arthi Panicker looks on emotionless, here face hardened by years of victimization.

The film ends tragically as Venu has to rush hastily into the ship about to depart, abruptly ending his goodbye to his uncle's family. As Venu rushes through the crowded stairways of the ship, a crying Damayanti shouts from behind, “Write to me Dada... Damayanti Panicker, Apilore Central Jail, Calcutta”.

The ship moves towards Andaman, beginning a new journey, a new era for a few Vasthuharas, towards the green shores of a new promised land somewhere in the eastern islands, a land new hope. But even as a handful of them find hope, another wave of exodus begins, which ends in the Indo-Pak Bangaldesh liberation war in Dec 1971.

Displaced from their homes, unwanted outsiders in their land of refuge, doing sundry small time jobs, working in abject conditions as bonded laborers, some wait to return back to their land, some simply give up, and some others like Damayanti and her brother, become rebels.

Vasthuhara won the State Film awards for best film and director in 1990.


Direction & Screenplay: G Aravindan

Cast: Mohanlal, Shobhana, Neelanjana Mitra, Neena Gupta, Padmini

Cinematography: Sunny Joseph

Editing: K R Bose

Music: Salil Choudhury

Saturday, August 12, 2006

New Guilty Pleasure for Saturday Afternoons

I dont know how many of you have tried out the new Google toolbar for Firefox Ver 2.0.

It has this cool new feature where as you type your search keyword, the drop-down combo automatically lists popular searches matching your keyword. In case its not working for you, its probably because “suggest popular search queries” option is unchecked in your toolbar options.

Quite a useful feature no? Now try typing “how to” and have a look at the “popular searches” people do that start with “how to”.


For some other funny popular searches:

-what is
-where is
-will he/she

Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all.”
-Harriet Van Horne

Excerpts from my Diary:

February 12th

After one month of initial hotel stay, Me and Sanju just moved into this apartment with Arvind and Pratyush, guys from Cognizant. Arvind and Pratyush also came to US just two weeks back. Finally had some home made food after one month of pizzas and burgers. Besides, when you have come on short term onsite assignments, you can't afford to waste dollars by eating from ouside all the time. Sanju and Arvind are really good cooks. Arvind's sambar tasted just like the one you get at Saravana Bhavan at T nagar. Sanju made great bindhi sabzi. Pratyush didnt know much of cooking, so he cut the vegetables and as for me, well my only cooking experience involves an extremely courageous act of making Maggi Noodles , which ended up in damaging Mom's beloved non-stick vessel beyond recognition. So only contribution I could make was washing the dishes. Need to learn cooking soon, washing dishes is no fun.

March 6th

Dear Diary, you would be proud to know that I am well on way to become an accomplished cook. Which is a good thing in more than one ways. I dont have to wash dishes all the time and besides if software industry is hit by another recession and I am fired and all, I think I can easily become a Chef at some restaurant. We dont have any hard and fast rules as to who should cook when because basically all of us enjoy cooking and everyday any two of us enter into the kitchen at random. Its fun. I dont miss home made food.

April 25th

I dont know whats happening to the guys. Nobody has been volunteering to cook these days. All have become very lazy. Last week I had to cook for three consecutive days. Arvind and Sanju go to play tennis as soon as they are back from work and come back late in the night. Pratyush has suddenly fallen in love with his old college mate who's now in the east coast. He's obviously on phone all the time. So that leaves only me to do the cooking duties. Cutting vegetables and washing dishes day after day is getting quite boring. I think its high time to make some “Kitchen Rules”.

May 15th

Last friday we had a big fight as to who is supposed to cook that night. Finally we had a meeting and decided to bring some process into the whole thing. We pasted a “Kitchen Rules”chart and a calender on the wall. From now on everybody will take turns and sign their initials on the calender on the days they cook. Things have returned back to some sort of normalcy now. Everybody is reluctant though, but rules are rules. Food doesn't taste that good. The less said about Arvind's sambaar, the better. Everybody tries to finish it of in minimum time possible. How it tastes is of nobody's concern.

June 10th

Ordered pizza tonight. Had dinner from India Cook House yesterday night and made some noodles for myself the night before that. The “Kitchen Rules” has gone down the drain, quite literally. It happened quite fast though I could see it coming. When the kind of food thats being made went from bland to plain inedible, cooking just stopped. It was a mutual decision and everybody were quite happy with that. On the plus side, the camaraderie that was missing in the last couple of months has returned back. The tension in the air that used to be there earlier when nobody enters into the kitchen is gone. Kitchen has now become part of our indoor SCG. If your straight drive lands in the kitchen, it a boundary. A good amount of hard earned dollars is going to India Cook House and Dosa Place instead of my Citi NRE account, but as they say, Health is Wealth.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

I hate monday mornings. Remember that old school essay where they ask you to write “If I were Prime Minister of India”? And we rant on about the usual better education, eliminating corruption yada yada. Well I would like to add one more thing to that - three day weekend.

But I am not Manmohan Singh, and I head to office, body half-willing, mind fully unwilling. I settle down in my cubicle and open my inbox. Reading all those forwards that would have piled up over the weekend should be good timepass. What the fcuk!! Inbox says zero mails!! I frantically click on the Send/Receive button over and over again with the hope that all the mails are blocked somewhere in the way and will come pouring down, flooding my inbox. Not to be. Maybe the company mail server is down. I check my other mail Ids. Yahoo ID has a mail from a nice bloke from Nigeria who wants me to help him transfer his dead uncle's $20m to some european bank and Gmail ID has a concerned lady named Daisy wanting to enlargen my umm... a particular organ. No forwards?! This is so not happening. I turn around to check what Venky is doing with so much enthu on a Monday morning. I should have guessed. Ever since he's got engaged, that SOB has been lost in his own world of Yahoo Messenger, chatting with his fiance. Why the hell should he enjoy on a Monday morning so much? I decide to pester him.

“Hey Venky...Is the mail server working? I didnt get any mails”

“Yeah its working fine, I got mails”, he responded lazily as he kept typing into the chat window.

“Hey come man, lets go have some coffee.. Come on man, give her some rest”

“Yaar actually we are discussing something important, you carry on man”

Important? Yeah I can see that with all those smooching smileys and hearts on the screen. Why the hell am I not engaged to some nice, pretty girl working in Infosys? I figure out this is not the best time to think about it. What I really need now is a strong coffee. None of the other guys are in yet, so I headed for the cafeteria alone.

“Coffee Machine Out of Order. We regret the Inconvienence. Thanks for your Patience – Management”

Could somebody please kill me? I head back to my seat. Now what? God! Its only 10 AM!! 8 more hours!! Ah.. Finally.
Damn! Its from offshore. Dont those guys have any homes to go to? Its 10:30 PM in India, for heavens sake!! Loosers!!!
“Hey Rahul, that patch fix that you sent is crashing on Win NT machines if you enter special characters in the Name field. Please fix it and send it asap since we have to update it to the FC3 team right now. We are doing night out here. So send it fast so that we can test and release it”

At this point I had had enough. I closed my eyes and sunk into the chair. Something started ringing. It was very annoying and was not stopping. The alarm sound got louder and I stretched across the table, still sleeping, to switch it off. Pratyush, my roomie is in the bathroom singing “Khoon Chala...”. Good, I can sleep for 10 more minutes.
Did someone just say early morning dreams come true?