In Praise of Manas Mukul Pal’s Sahaj Pather Goppo

First things first, this is not so much a review as to make a case for Sahaj Pather Goppo and why more movies like this should be made, and of course why you should watch it. You might have seen graphic violence in movies; some directors like Scorsese, Tarantino, Anurag Kashyap have taken it to the pinnacle of artistic brilliance. But have you seen graphic poverty on screen? What does it actually mean to be poor in the twenty-first century? How do the marginals live in a world which would perhaps be just as fine without them? Manas Mukul Pal through his adaptation of Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay’s Talnabami offers us just a glimpse into one such family.

From the first few shots of the film it becomes evident that the director is going to paint a picture of that analogue “Bharat” which is not only anomalous but also an obtrusive blemish on the face of a digital “India”. We see two brothers, Gopal and Chotu contemplating whether their father will ever recover, whether God will make everything okay. They live in abject poverty; so much so that they wear the same worn out vest alternately throughout the film. As the movie progresses, we get to know that their father is left bedridden because of an accident with a truck. Their mother is seen lamenting about the fact that almost all their savings have been spent on his medication. We pretty clearly understand that the truck owner got away with it. The police quite understandably did not bother because instead of a car it was just a vanrickshaw that was mowed down.

In a scene later on we see Chotu has come home rain-soaked; the angry mother yells at him, “who will pay the cost of medicine if you catch fever?”-

“ওষুধ আনবানি কুত্থেকে?
ওষুধ আনবানি কুত্থেকে?”

Through scenes and dialogues like these we are compelled to think about how many people die because of lack of healthcare facilities and exorbitant cost of medicines. Failed is a system in which healthcare has become a luxury to many.

In such a state of indigence it is inevitable that the children will be forced to work. So do our two little brothers, just like other 13 million of them. Their first ‘job’(cleaning the bore-well) is in a neighbour’s family; a neighbour who can ‘afford’ to send his children to school. As if to show us the searing contrast between the ‘privileged’ and the ‘underprivileged’ Gopal and Chotu arrive there exactly when the mother was preparing her son for school. A boy in uniform unwilling to go to school (we hear his faint demurral in the backdrop) and two boys, one in a shabby t-shirt and the other in a tattered vest standing beside the doorstep gaping at him – can a contrast be more pronounced! Chotu tells his brother

“ওই ছেলেটা যে ইস্কুলে পড়ে সেখানে দুপুরে খাবার দেয়। ভাত,ডাল, তরকারি দেয়, ডিম দেয়।”

The irony here is too striking to be overlooked. In what condition does the only attraction to school become mid-day meal; not even playing or having fun with friends, let alone studying? In a beautifully crafted shot, we see exuberant school children running to have their lunch and one of them says

“এ বাবু শিগগীর আয়, ডিম দিচ্চে”

while Gopal and Chotu keep staring at them vacantly. It is as if their future is running away from them and they can’t do anything but watch it slowly slip through their hands. Again, a painful reality is portraited with such dexterity. Manas Mukul doesn’t fail to touch on domestic problems arising out of poverty -Gopal throws (kicks) away food, beats Chotu and yells at his mother. In a scene some time later, Gopal wakes up to find his father dead and his mother gone. He runs only to find his mother on the verge of committing suicide. We gasp at the possibility of the inevitable(she does talk about committing suicide in the beginning of the film). When Gopal tries to stop her; she says

“তোর বাপরে শশ্মাণে নিয়ে যেতি হবে, একটা কানাকড়ি নেই”

and runs towards the rail tracks, the camera cuts into a shot of Gopal yowling as the train passes by. The blare of the speeding train works better than what could have been shown on screen. Because, often times what’s not shown on screen is more effective in adding emotional depth to a scene and it definitely is one of those scenes. Again, a deft but equally unostentatious touch of the director. Later, we are relieved to find that it was only a bad dream. In far too many cases this is an actual reality.

Manas Mukul Pal is scathing in his criticism of middle-class hypocrisy. A ‘gentleman’ is seen bargaining with a vendor for the price of a palm. But the price is too high for our ‘gentleman’ so he comes to Gopal to buy from him instead. The ‘gentleman’ turns out to be the school teacher who asks perfunctorily why Gopal and Chotu have left school. In spite of knowing their situation he bargained even though Gopal’s price was much lower than the previous vendor. Sahaj Pather Goppo is actually interspersed with scenes like this.

What we need to understand is that it’s not just the state and the bureaucracy that have failed them, but ‘We the people’ are also failing them. We,the privileged ones, too are part of this ‘systematic inequality’. Even after all these “why don’t they send their children to school?” will forever remain an enigma to us; we’ll ask that little boy selling flower bouquets by the road  “পড়াশোনা করিস না কেন?”

The movie ends with an aerial shot of Gopal and Chotu lying by the riverside, soft evening breeze blowing by them, because what is Bhibutibhushan without nature. Their only concern is not whether God will save their father or what is in store for them in future but whom do they love the most- truly colours of innocence. Samiul Alam and Nur Islam never cease to amaze us with their acting prowess at such a tender age. They deservedly won National Film Award in Child Actor category. Mention must also made of Sneha Biswas as their mother for rendering emotional plight of a hapless mother of two children. Without their proficient acting certain scenes would never have reached the ardent emotional intensity that was needed.

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