Char-The No Man's Island (Bangla)
Director-Producer: Sourav Sarangi
Co-producers: Stefano Tealdi (Italy), Signe Byrge Sorensen (Denmark) and Jon Jerstad (Norway)
Cast: Rubel Mondal, Sofikul Sheikh
Plot: Story of hope and dreams of 14-year-old Ruben who lives in Char - the No Man's Island
Verdict: Outstanding human document placed against a setting of nature in its turbulent and stormy best
Box Office Prospects: Good in cities, not good in mofussils and villages
Sourav Sarangi's films focus on the spirit of the poor, the marginalised and the ignorant. He had done it brilliantly in Bilal and now again in Char - The No Man's Island. The film points out how even nature has neither sympathy nor understanding for this vulnerable group who live a precarious existence on a piece of land that has risen up on the banks of Ganges near Farakka Barage in West Bengal. They live in constant fear of losing everything to the eroding shores of the river and the rising tides. The island is named 'No Man's Island' because it is as fragile as the people who live on it.
The film follows the journey of 14-year-old Rubel who has dreams of making it big in some other city because he knows about the fate of Char. Rubel is the single earning member of a family living on the dredges of poverty not knowing where the next meal will come from and if it does, whether they will still be around to eat it. Rubel crosses the Ganges which divides this section of India from Bangladesh. He smuggles rice from India to Bangladesh where the point of crossing serves as the international border. They are basically from India, but the river eroded the residents of these people from mainland India when Rubel was only four years old. He wanted to study but there is no school and his parents are not interested in his education because that will place their lives at stake.
The camera that is also an invisible 'character' in the film and a 'voice' speaking silently about Rubel and his fellow beings, follows the lives of these people, sometimes with candid forthrightness and often, quite clandestinely in the middle of the night. Sarangi has painstakingly followed the cycle of seasons across the panoramic landscape whose picturesque beauty stands in sharp contrast to the tragic reality of their lives teethering between life and death.
Rubel's first visit to Kerala ends in failure, and he loses the money he had earned and saved to seek greener pastures there. In the end of the film, he deserts his home and family again. The editing is sequential because Rubel's story has a linear narrative moving away at times to detract and focus on other lands and other people. Sarangi talks to the residents, asking them normal questions about their lives yet keeps an objective distance that helps the viewers to draw their own conclusions. "The Char may disappear but I will not" is Rubel's message.
Shoma A. Chatterji
The Indian Express
8 February 2013
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