The land of paribartan remains unchanged. Beautifully so, painfully so.
Ruchir Joshi, author-filmmaker-The Telegraph columnist, captured the haunting face of the city ' warts, wrinkles, et al ' in his documentary Tales from Planet Kolkata in the early 1990s. Nineteen years on, it seems the film could have been shot yesterday, save the ubiquitous Ambassadors of two decades back.
Tales… is being shown, along with two other works by Joshi ' at Experimenter, a quaint little gallery on Hindustan Road, as part of a series of celluloid exhibitions titled Filament.
Joshi's film was commissioned by the UK's Channel 4 to give the people of the "south" a chance to show their lands the way they wanted, instead of relying on the western gaze. "Back then, Calcutta was the supermarket of sad images, the go-to place to depict doom. I wanted to change that perception. I wanted to show that Calcutta was NOT just about black holes, beggars and lepers," Joshi told Metro after the screening.
The film is a montage of images quintessentially Calcutta, from the rickshawpuller to the buildings, the hyacinth-infested pond to the liquor den. The story of how the docu came to be is told through scrolls ' the first form of audio-visual communication ' and the filmmaker is himself a character in the patachitra artiste's lilting song. Joshi appears again, dark-haired and dapper, parodying French filmmaker Louis Malle as he describes how he would shoot in Calcutta.
Tales… has a second layer too; it hides in plain view Joshi's ode to cinematic masters, from Ghatak to Godard. Thus the film opens with a young man waking up to say: "Calcutta... shit", a throwback to "Saigon... shit" of Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now.
As you enter Experimenter, sit down on the stern wooden bench facing the white wall that serves as the screen for Tales…. But worry not if your eyes are drawn to your right. For here another film is on, this one projected on stacks of cement bags. Titled Gurgaon Giraffe, this was made by Joshi in 2006, at a time when the construction dragon had just started making a meal ' and melee ' of our Indian cities. The earthmover and its mechanical arm is the main character here, taking on a semi-human form. "This is what we are doing to our environment," said Joshi.
That's not all, from the cement bag backdrop, turn left and you have another film, New Dream Local, which Joshi made in 2008. Less a film and more a silent dialogue between the past and now, the city and its suburb and between water and earth, watching this video loop is a bit like looking at a moving painting, one that transcends time ' with no beginning and no end.
The exhibition is on till September 8, 11am to 6.30pm, and will wrap up with an "artist talk" on Saturday evening between Joshi and Moinak Biswas of the department of film studies of Jadavpur University.