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<%-- Page Title--%> On Screen <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 136 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

January 2, 2004

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Chokher Bali

Bangaliness Bollywood Style

Srabonti Narmeen Ali

Bollywood is everywhere. It is in our homes, our CD and DVD players, our TV's, and even in some of our minds when we dress. Bangla cinemas (from both Kolkata and Bangladesh) remain a far cry from the glamour and masala we get from the Hindi Film industry. Although half the South Asian subcontinent does not originally speak Hindi, we learn to understand it and even pick up catch phrases in a language that is not quite ours.

People wonder what happened to Bangali-ness. Simple: it's been overshadowed by Bollywood.

Stories in Bangla are formatted into the Bollywood formula, such as Sarat Chandra Bose's Devdas. Three movies have been made based on the original story. The first is in Bangla, the second is in Hindi and the third is Bhansali's production. It is this new, "glammed up" version, that has made Devdas a household name among South Asians. Starring Shah Rukh Khan, Aishwarya Rai and Madhuri Dixit, Sanjay Leela Bhansali's "Hum-Dil-De-Chuke-Sanam-flavoured" Devdas has caused a stir throughout the South Asian community. On one hand Bangalis claim that "it is nothing like the original story and completely takes away from the simplicity of Bangalis in general. On the other hand, Bollywood-wallahs insist that "the original is too boring and needs to be spiced up."

It is in the midst of these arguments that Bangali director Rituparno Ghosh has given rise to a new-born baby in the South Asian film industry: his Chokher Bali (Sand in the Eyes). The film is based on a story by Nobel Prize winner and the pride of Bengal: Rabindranath Tagore. The film stars Bollywood princess, Aishwarya Rai, Raima Sen (grand-daughter of Kolkata's very own sweetheart, Suchitra Sen), Prosenjit Chatterji and Tota Raychaudhari. Ghosh manages to keep the original Bangla flavour but also manages to give it the extra umph it needs to be Bollywood worthy. Having a high profile Hindi film actress as his leading lady also gave it the right commercial boost.

In the story, hauntingly beautiful Binodini (Rai) is arranged to marry medical student Mahendra (Chatterji). Not ready for marriage, he promptly rejects the proposal and Binodini marries another man who dies within a year of their marriage, leaving her widowed. Meanwhile, to take the heat off himself, Mahendra convinces Behari to consider Ashalata (Sen) for marriage. The tables turn when Behari and Mahendra both go to see Asha and Mahendra falls in love with her. Being a selfish, self indulgent, spoilt brat, Mahendra insists that Behari give Asha up. Behari, the eternal push-over and a doting, loyal friend, steps aside and lets Mahendra marry Asha. After their marriage all three characters meet Binodini, who comes to live with Mahendra's family. She befriends Asha and wins the heart of everyone, thereby weaving herself in a tangled web of love, deceit, jealousy and fate.

The name Chokher Bali comes from a conversation between Asha and Binodini, in which Asha asks her what she should call her "ador kore". Binodini smilingly responds with a strange term of endearment -- Chokher Bali which can be interpreted in two ways. The obvious analysis is that Binodini's presence in Mahendra's family is a disturbance among their family life, similar to the way a grain of sand in the eye irritates and does not allow one to see things clearly. At the same time, the same grain of sand can be placed in an oyster and transform into a pearl. Binodini starts out as an irritant, but causes each family member to re-establish and value their relationships with each other, transforming them into original persons with greater wisdom and integrity. She becomes the outsider who disrupts their lifestyle, which finally results in all the characters coming to a better understanding of what is really important.

It is hard to say which actress shines more: Raima Sen or Aishwarya Rai. Both of them have their advantages. While Rai is more experienced in terms of acting, Sen is in her element because she is working with a Bangali story. Sen also has had the advantage of listening to her grandmother Suchitra Sen reading out the book in Bangla to her when she was younger, which she claims, has helped her put more feeling into her acting.

As characters, Binodini and Asha both have their own appeal. Where Binodini is wise, intelligent and efficient, Asha is naïve, innocent and oblivious to what is going on around her. While you have to sympathise with Binodini because life had dealt her such an unfair hand, you cannot help but feel endeared towards Asha because of her simplistic nature.

The entire film was done in Bangla, unlike Bhansali's Devdas, which was in Hindi (unless you want to count the fleeting ish, bondhu and kemon achcho's that you hear in Hindi-ized accents). The director of Chokher Bali is a Bangali and that makes all the difference. Although the movie is obviously different from the original story, it is true to the Bangaliness that some people feel is lost in the midst of Bollywood's glamour and glitz.

 
         

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