Avant-Garden Flower Child
Consider the following statement: 'Oh let my camera record the desperation of the small countries. Oh how I hate you, the big nations, you always think that you are the only ones, and others should only be part of you and speak your language. Oh come, come the dictatorship of the small countries.' (Lost Lost Lost, Joans Mekas).
The perplexity and resentment notwithstanding, can we simply proclaim that the implications of Mekas' position only remains confined to artistic discourse or, perhaps, to a mere big-nation/small-nation, an America/third world, or even a center/margin matrix, or rather simply lends itself to a metaphysical schema– an absolute will to hear oneself speak on it's own terms?
Bear the question in mind when you watch Phulkumar because, first time director Ashique Mostafa and his band of brothers: Nurul Alam Atique, Amitav Reja, Akram Khan et al, at Jolchhobi Collective,are essentially rhetoricians, getting a grip ontheir aesthetic strategy, as it were, at least for me entailed, also, an understanding that the very act of seeing and explaining the world of Phulkumar will not resemble anything that I have learned before and the events that take place on the screen, there is conspicuous trace of the itinerary of a constantly thwarted desire to make the story explain.
Forgive me, if I make it sound like this film has a slant to sale, because it does not. But, beware, Christmas shoppers, the story told here is the oldest chestnut there is and, evidently, the story isn't the point at all. Nonetheless, Phulkumarisa sad tale of the short life of one Mohammad Selim who lives with his grandmother in a town so pathetic and maddeningly stifling that it has forgotten it's name and time: the film's slight narrative action dwells around Selim and his garden; as a matter of fact, the turning point of the film unclutches when his garden is razed, as it seemed to be causing allergic reactions to all the adults of the neighborhood.
All and sundry citizens that populate Selim's small world are, somehow, lost. They are exiles from the reality in Selim's own private (un)real (e)state; eventually,the tremors of trouble and torments of the real world– through a bridge– enter Selim's small world and infects Selim.
The recurring image of the bridge is the key to understand the oppressive isolation and almost classical melancholy of the characters of this film; Shirin also appears in Selim's world through this bridge, diffidently wearing a borkha and carrying a huge Belgium mirror, in a Rickshaw.
We are eventually introduced to the other requisite characters: the corrupt Mullah who moonlights as the pharmacist, kutti-speaking shopkeepers, posh business woman, lovable thieves, and the power monger boss-man who, as homage to '70s Bollywood exploitation films, drives a 1968-model Volkswagen, the boss-man'sthree stooges– the three brothers who, while not terrorizing the town, are glued to the TV-set watching Hindi musicals. All these people nourish a furtive lust for Shirin, and the rapport between their various personal interests forms the emotional clutter of the film.
Ashique privileged lyricism over narrative; although he mines social realist Bengali filmsñ Satyajit Ray, Tarun Sinha etc.– for visual ideas, but, his prime métier is Bollywood Brand camp– raw and randy. He, perhaps a bit naively, risks using tools of a lapsed genre to topple a false structure that traditionally describe Bengali life on screen.
First off, he attempts to subvert the empathy of the audience with his characters– empathy that we assume is rooted in the recognition of a shared system of values between audience and filmmaker. The world Ashique presents, which is more insular than he cares to admit, is peopled by unemotive amateur actors where the protagonist Selim is permanently lodged deep in his own groove andawkwardly presents himself to the camera evoking a stilted, blue air tightness of the soul.
Secondly, Ashique deftly handles the disjointed small-scale dramas of the imagined lives and, what’s on screen is so beautifully depicted, elegant and intelligent, that despite the nostalgia of the cold experimental credential the mood of sadness, poetry and pulp sustains beyond the temporal frame of the film.
In the end, one feels that Phulkumar illustrates the taut tension of its creators' militant aestheticism as well as his/their need for purity. Phulkumar is a collage of Ashique's– and, perhaps, of Jolchhobi Collective's souls'– contents. In the Phulkumar's world,innocence dies, strong and wicked wins, but there are no moral outrage, no bereavement,, because everything is just an illusion, nothing is real and all that matters is the fragile beauty of the art.
-- DEPART DESK