'Nirbashito' review: How a story about a writer in exile makes you value your freedom
Cast: Churni Ganguly, Saswata Chatterjee, Raima Sen, Lars Bethke, Lia Boysen, Martin Wallström , Joakim Granberg
Director: Churni Ganguly
At a time when liberal thinkers are being hacked in the name of religion in the sub-continent, where writers are being ostracized for questioning religion, Churni Ganguly’s directorial debut ‘Nirbashito’ holds a lot of significance. Based on a certain episode from controversial Bangladeshi author Taslima Nasreen’s life, ‘Nirbashito’ primarily is a story of separation; from one’s motherland, one’s home and loved ones.
The film opens with shots of riots on the streets of Kolkata being played on television and a cat and her owner watching it in the close comfort of their home. The phone rings, the cat’s owner (Churni Ganguly) is advised by her friend, Pritam (Saswata Chaterjee) to not step out of her house as the cause of unrest in city is her writing.
While protests continue, the government, send the police to the writer’s home to transport her to Delhi and subsequently to Sweden without any prior notice given to her. She is in the middle of feeding her cat, Baaghini when the police barge in- ask her to ‘cooperate’, wrap her in a shawl and take her out of the house leaving behind all her belongings and more importantly Baaghini, her cat.
On one hand, the writer now lives a life of seclusion in Sweden, changing homes time to time, under heavy security because no place seems secure enough for the writer. On the other, her beloved cat becomes the center of attention in Kolkata at the writer’s friend Pritam’s house- who takes her home, much to his pregnant wife’s (Raima Sen) discomfort. While she yearns to be with Baaghini in a cold place, her friends in Kolkata run pillar to post to unite her with her beloved cat.
The two sub plots run parallel in the film and depict quite a contrast in the situation the two main protagonists are in- Baaghini and her mother. While the writer is confined in a cold, grey place, being guarded 24/7; Baaghini becomes the star back home in her mother’s absence with newspapers carrying out special photo shoot of the cat, the CM and his ministers holding special meetings to discuss how to send the cat to its rightful owner. The chaos, the humdrum and the fuss around the cat offers a colourful and often a humorous palate which is a stark contrast to the grim world the writer is confined to in exile. At one point, the writer tells the sympathetic President of Sweden’s pen club, Lucas Johansson, (Lars Bethke), “I deserve it. It’s the pen and the sword. The sword always wins.”
‘Nirbashito’ may be a tad bit fictionalized but it very maturely delivers a strong message about exile, conformity and artistic liberty. Being welcomed by Swedish PM, the writer is offered all comforts of home; she is provided with a laptop so that she can get back to writing but all she yearns for is the sight of her cat. The cat serves as a metaphor for the family she has been forced to leave behind, for her motherland that she misses so dearly and for a child who has been left alone in the big bad world away from her mother. Without Baaghini around, the writer is unable to think and write properly and only scribbles, mostly about her home, her cat and her motherland.
Shot in Kolkata and various parts of Sweden, the film boasts of brilliant camera work by
Sirsha Ray who beautifully brings out the contrast of the two places with her frames. Some of the sunset shots of Sweden are absolutely breathtaking.
The film’s cast is not too big and each of them, already renowned for their work, deliver commendable performances. Be it Saswata Chatterjee and Raima Sen who play the couple who suffer the most after Baaghini comes home or the actors who play the Swedish guards who inspite of a language barrier become the confidants of the writer in the unknown land. Churni Ganguly owns her character. The sadness and anguish of being thrown in a strange land is so beautifully handled by Ganguly. It is restraint and not once does the audience feel that she is overdoing it.
My only problem with the film was that it could have been a tad bit shorter. Some of the portions where passport officials are running around to take Baaghini’s photo may have been comical but was unnecessary. So was the part, where the writer, a doctor by profession, helps to deliver a child in a remote island in Sweden where she is exiled. Also, the narrative slackens in some parts which makes the 107 minutes run time seem longer.
The film over all creates a powerful impact and hence the flaws can be easily overlooked. ‘Nirbashito’ makes you suddenly value your freedom, makes you weigh your beliefs and makes you smile at the optimism that the writer has about returning to her beloved Baaghini soon.
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