CHARACHAR / Shelter of the Wings (Dir. Buddhadeb Dasgupta, India, 1994)

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Filmmaker Buddhadeb Dasgupta opens with Lakhinder (Rajit Kapur), a bird catcher who has been traumatised by the early death of his three year old son, freeing a succession of birds. Juxtaposed to the morning sky, the benign gesture of Lakhinder opening his hand to release a bird crystallises a key theme; the want to escape from this fraudulent world. As we discover, the dreams that haunt Lakhinder, all of them to do with birds, are connected in his memories to his dead son. Dasgupta uses this personal narrative about loss to explore a wider existential theme to do with the equilibrium between man and nature, of which Lakhinder suspects he has violated and attempts to restore. Early on in the film, Lakhinder, a hereditary bird catcher, announces nonchalantly his refusal to catch and sell birds just so they can be consumed by city folk. This moral stance against the ways in which modernity and urban life continually exploit and swallow the environment, disrupting the everyday patterns of life disgusts Lakhinder. Rejecting the marketplace, Lakhinder becomes increasingly intertwined with the birds around him. There is a recognition the birds not only symbolically recall the ghostly memories of his dead son, but also harbour something sacred about the environment that demands to be protected. Disavowal turns into yearning for a physical transformation, Lakhinder expressing his want to become a bird and fly away, culminating in a spectacular deliverance. Lakhinder is played by Rajit Kapur, in one of his first roles, and who would go on to become a recurring presence in the later films of Shyam Benegal. Released in 1994, Charachar came at the end of Parallel Cinema, and is one of Dasgupta’s most visually arresting works; a haunting statement about nature, the environment, and a moving portrait of grief.

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