I’m not sure if it is the writer Haruki Murakami or director Tran Anh Hung responsible for the cinematic allusion to Chaplin’s 1936 masterpiece Modern Times in which the little Tramp inadvertently takes up the cause of the proletariat by picking up a flag which falls off the back of a vehicle. It probably isn’t deliberate on the part of both artists and in many ways the intransigence of Toru Watanabe in the sequence from Norwegian Wood offers a stark comparison to the animated pantomime of the little Tramp. Additionally, Toru’s distance from the political turmoil of the Sixties might suggest disaffection but in both instances they are two people who could easily be swept up in the throes of historical change and transform into agents of political change. What interests me about the two sequences which are separated by such a period of time is the way in which film makers today unconsciously recreate images from the memories of cinematic past, refashioning them without knowing into a ghostly present.
1). Modern Times (1936, Dir. Charlie Chaplin) – The Leader
2). Norwegian Wood (Dir. Tran Anh Hung, 2010) – The Beatnik
Adapted from a story by Punjabi writer Sadat Hasan Manto, Mrinal Sen’s disjunctive Antareen is a study of two lost souls unable to make a concrete emotional connection. Compared to the political films Sen directed in the 60s and 70s, Antareen feels somewhat tame and at times apolitical. The premise sees a struggling writer confined to an old mansion in Calcutta in an attempt to find inspiration for a new novel. However, one night the writer (Anjan Dutt) receives an anonymous phone call from a woman (Dimple Kapadia) who simply wants to talk. The writer soon discovers through the telephone conversations that the woman seems trapped in her life and has in essence been cut off from society. Additionally, the relationship seems to trigger a new creative energy within the writer and he uses the intimacy of the woman’s experiences as a means of writing his new novel. The dilapidated mansion in which the writer stays is shown to have a life of its own – it is a colonial past that bears down upon those who inhabit it. In terms of characterisation, the mansion, which is effectively represented as a haunted house, acts as an appropriate psychological landscape for the loneliness of the writer and the woman. In terms of form, Sen employs various Brechtian devices including direct camera address to construct a narrative that is cleverly being imagined by the writer’s words. In a way, the momentary encounter on the train platform in the closing moments is reflexively manifested by the writer and the woman through an imaginary connection but their distance even when they are so close suggests such a deliberate encounter is purely an illusion as empty as their broken gaze. I’m not sure if I want to label Antareen as a minor work in the oeuvre of Sen as it certainly underlines a cinematic radicalism consistent with what has been a career of intellectualism. On a side note, Sen’s 1983 film Khandahar (The Ruins) starring Naseeruddin Shah and Shabana Azmi will be playing in a new print at the Glasgow Film Festival next week.