By Nabanita Sengupta
Some films compel you to think beyond the realms of your everyday. They oscillate between reality and imagination, occupying that grey space which is just beyond our comprehension, between belief and non-belief or logic and anti-logic. ‘Watchmaker’, a film directed by Anindya Banerjee, is all that and much more. It is a film born out of the present times. Though the film engages with the philosophy of anti-logic, contemplating an alternate movement of time, it also makes us uncomfortable by suggesting that with the reverse movement of time, human society in particular and the world in general is moving backwards – proposing an antithesis to forward movement of civilization.
The First World War gave rise to German Expressionism, while the Theatre of Absurd was a result of the Second. Both these genres rose out of an unfathomable crisis of humanity and have a common foothold in their desire to shock the audience out of their comfort zone. They are products of a society, where life has lost both its meaning and sanctity. Today, we are probably inhabitants of a similar dark, mad, society, infested with communalism, terrorism, an all-encompassing greed and an utter disrespect for human lives; today, there is insidiousness far more compelling than the post-world war societies. That is why perhaps, and very aptly, ‘Watchmaker’ ropes in elements from both these genres. This movie claims to be inspired by German Expressionism, a genre that has a long and deep relationship with world cinema, very much evident in the film’s stark, black and white settings, dialogues, music and the overall atmosphere. But one can also find elements of Absurdist theatre lurking within the framework of the movie. The repeated climbing up of the stairs by a lady storyteller and her young listener, their conversation each time interjected with a slight collision in the landing with another man, brings to mind the repetitive movements of Gogo and Didi in Waiting for Godot. But time is not cyclical here. In fact, time here has no fixed path. One of the interesting concepts in this film is the multiple interpretation of time by its characters. For the storyteller and the little girl, played by Chandra Basu Banerjee and Aishika Banerjee respectively, time has a flowing movement similar to their uninterrupted and engaging conversation. But within the second frame of the movie, the watchmaker, played by the director himself, the sculptor, played by Joey Debroy and the lady visitor, Ritabhari Chakraborty, have different conceptions of time. While for the first character, time is moving in a reverse direction, for the sculptor, time has no existence (he rebels against the present concept of time), and for the lady, time has stopped, has run out of its use in her life. All the characters are prisoners in their own conceptions and cannot comprehend the other. Not only that, in the watchmaker’s world, as probably in ours too, no two concepts of time can co-exist and the only way out is death. The watchmaker, the disillusioned and defeated old man, proposes a game from which the only way to escape is death for any two of them and he is at his liveliest while sardonically planning this fatal game.
There is a presence of a fourth character, too. He is like the Greek chorus or the Bibek in Bengali Jatra, interpreting and at times adding to what the other three characters say, switching his alignment frequently, taking turns to represent each of the characters, elaborate their intentions and even question their roles. He holds the narration together but he is also the undetected presence in the watchmaker’s room, which forces the other three characters out in the street and sets the ball rolling for their mortal game of blindfolding. Like the god in Godot, here is the voice of the president, too. He is the one to whom the watchmaker turns, for a solution to his problems. Unlike in Godot, his voice is heard, but he too is equally evasive and inefficient in this world gone awry. The director has cleverly layered the conversation between the watchmaker and president with touches of contemporary political overtones. In fact, throughout the film, there are snippets of dialogues which allude to the present day socio-political situation.
It is a film that will make your mind work hard as you try to negotiate across its tapestry of literary allusions ranging from Shakespeare to Nietzsche, Baudelaire to D.L. Roy, and many more. But that doesn’t limit its potential as simply a collage of classics across world. These allusions, on the contrary, make the film a part of the continuum and alongside question some of our age old beliefs that we often hold sacrosanct in this world. The film, though in Bengali, has a large part of its dialogues in English and a recitation in French too, of Baudelaire’s L’Albatros.
‘Watchmaker’ is a wonderful example of genre-bending, bringing together abstract philosophy, absurdist school of thought and the genre of thriller. However, the unmitigated grimness in the movie at times makes it difficult for the viewers to keep focus on screen. Also, the game of blindfolding continues for a tad longer than necessary, compromising the otherwise set pace of the film. Yet, as a whole it is a highly commendable effort. Perhaps because of the director’s early associations with theatre, the film borrows much from the theatrical traditions as well. Anindya Banerjee in ‘Watchmaker’ does not entertain. He provokes the audience to think. Together with his actors, he raises uncomfortable questions regarding the extremely intangible notion of time and leaves the answer open. ‘Watchmaker’ does not answer any question; it opens up many new ones and therein lies its success. The film is multi-layered, and a brave attempt in Indian cinema to represent the abstract.
Dr. Nabanita Sengupta is presently working as assistant professor in English at Sarsuna College, affiliated to the University of Calcutta. Some of her translated short stories have been published, the latest contribution being in the Anthology of Modern Bengali short stories published by the Sahitya Akademi. Her creative writings have also been published at various places like Muse India, NewsMinute.in, etc. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Read the latest issue of Cafe Dissensus Magazine on ‘Women as the ‘displaced’: The context of South Asia’, edited by Suranjana Choudhury, academic and Nabanita Sengupta, academic, India.