How much can one communicate in an 18-minute short? Apparently, all that you want to and some more, if the short being talked about is director Anand Murthy’s Sinam. Kolkata as the location communicates a lot without taking any screen time. The protagonist is a prostitute and Kolkata is home to the largest red light area, Sonagachi. Kolkata also represents the duality (or hypocrisy) in man’s nature when it comes to placing the female gender either as a goddess (the protagonist is named Shakti) or less than human (her choice of profession makes her that in the conservative gaze).
For Kolkata is also famous for the Kalighat temple that is connected to the city through chowringhee. Both Kalighat and Sonagachi are intrinsic to the culture of the city and yet Kolkata cannot be confined to either, it has so much more. As a parallel, the protagonist cannot be labelled in either of the extreme labels that society confines women to. As Sahir Ludhianvi famously highlighted this dichotomy of the society Ye duniya do rangi hai, Ek taraf hai Sonagaachi, ek taraf Chaurangi hai. If you choose to find this angle the film becomes more layered, even if you do not the performances by the leads (especially Dhansika) and the dialogues communicate aptly.
Prostitution is referred to as the world’s oldest profession, by extension that also makes it the oldest tool of oppression of an entire gender. As someone who is in the profession, Shakti represents a section of the society that has literally been shunned into the dark corners of the society. She also represents an archaic belief from the past (the caste system) that continues to destroy countless futures. The interviewer (Bidita Baag) is a local Bengali who starts off looking for a sensational news item but by the end of the interview is shocked and shaken in a way the short intends the audience to be. The interviewer and the interview do not speak the same language and yet language becomes insignificant when compared to the commonality they share – a gender which irrespective of caste, education and social status still faces a mountain of challenges in this country.
Dhansika shines as Shakti, especially in the monologue with a close shot. Any performer who can hold her own and the audience’s attention in this set up deserves accolades. She has make-up on when she meets the interviewer but washes it off before the interview begins. In her own words ‘this is the real me’ but make-up for her has another connotation, it is not vanity but the necessity of her profession, a profession she is forced into. The make-up too forms an integral part of the chain that she has been tied to. The choice of Rabindranath Tagore’s ‘Ami Tomari matiro konya’(I am a girl of this soil) is fitting to the narrative and the rendition by Bidita Baag tugs the heart.
The only problem I had with the narrative trick that a journalist based out of Kolkata immediately understands Tamil but if big budget movies get away with this often, I guess an independent effort at telling a good story deserves the slack. That aside the director has left many deft touches within the short duration like the recurrence of the colour Red. The colour of saree that Bidita asks Dhansika to wear is Red, which happens to be the colour of the saree that is gifted to the goddess Kali as per the tradition at Kalighat. Red signifies the blood that has split at the altar of casteism. The poster in Dhansika’s room is fittingly that of a female warrior with the red sun as backdrop. Like Dhansika’s character says during the interview, this is indeed a novel story.