Onaatah review – translated from original Assamese by Gitali Saikia
A long shot, night in a town, a huge building of a school or a college or a hospital; shadow and light draws complex pictures, through which a young girl is coming; just a moment; a car passes by, returns again, stops with a roaring sound, and blocks her way; the girl is forcefully taken away. After that there is only pain and darkness. Two years passed amidst darkness in gloom. Through that darkness a voice of a woman is floating—I am tired, always the same question perturbs me, I am surrounded by a circle, how can I forget that night which had changed the course of my life, etc. etc. On the screen a woman’s face appears—exhausted, tired, crushed a sad face. This is the girl who was raped by some lustful men at a night while she was on her way home after pushing an injection to a patient.
Lots of films are made based on the story of a raped woman. In these stories, the climax and conclusion is that the accused is always punished; negligence to a raped woman, insult or to go against such insult is the message of such stories. But, while such elements turn to cliché, in Pradip Kurbah’s1 Khasi film Onaatah, though the accused is punished the victim cannot become happy. The punishment sentenced to the criminal has not changed her life. For last two years she has been fighting for justice, one day that battle has come to an end. After that what happens? Moreover, the journey of that young girl starts, a journey to her heart, which is the shortest and the longest journey and this film is about the story of that journey. While she thinks all this she is sitting in a car, a scene appropriate to her mood and thoughts which has added movement and life to the body of the message.
There is less story, more emotion in the film. Less action, more reaction. As the film gives more importance in the psychic presentation, its narrative also becomes somewhat poetic and suggestive. Instead of direct presentation lots of metaphors prevail. The starting point of the film is the incident of rape which is intelligible through a few images and back ground music. In those images there is a woman body is not shown or no scene of rape is displayed; but the totality of the images make us understand the upcoming incident. The story of the film is simple, heart touching. The story is deepened by the picture of the suffering and agony of a woman, the picture of a search of herself by a frustrated and broken woman. Suggestiveness makes the film heavy, it is thought provoking and can bind the readers with the film. The beauty of the cinematic language transforms it to a rare piece of art. On the one hand, the beauty of the images, on the other hand the ideology hidden behind the story is marvellous. The fusion of all these elements transforms the film to a stirring aesthetic experience.
Legal judgment cannot give answer to Onaatah’s questions. She was betrothed; but the accident broke the betrothal, the passersby ask only one question. They ask her about the event; the same event comes to her again and again like a poisonous arrow. Being depressed she enters a bathroom and wants to take the ultimate decision of her life. But hearing a voice she stops, through the open door of the bathroom her father sees a glass of water upon the basin and a few tablets 2. Her father who is giving her courage realizes what is going to happen and Onaatah to go to her uncle’s house situated in a village to soothe her suffocated mind.
Onaatah goes by a bus and gets down in that hamlet. She wanders alone amidst Nature; she talks with the villagers about those things which she has never talked about. Gradually she has attached herself with the problems of these people unknowingly. A girl strives to commit suicide for love, she consoles her, make her understand the reality; she takes a drunken youth to a rehabilitation centre. Gradually she is acquainted with various forms of life. But still she cannot smile. In that village a young farmer, Duh, feels attracted to her. Though he has not a voice of a singer, he dreams to be a famous singer and to release an album. The director presents this young man with a red shoe, and the contrast between the red in green back ground reveals the beauty and determination of his mind. A smile appears on her face while she returns from the rehabilitation centre with Duh. Both of them became easy with each other; they return in a Sumo on a hilly path, the car is slow, they are talking; a smile appears on her face; she smiles for the first time in the film. For long two years she has been suffering, she has been pricked by the pranks of that agony. She was worried; and the time of the birth and release of this smile is a crucial point in the film. This scene bears the witnesses of her mental change, that the character has got rid of the suffocated atmosphere and her happiness and feelings spread everywhere. To express the change director Pradip Kurbah has chosen the top of a running car, under a blue sky with white portraits and touch of the blowing wind in a green atmosphere. Portrayal of a mental phenomenon through pictures is not an easy task, but colours, environment and movement—with these elements the director exquisitely presents her mental world through the narratives of the film.
Instead of events we have lots of mental sequences. Instead of happenings those feelings which create different feelings in Onaatah’s mind, which have changed her world, and these events makes the search of her path easier.
There is a very meaningful, but less important character, the character of a blind old man. He roams in the village without anybody’s help; he feels the beauty of the village. Onaatah meets him, holding his hand and shutting her eyes she walks along the village. This small sequence is very significant; it brings depth to the film. Every art tries to look at life from different angles. New perspective gives the medium a new dimension and brings honour to its creator. Creating a scene of looking at the world with shutting eyes Kurbah turns the film to a rare piece of art, while Onaatah through this scene finds something to survive. This scene takes the audience to the first scene where amidst darkness the feelings and sufferings of Onataah were expressed, only gloom and groaning, anguish and hopelessness, where Onaatah saw only a bleak future lying before her.
Suddenly the old man dies. On the screen the corpse of the old man is not shown; it is informed through a dialogue, through the reactions of Onataah. As someone says about the dead body Onataah burst into anger, after death a living being turns to a dead body, she says. In this scene audience is puzzled who has died! But for the director only the reactions of Onataah are important. The villagers are not annoyed at her anger, what she speaks they listen. That means either the villagers are agree with her or accept her as one among them. At the same time Duh’s attraction for Onataah continues. Its expression is also symbolic. She understands it, but pretends not to understand his feelings. But once Duh opens his heart. Onataah refuses by telling that she was raped and nobody can accept her. But Onataah is shoked listening to his rely, “Here everybody knows all about you, but does someone ask?”
Suddenly Onataah returns home. Why has she gone back? The answer to those questions is left to the audience. Perhaps she has no reply to Duh, and hence, she wants to run away. But in her own place also she cannot stay. “I did not express thank to the people, I have to go again to express my gratitude”, she says to her father. Sometimes she receives a few phone calls, the person who rings her up does not speak anything. It is not difficult to understand that these calls are from Duh.
Again she arrives at the village. Duh waits in the bus stop. Both of them walk along the green stretching far wide under the blue sky. They are talking. After she has finished talking about herself, Onataah tells Duh, “What about you?”
“Very simple, I am awaiting you.”
After that their conversation is not heard, no need to hear that, both of them are missing amidst vast green and unending blue. For the audience a question arises, “What is said by Onataah?”
There are lots of such questions, and the answers to those would be given by the audience and the catastrophe of the story would also be drawn by themselves. The questions left towards the audience carol the multi-layered structure of the movie. The simplicity of the first part of the story helps the audience to be intimate with the story as well as the characters. The other layers lying behind this lucidity introduce us with the questions of humanity and life as a whole. In the last layer rests the philosophical profundity expressed through the deeds and thoughts of the characters.
This multi-layered story is lucidly presented by Pradip Kurbah. The actors and actresses are cajoled to submerge themselves in the characters they play which makes the film vibrant. The exuberance of the chief actress Sweety Pala and protagonist, Mulvin Mukhim’s acting is tremendously awesome. Meaningful but short dialogues3 make the actors face a challenge because it is not so easy to express everything through short speeches. The director has successfully overcome the challenge. Moreover, humour enters spontaneously at some situation which adds to the vigour and spirit of the cinema.
Cinemetographer Pradip Daimery captures effervescent beauty and magnificence of Nature, the green shade, the contrast of shadow and light which cannot be described in words. For example, a few night scenes, the scene of the court are tremendously beautiful. Music directed by Anurag Saikia also enriches the imaginary scenes of the director. The orchestra like music played in the outdoor scenes, where a wide shot is used to show the greatness of Nature, the static scenes or the scenes taken upon a trolly or a crane enhances the magnificence of the film. The story is written by Pradip Kurbah and Paulami Sengupta, and Lionel Dattagupta assists them in the script.
The repeatedly shown image of the wheel of a car and the distance between Duh and Onataah while Duh is singing a song for her, and the insertion of the useless footage of a Hindi film, Tarzan, which is annoying, can be removed by the director.
- Self-tought director, Pradip Kurbah’s first film “Ri” won ‘Rajat Kamal” for best regional cinema (Kashi). Onaatah is his second film. This film also wins awards and is invited to a number of national and international Film Festivals. It is also a commercially successful.
- In cinema some images are used repeatedly and this repletion annoys the audience. Someone (generally a woman) is going to commit suicide, she takes a bottle, on that bottle there is a hand-written label upon a printed one—POISON.
- The dialogues of a film should be just like the poor people’s telegram. It is proved in the film.
IMDB link of Onaatah