DREAMS FOR A LIVELIHOOD : BHAAT KAPODER SWAPNO: A TOUCHING DOCUMENTARY BY RAKTIM MONDAL
Shoma A.Chatterji writes, 'Raktim Mondal is a very unassuming young man who is actually a cinematographer who has shot many feature films in different languages'
Raktim Mondal is a very unassuming young man who is actually a cinematographer who has shot many feature films in different languages (Hindi,Bengali, Assamese, Naga language, Nepali),TV commercials and documentaries with national and international collaborations (BBC, NHK-Japan, CCTV-China, Films Division, NFDC). He worked as a cinematographer with Indian directors like Ketan Mehta, Buddhadeb Dasgupta, Soojit Sirkar, R Balki, Haobam Paban Kumar and others. He also worked as an associate cinematographer with PC Sreeram, Sunny Joseph, Ranjan Palit and Kamaljeet Negi. He studied Motion Picture Photography at the SRFTI, Kolkata. He was nominated for best cinematography in documentary films at Madrid international film festival in 2015. He received the 6th Assam state film award 2015 for best cinematography in 2002. In 2022 he received six awards for best cinematography for a Bengali short film.
He makes his directorial debut with Bhaat Kaporer Swapno (Dreams for a Livelihood) in Bangla which is a short documentary on how the terrible onslaught of Amphan on a village in the Sundarbans where the life of a family traditionally living on fishing is destroyed by the floods completely. He alternates the narrative between the film’s subject Babu Mistry and his little daughter and her friend who, completely oblivious to the disaster that has impacted on their lives offer their own silent narrative of innocence.
Image: film still
The Super Cyclonic Storm Amphan was an extremely powerful and catastrophic tropical cyclone that caused widespread damage in Eastern India, specifically in West Bengal and Odisha, and in Bangladesh, in May 2020. It was the strongest tropical cyclone to strike the Ganges Delta. It covers the period 16th May 2020 to 21st May 2020.
“I had no plans to make this film, after Cyclone Amphan, I spent about two months as an aid worker in the area with people and recorded every detail of their lives on camera. I gradually fell in love with the roughness of nature. I have seen up close the inexorable struggle to survive in extremely adverse conditions. Maybe the strange beauty of people and adverse situations inspired me to make this film,” says Raktim who often visits the Sundarbans to do social work for the residents there in association with a NGO. He shot the entire film on an IPhone.
“I financed the entire film myself. It was very difficult but I managed to do it over the period of 15 long months. But I felt happy to have put in my small creative bit to spread the information about how Amphan has impacted on the lives of these very poor inhabitants whose lives are always threatened either by sudden floods, or, washing away the shores of the islands, or tiger attacks or all three,” he elaborates. Crocodiles also have a merry day when the fishermen step into the waters to catch prawns and other fish.
He goes on to add, “Sundarbans is the Cyclone Capital of Indi. It is under threat from both natural and human-made causes. Man's power in front of nature is very little, but man's ace power is strong. Every year thousands of people become homeless, People dream of living anew even in adverse circumstances but where does one go? There is no escape. Yet the desperate dream to live relentlessly follows.”
What kind of help did he get for the making of the film? He says, “I reached remote areas in Sundarbans with the help of Katakhali Swapnapuran Welfare Society, an NGO working in the Sundarbans, because it was not possible to make this film alone during the wide lockdown in a place with almost no facilities for travel.”
The camera focuses on Babu Mistry, the protagonist, a simple man in his thirties who used to work abroad to earn money. “I worked abroad for several years to earn money and to build this house. Sadly, now there is no house and we are living on what little remains of it. I do not think it will be possible for me to leave my wife and kids behind and go to work abroad again.” We catch him working on his boat damaged badly in the cyclone so that he can get back to his traditional work – fishing. “But I have no money to buy a new boat which I would have loved to have,” he adds.
Image: Filmmaker Raktim Mondal
The two little girls, one his daughter and the other her friend whose home is also damaged badly, run along the river shores and keep skipping and playing totally oblivious to the tragic change in their lives. Is this because they are children? Or is it because they are used to living this kind of very sparse life? We see the girl having rice out of a big gamla quite happily as her mother quips that they could not get fish that day. These two parallel perspectives invest the film with a third dimension adding a little colour to the sad story of Babu Mistry which gives us a glimpse into the terribly tragic situation they and hundreds of villagers like them live in on a day-to-day basis, living in an ambience of pervasive uncertainly about what the next morning will bring. The sounds of the lashing waves against the shores, the sounds of the chirpy little girls dancing along the aisles of the shores, the skyline captured sometimes covered in the envelope of darkness, sometimes with clouds floating across a darkened sky, are beautiful even within that tragic ambience.
Mondal adds. “My film’s main character Babu Mistry returns home with a new dream to live. He shared his many dreams with me, he wanted to stay and work in his village, but in search of livelihood, he had to migrate to another state. Film-makers’ dreams may be fulfilled by making films, what about Babu Mistry's dream?”
Bhat Kaporer Swapno (Dreams For Livelihood) was officially selected at 28th Kolkata International Film Festival (KIFF)2022, under the competition on Indian Documentary Films (Official Selection), First-Time Filmmaker Sessions in Lift-Off Film Festival, UK and official selection in . Bhat Kaporer Swapno (Dream For Livelihood) was officially selected at 28th Kolkata International Film Festival (KIFF)2022, under the competition on Indian Documentary Films, (Official Selection) First-Time Filmmaker Sessions in Lift-Off Film Festival, UK and official selection in Cineaste International Film Festival of India - CIFFI .
About the author: Dr.Shoma A.Chatterji is an Indian film scholar and author based in Kolkata.