‘Nayak’ and ‘Komola Rocket’: Where journeys do not reach their destinations
"Can I have a coke then?"
"Daal-bhaat, daal and bhaat, 200 taka"
Satyajit Ray's 'Nayak' (1966), from where I took the first quotation, does not go beyond the first-class compartment of the Calcutta (now Kolkata) to Delhi bound train journey. Mr Bose, a successful businessman, reluctantly settled for a bottle of coke as neither beer nor tea was available.
Consumption of a bottled coke, used multiple times in the movie, was a mark of post-colonial upper-class edginess, many of whom gathered in the movie's first class dinning car. In this sense, Arindam Mukherjee, played by Uttam Kumar, on whom the movie was modelled, was different from the rest of the fellow passengers by degree of his profession and fame, and not entirely by his social status.
In 'Komola Rocket' (2018), by contrast, the steamer journey from Dhaka to the southern part of the country forces the characters to encounter the socially unequal. The steamer, Komola Rocket, got stuck in a riverbed for some unknown hours, and by the time all the passengers queued up to have a meagre morsel of daal-bhaat for 200 taka (as the quotation suggests), all social hierarchies got collided, if not collapsed completely.
Atik (Tauquir Ahmed), the owner of a garment factory, perhaps would not have met people like Mofizul (Mosharoff Karim), and Monsur (Joy Raj), who played the role of the husband of a burnt down garment worker, unless he used the steamer journey as an escape route right after his factory was on fire (may be for a hefty insurance claim), which charred many workers. In fact, in attempting to keep his disguise, Atik probably found it safer to strike some small conversations with people like Mofizul, a canvasser cum pimp, who first took Atik as a potential customer. Atik avoided the family sharing the same first-class coupe when the male member wanted to strike an upper middle-class voyeuristic conversation about the unliveable condition in 'desh', citing the factory fire incident.
In both movies, long distance journeys are multi-layered metaphors. While trains are a recurrent motif in Ray's movies, it is only in 'Nayak' he deployed his supreme mastery in using a train journey as a psychoanalytical tool to unmask the precocity of a film star.
One of Ray's two entirely original screenplays, 'Nayak' sets the ambition to use journeys as a celluloid prism to ask difficult questions about self and society. After more than 50 years, 'Komola Rocket' adapted and utilised Ray's tool, albeit for a different vehicle, in its innovative craftsmanship.
The movie's horizontal scape is the converge point of many invisible dots of our global world, where questions of power and powerlessness circle around in a labyrinth. The movie is a careful adaptation of Shahaduz Zaman's two short stories, 'Moulik' and 'Cyprus', whose writing, while typically starts with a question, ends with more troubling ones.
Promising director Noor Imran Mithu has created a kaleidoscope on screen, giving the audience a taste of watching a bioscope. 'Komola Rocket' is the testimony that a Bangladeshi movie can take on Ray's challenge and can live with it.