[C]ontemporary filmmakers have been navigating the space between documentary and fiction very interestingly as witnessed in some of the films that screened in the First Features Competition at the 12th Osian’s Cinefan Film Festival including Bikramjit Gupta’s The Stagnant (Achal).
The Stagnant is an Indian film that uses as the protagonist, a real statue artist, who earns his living by posing as a statue on the streets of Kolkata, to tell a story that is both humorous and poignant at the same time.
The film almost feels like a documentary tracking the lives of three people living on the edge of an apathetic city: the statue artist Krishna, his uncle whose job is to paste posters of pornographic films on walls, and his friend who sells masks for a living. Frame after frame, the viewer immerses deeper into their lives neither pitying them nor mocking at them; but laughing along with them at the humour inherent in their lives and profession.
Krishna is infatuated by a mannequin, becomes still as a statue–even when not on job–out of habit and is always scouring around for characters he can impersonate: the indication of the overbearing ‘stagnation’ in his life.
The feeling one gets while watching this film is similar to those evergreen Charlie Chaplin satires; it is not merely a coincidence that Chaplin is one of the characters that the statue artist impersonates. There is no story here really to follow, but a wonderful realization of the medium of cinema to connect the viewer with the eccentric characters in an equally spirited city.
The film successfully communicates the ethos of the city of Kolkata through the cultural and religious figures that the statue artist impersonates: from Loknath baba and Ramkrishna Paramhansa to Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Siraj ud Daula. Kolkata is shot in a refreshing manner highlighting not the monuments, but the rigmarole of everyday life. It captures the spirit of the city that is decaying yet trying to keep pace with the time to survive.
The Stagnant creates poetry out of the most inanimate and banal objects of everyday life. The composition of each frame is magical and most of the film uses only natural light. The film uses western classical music that enhances the ironical tone of the film.
The Stagnant is a wonderful experiment and certainly one of the best Indian films to screen at the festival this year.