Review: Carnival by Madhuja Mukherjee

By Boglarka Nagy • Published on February 6, 2012

Carnival recently played at the International Film Festival Rotterdam

[C]arnival is a special piece for those who are interested in Indian cinema, being an experimental feature, coming from Madhuja Mukherjee, a video artist, who so far has been known for installations. What can that mean for a movie that is supposed to tell a story, a fictional story, but in the mean time be an experiment with “Fiction and Fact”, “Story telling & Plot”, “Sound & Silence”, “Abstraction & Words”, “Moving Images and Trapped Moments”, “The Profound and the Profane” as the director states?

It can mean that one has to go past the plot. It’s not enough to understand that there is a boy called Babu who returns to his hometown, Kolkata, because his mother died. It’s not anymore about what one tells, not even how it’s being told, but about how a state of being or a feeling can be transmitted. It’s about how every sense gets to have its own perception of the story and that the spectator doesn’t have to understand the storyteller’s story, but to understand Babu’s  state of being and to dissolve with him with the crowds of the Durga Puja in the streets of Kolkata. The contradiction lies in the fact that anyone watching movies for a long time is used to a classic storytelling with establishing shots, shots and countershots , emotional expressions of many kinds and often to a music that supports the atmosphere.  When these are used in an experimental manner there has to be the “another way” to communicate.

There is the temptation to relate the scenes between father and son to silent movies, because the dialogues have been detached from the scenes themselves, to be written in insert, but it wouldn’t stand, because acting and gestures don’t relate to that and no musical accompaniment washes all together. Mukherjee gives a sound to the scenes. Sometimes just the atmosphere or background noise, but that contributes to the sense of “something fishy” or being being nervous. It’s as if a sound filter has been applied. We don’t see through Babu’s eyes. We sometimes hear through it. Or some lines appear as thoughts or memories that just occurred. At other times his point of view is showed starting with a classic shot-countershot structure, but developing into a carnival of details and noise. Finally all of it becomes one personal puzzle, a discovery of what might have happened in a home, the unquiet research of someone dissolved in the end in a dazzle. An honest attempt to catch the birth of the story, the thought and the emotion.

Boglarka Nagy is a film writer and festival programmer from Romania. She recently attended the International Film Festival Rotterdam 2012.

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