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Niharika in search of her 'space' ’: An Odyssey by Amrit Gangar

Image: Deepa has returned with her new-born baby Megha and her careerist husband, to Kolkata. It is ‘window’ that becomes the ‘pakad’ for the essential understanding of the film. It stays on the screen, before our eyes, for a few moments.

Often do I borrow aesthetic experience from the semiotics or terminologies of the fine arts: figurative and abstract - to perceive a cinematographic (even the digital) work. Most of our films are ‘figurative’ as they use actors, gestures and dialogues while very few fall into the region of ‘abstraction’ which requires an immense risk-taking temperament (svabhava) and willingness to resist surrendering to the dictates of the ‘market’ and its ways of operating. Nevertheless, there are some films that achieve an uncanny mix of both. In Indrasis Acharya’s film Niharika I found ‘Space’ (ensconced in Time) as if forming a parallel narrative with the characters who fathom their own personal stories in the closed spaces of the old mansion situated in a desolate landscape all around. This open space evoking seasonal circularity evoking the skies, streams, hills, lush greens and their absences. This space inhabits the human anxieties, desires and moral-amoral memories of guilt, grump and gratification.

Also from yet another art of ‘music’ I borrow a key to perceive and feel a work of cinematography, that is called the ‘pakad’. In Hindustani music it is a musical phrase thought to encapsulate the essence of a particular raga. To my mind, every cinematographic work has its ‘pakad’ and that helps defeat the sense of being ‘durbodh’ (inaccessible or beyond comprehension). It naturally falls into the region of ‘feeling’ that frees us from the efforts to find the ‘meaning’ which, however, keeps shifting all the time.

By creating parallel narratives on the planes of ‘space’ and speaking, moving bodies carrying their own personal histories sharing with us, the viewers, the film ‘Niharika’ experientially envelopes into a fabric of feelings. Space is feminine as the gaze is, the film’s sensuous skin. The parallel narratives play upon its interiority as the young Deepa, the propeller of the ‘figurative’ narrative uses the term ‘mind’s space’ somewhere in her spoken sentence. ‘Niharika’ is a play between interiority and exteriority of the material and immaterial of the ‘being’ of the film. It is the woman’s gaze out of the windows and the doors of the habitation that invites us to immerse in the realm of it viscerality. And in the process the ‘window’ becomes your ‘pakad’.

The film’s elliptical container also works through ‘sound’ (sound of the thunderous and the rainy sky) which the new-born baby Megha (in her name) resonates, but unfortunately she succumbs to death in her infancy out of the old mansion and in the chaotic city of Calcutta, unlike Keya who had died in the old mansion in the desolate immensity of outer space. They exit both ‘spaces’ so quietly like butterflies. And somewhere in the niches of the film’s ‘narratives’ we allusively see the Japanese Haiku master Basho walking, humming:

Silent in the field

A butterfly was flying

Then it fell asleep

(Sourced from Andrei Tarkovsky’s book Sculpting in Time)

Amidst silences and absences, Deepa had to dance her dance towards the end, since her ‘sharira’ (body) is her ‘sovereignty’, her desire. She has a sculpted face, sculpted in Time. Niharika has its own temporality achieved through sensitive editing which gives birth to the figurative-abstract narrative equation i referred to in the beginning.

Towards the end we see the words ‘Niharika’ (in Bengali) sculpted in marble and yet another mysterious ‘narrative’ emerges from the fleshes of Time. Who was Niharika (meaning dew drop or galaxy / nebula)? Who was that ‘woman’? Or is Deepa her synecdoche, its figure of speech? A universal ‘womanhood’ in search of its ‘space’?

Amrit Gangar is a Mumbai based film scholar, writer & historian.

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