Mumbai Mirror, Friday, September 7, 2007
“A Beautiful Life”
I Am The Very Beautiful’s protagonist Ranu’s victory lies in having made her difficult but elusively victorious journey
“International” bar singer Ranu is the plot of Shyamal Karmakar’s film I am the very beautiful. She ‘survives’ the impoverished life of a refugee as a child in Kolkata, an abduction as a teenager, early pregnancy, suicide attempts and a series of broken relationships to emerge as the ‘triumphant’ subject of the film. Her ‘victory’ is elusive even as she struggles to define it in terms of the flat she has procured in Mumbai after ‘hard work’ or the new found ‘respect’ she has among her relatives who once disowned and despised her footloose ways. Yet Ranu is not a tragic character. Somewhere in her subconscious she must know, as her audience will understand, that her real victory lies in her having made her journey.
Karmakar has filmed his subject over six years and edited the material to create a documentary which questions its traditions. Right from the start the filmmaker establishes his intimacy and involvement. He is not a scholar dissecting his subject comprehensively with objectivity and equanimity but a character in the film who makes us a part of his quandary about this woman. He objectifies her, checks her out voyeuristically, gazes at her burnt body compassionately, disbelieves her, attempts to understand her, never letting his audience think he is in a better position than they are. He is determined not to be her saviour in any way and labours to point out that he is as much an exploitative man as any other in Ranu’s life. His relationship with her is less organic and more what he had decided it should be perhaps. But it is important in the scheme of this film, which means well and is conscious of that. It is self assured. As a result it does not attempt to justify, emancipate or patronize Ranu or her like. It does not worry about political correctness either. It is not afraid to barge into Ranu’s world as it is.
Ranu tells the stories of her life, etching out her longing, loss, pride, pathos and abandon. The filmmaker and the audience can never be sure if she is telling the truth and more than once she gives them reason to doubt her (her conversation about age or her education in IIT for instance). But there is no attempt to probe further, for facts and figures are not the point of this film. It is a portrait of Ranu, her unforgettable smile, her inimitable ways; and as the camera gets closer it begins to blur the social and economic boundaries that differentiate her from any other Indian woman. The taboo of what Ranu does for a living cannot hold her story apart for long. Not every Indian woman may have had to prostitute herself but she has fought the double edged sword of dependence, moral dilemmas, ancient traditions, religious sanctions, vulnerability and at times even her own desires to make a small place where she can house her own individual identity. She knows Ranu and will find it easy to join in her celebration.