There are films which move the soul with their capacity to induce in the viewer the profundity of life depicted in them. If life is art, such movies do justice to the concept. Conversely, if art is life, justice is done all the same. The lines get blurred. Or you could say they merge in all their contrariness.
And it is precisely this merger of emotions which underpins 'Ajob Karkhana,' which has just recently been screened at the 23rd Rainbow Film Festival in London. Produced by Samia Zaman and directed by Shabnam Ferdousi, the narrative is a tale of one man's journey to newer discoveries of his place in the universe of music. Or could we suggest that Rajeeb the acclaimed rock star at the centre of the movie is up against a rude awakening, the awakening leading to a wave of new emotions in him as he begins to understand life.
Rajeeb, played brilliantly by Parambrata Chattopadhyay, is at the peak of stardom, adored by tens of thousands of fans for the songs he belts out every so often. As with rock stars everywhere, there is just that shade of hubris, that obvious sense of entitlement which defines him as he performs on stage. It is such arrogance which comes into play --- and continues for a good length of time --- when the young music enthusiast with innovative ideas, played by Dilruba Doyel --- lands up before him with an appeal. The appeal is simple and yet loaded with rich substance. Rajeeb's talents are needed, she informs him in no uncertain terms, in a fusion of rock music with melody, spiritual melody, that has long been part of Bangladesh's cultural heritage.
The art of persuasion is at work. Doyel goes out on a limb to convince the initially dismissive, clearly sneering rock star that the new music she and her colleagues envisage at their studio is of the sort that only Rajeeb can bring forth to his fans and, by extension, to the country. The fusion of the modern with the traditional is fundamentally the central idea in the film. On a larger scale, though, the theme encompasses contemporary thoughts in association with the spirituality which has, over the ages, defined the soul of Bangladesh.
Rajeeb's journey to this wider landscape of music is etched in deeper shades of meaning. The metaphorical, takes centre stage as the entire team, with Rajeeb at the core, makes its way into the rural regions of the country. For the rock star, despite his initial discomfort with living conditions in a village --- he gripes about the state of the toilet, about the food, about sleep, indeed about almost everything --- the journey from rock music to spiritual songs, from an urban slum to a pastoral setting is an odyssey of rediscovery.
Shabnam Ferdousi's remarkable portrayal of Rajeeb's growing feelings of inadequacy as he gets acquainted with artistes, religiously devoted to soulful music in the timeless spaces of Bengal, deepens the message. The rock star comes in communion with Lalon adherents, with village music makers touched by the concept of time and space they symbolise in their songs despite the all-pervasive poverty which governs their lives. The rock star in Rajeeb mellows, increasingly to a point where questions begin to assail him. Where does his music, conceived and born in a soulless, consumerist urban environment, stand before the spontaneity of the melody in the rural artistes singing in his presence, linking present to past, time to eternity?
And then the questions begin to make their way into Rajeeb's soul. Who is the real artiste, him or that poor, half-famished village artiste singing of a world beyond the temporal? A disturbed Rajeeb drifts away from his forte. His fan following in the city dips, legal cases are threatened when he does not keep to his promises of new stage performances. The fault is not in his stars nor in a deliberate assertion of indifference to his friends, those who helped him rise to stardom in the first place. His marriage not being a happy one, his love for his child beyond question, the presence of a possessive girlfriend, his queries about his place in the world --- now that new realities are beginning to shape his view of life --- he falls back on lugubrious reflections.
The rock star does not rock anymore because his interaction with the generational music ingrained in timeless Bangladesh has rocked his world. His refusal in the end to complete the series, much to Doyel's consternation, is the denouement the audience experiences. A sad ending, but a poignant one all the same.
Ajob Karkhana is a journey of the soul, resting as it does on a heart-warming depiction of rural Bangladesh --- its wide expanse of green, it's simple tenements, its poverty-driven happiness. A revival of the soul, in the audience, comes forth with the music wafting across the landscape. The audience identifies with the music, with the larger ambience of the scenes the director weaves with passion throughout the story. Doyel comes across as the hard-working, modern young Bengali woman whose heart remains embedded in ideas of a new projection of heritage. Indeed, the entire cast of Ajob Karkhana puts up a realistic portrayal of the roles assigned to it.
The charm of Ajob Karkhana is in its appeal to the heart. Long after the curtain falls on the final scene, the philosophy behind the story makes you ponder. Where does one identity end and another take off? Or where does a coming together of identities enhance the individual's awareness of the profundity of life?
The questions leave you looking for answers, if you can find them.