How do you get to know about a certain place? How do you build your understanding of the people that live there and how they lead their lives? In Prantik Narayan Basu’s Bela, it is the pieces of observations that suck you in and build this very understanding. We understand how their lives are by the sheer sensory experience of their day-to-day activities with a lived-in feel. The peaceful place becomes alive to us through the minute details added to the film through its technical elements. The rich soundscape paired with the film’s exquisite cinematography achieves an engrossing result. The attention given to these elements is what creates this enchanting piece of film that builds the portrait of the everyday lives of natives in a sensuous manner. The town in focus - Bela, is located in East India, the name of which translates to ‘time’ in the local language.
The documentation of time is done through a clear comprehension of the pace of the lives of the inhabitants - the leisurely pace at which they engage in activities and do their daily chores. The director uses time as a tool to tell about the place and its pace in a manner that can best reflect how their days unfold. The film creates an experience that transports you to the place by letting the place envelope you in its purest, simplest and most mundane parts. Due to the same reason, it sucks you right into its meditative state and puts you in a trance
through its naturalistic depiction. This hour-long documentary film was a part of the International Film Festival of Rotterdam and Visions du Réel. It becomes successful to make you a part of its world for a brief period. Besides its great understanding of form, the content of this film also delves into the aspects of the themes of the passage of time.
This stimulating experience presents the things that have changed over the period and the ones that show resistance to such change. We get glimpses of modern civilization throughout the film’s duration juxtaposed with the nature that exists despite modernity. The electric poles with their gigantic entanglement of wire appear right after a massive mountain marks its eminence with all its natural, unhindered glory. The train horn sounds come from a not-so-distant place while the villagers are seen to be engaged in their activities with a traditional source of dim, wavering light. The electricity has nothing but just a fleeting presence in their lives during the festive ceremonies.
The traditional rites showcase a long-established gendered divide in terms of the labor or duties and also the benefits. The women engage in the domestic, mundane tasks, and are hardly seen beyond of perimeters of their homes. The elaborate patterns they create on the outskirts of their homes are the only places where they appear to be a part of such a ritual. Their tasks are more laborious and require a lot of hard work within those confines. The men, meanwhile, engage in the traditional acts of entertainment. We come across them working on the flashy ‘Chhau’ dance performances. From building the sets, getting in their costumes for the dance, enacting different parts of the dramatic scenarios to enjoying this entertainment, it appears a male-dominated place, where hardly a woman is seen. The limitations are unwaveringly apparent so are the gender divides. None of this is explicitly mentioned yet subtly conveyed through the clever editing. The lack of heavy-handedness is what makes the thematic explorations from Bela seem much more impressive.
- Written by Akash Deshpande