Saturday, September 15, 2012

Mrinal Sen's The Absence Trilogy

Mrinal Sen’s The Absence Trilogy consists of Ekdin Pratidin (1979), Kharij (1982) and Ekdin Achanak (1989). The films are separated by almost a decade and made in two different languages, with the first two in Bengali and the third in Hindi. Yet, the three films are linked together. In the Seagull published book The Absence Trilogy, which consists all three screenplays, Somnath Zutshi examines the underlying connection in the trilogy.

The first is that each of these films attempts to examine the effects, on a group, of one member suddenly going missing, whether temporarily or permanently. The second is that in each of these three films, we see the past haunting the present. And the conjunction of the two consists in this: it is precisely in the manifestation of the absence, that is, in the gap that has been left behind by the one who is not there, that we see the shadow of the past fall. -- Somnath Zutshi, The Absence Trilogy

The three films examine different states of an absence, with the first film Ekdin Pratidin looking at a temporary absence when the oldest daughter in a family goes missing for one night only to return back in the early hours of the morning. The absence in the other two films are permanent and leave the family to deal with consequences of losing a key member in their lives. In Ekdin Achanak, as implied by the title (Suddenly, One Day) the father walks out of his home one day never to return. His body is never found but no one in his family believes that he will ever come back. So even though his absence is assumed to be permanent, the lack of a dead body ensures that a complete closure will never take place for the family. On the other hand, a couple find the dead body of their young servant in Kharij forcing them to deal with the consequences of the death and any responsibility they might have had.

The absence halts the lives of the families in all three films, forcing them to abandon their daily routines to examine either the past or their current situation. In Ekdin Achanak, the family has no idea why the father left so they spend their energy pouring over past incidents to search for a clue. They chase down a dead end or two, such as assuming the father ran off with a younger student, but in the end have no more insight into his absence. At the end of the film, an entire year has gone by since the father’s disappearance yet the family is still stuck in the past despite their best efforts to move on. One can assume their lives will never truly move beyond the day when the father left. On the other hand, even though the daughter returns in Ekdin Pratidin, the family will never recover their dignity and peace of mind. As indicated in the film, if a son had gone missing for the night, then not much fuss would have taken place but a girl coming late at night puts her character into question. This differential treatment of a female is not restricted to Indian culture but many nations around the world use a different judgement scale towards men and women. In many cultures, men are free to do as they please, including staying out of the house for late hours, but if a girl does that, then she is harshly punished or judged.

The trilogy offers a fascinating case study of human behavior and depicts how people are often busy trying to make ends meet without having much time for reflection or analysis of their situation. However, a critical event forces them to freeze time and truly examine their lives and relationships.

1) Ekdin Pratidin: The entire film in 10 parts.

2) Kharij / The Case is Closed

No online links for the film but the critical scene of Palan’s death can be found here.

3) Ekdin Achanak: Entire film.

Bengali Cinema

This The Absence Trilogy is part 1 of a multi-part spotlight looking at Bengali Cinema.

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