By Devapriya Sanyal and Melissa Webb.
On the banks of the Padma lives Padma Halder, named after one of the bigger rivers flowing between the two countries of Bangladesh and India, divided by religion but sharing a common history. But Kaushik Ganguly’s new venture Bisorjon (or Bisarjan) chooses to look beyond that to explore the trope that love does exist beyond the mere palings of religion. And he does a splendid job of it. Bisorjon or Bisarjan means immersion and is related to the Durga puja that eradicates this division for atleast five days in a year.
The first couple of shots are those of the immersion, accompanied by a Bengali folk song sung by the acclaimed Kalika Prasad Bhattacharyya but does not set the tone of the film. The film on the other hand is a quiet, slow affair beautifully played by the three principal characters: Ganesh Mondal played by the director of the film himself, Kaushik Ganguly, Padma Halder played by Joya Ahsan and Naseer Ali played by the formidable Abir Chatterjee. The fact that the two Bengals are one even though separated by fences and much more nonetheless Kaushik Ganguly is successfully able to portray that the essence of humanity remains the same in spite of many man-made strictures.
Padma finds Naseer Ali one fine morning as she is making way to the market, on the banks of the Padma, caked in mud and left for dying. She rescues him, displaying immense courage and strength, both physical and mental for the world in which she resides is a small one, Ganesh Mondal for years has had his eyes on her and a stranger in the village would definitely set tongues wagging. However, she decides to introduce him as her cousin Subhash Das, from Faridpur effacing his religious identity altogether hoping to keep suspicions at bay and for the most part keeping him hidden and protected.
A lonely widow, whose husband died due to excessive drinking and smoking she spends her days looking after her old ailing father-in-law. Ganesh Mondal looks after most of her needs hoping to marry her someday. This myriad world of characters with their eccentricities is what is fascinating about this well-etched film. Ganesh Mondal is a very interesting character which Kaushik Ganguly has drawn with a lot of sympathy, and he displays a deep understanding of the human psyche in drawing the character. He wears white like the widowed Padma in a bond of empathy, is oblivious to the repairs of his large house which his servant Lau constantly reminds him of, because his lady love’s house is beyond repair. He visits her compulsively but the young woman is repulsed by him instead choosing to fall in love with Naseer Ali. Padma wills herself into believing that Naseer in fact is her dead husband Ratan come back to life. She clothes the injured Naseer with Ratan’s old clothes, even buying him a packet of the same brand of cigarettes that he smoked and tends to his injuries religiously. But even as Padma falls in love with him, Naseer keeps his distance from her and oblivious to her real feelings for him chooses to confide in her about his lady love back home in Bashirhat, in India, just across the Padma.
She risks it all to call his family back in India and in the end decides to sacrifice herself in order that he reach the other side of the river safely. She decides to ask for Mondal’s help who is a man of considerable influence in that village in ferrying Naseer to safety by agreeing to marry Ganesh Mondal. Moved beyond words, having waited for so long for Padma he readily agrees. The night before Naseer is to leave Bangladesh, Padma dresses up in a saree her husband had bought for her from gajoner mela and talks of her unrequited love for Naseer. As the long night continues, she is at last rewarded when Naseer responds overwhelmed by the sacrifice she is about to make for him. Padma’s sacrifice for Naseer moves him to tears. Naseer’s dilemma can actually be seen in his eyes as he is torn between his immense urge to go back to his motherland as well as his undeniable wish of staying back in Bangladesh in the embrace of Padma, with whom he has found love.
The director provides an interesting twist to the tale when Naseer Ali’s real purpose of visiting Bangladesh is divulged. He is actually a smuggler who had taken advantage of the joint-immersion programme between the two countries to stealthily cross the border and conduct their illicit trade. But as luck would have it, his boat overturned and he could not go back to India. This sudden revelation alarms Padma but she does not withdraw her support – she still wants her ‘Subhash da’ to reach home in India safely. In the morning the river bears him away to his family and love while she is carried away by Ganesh almost as a prize. The last few shots are those of her child, a beautiful boy who carries the same birth mark that is on Naseer’s back. But Ganesh oblivious to the secret love the two bear for each other is only too happy to playact the role of the dutiful but loving father and husband, and like his wife resorts to wearing colourful clothes again to celebrate the togetherness. Long after you have left the theatre Kalika Prasad’s soulful rendering of songs of love, friendship and humanity stay on with you. Bisarjan is a simple story of love immortalised and made extraordinary by a director like Kaushik Ganguly.
Devapriya Sanyal has a Ph.D. in English Literature from JNU, India. She is the author of From Text to Screen: Issues and Images in Schindler’s List and Through the Eyes of a Cinematographer: A Biography of Soumendu Roy (Harper Collins, 2017).
Melissa Webb is an editorial assistant for Film International and received her MA in English from Rutgers University-Camden in January 2017. She helps program the Reel East Film Festival.