Shankhachil tells the story of the Bangladeshi rural family of Muntasir Chowdhry Badol aka Badol Master (played by Prosenjit), his wife Layla Chowdhury (played by Kusum Shikder) and their only child Rupsha Chowdhry (played by Shajhbati), living in a village close to the Indian border. So close, that few of the village dwellers even have to sleep in the Bangladeshi part of their homes and bathe in the Indian part. The 12 year old Rupsha is close to nature, unable to understand the barriers of land. So innocent that she doesn’t have any problem in becoming friends with an Indian border guard. However, Rupsha has a fatal heart disease that is unknown to her parents. So when she falls ill, the family does not have enough time to take her to Khulna or Dhaka. Instead they chose a risky option to hide their identity and go for medical assistance in Indian territory. The film depicts the aftermath of the journey by Rupsha and her family.
Directed by the talented Gautam Ghosh, Shankhachil is a tribute to the legendary Bengali filmmaker Rittwik Kumar Ghatak. The reason behind this homage could be the affiliation of the subject (of Shankhochil) to Rittwik’s great trilogy on the pain and angst of the division of Bengal. Rittwik previously got almost everything right for his films like Meghe Dhaka Tara, Komolgandhar and Shuborno Rekha. He revisited the unjust miseries of the partition. The protagonists of these films portray the struggle, cruelty and social reality faced after settling in India. Shankhachil has a similar concept (going back to India during the time of the partition), but obviously on a different time and context.
Technically, the film is a near perfect one. The cinematography was excellent; one may well be reminded of Lubezki, famous for his visual wonders on films like Birdman and The Revenant) by the camera work since the style of capturing landscapes along with character is similar to that of Lubezki. The background music was touching at times and the editing was also convincing.
There are some bravura performances in this film. Kushum Shikder was surprisingly good, as she blended with her character easily. Prosenjit was good as usual, but the performance by Shajhbati really left a mark on the audience. A debutant, Shajhbati matched the character perfectly and held a look of depression in her eyes all throughout. But let’s not come into a conclusion so early, not everything is good and fancy in this joint venture.
The plot was interesting but the script had some serious flaws in different parts of the film. In the first half of the film, the story telling was very slow and subtle. It’s understandable because establishing important characters is necessary in that half. But it did not do any good because we don’t get emotionally connected with any of the characters apart from Rupsha, that too, on the frantic second half of the film. The character of Badol Master, who is the catalyst of the story, is not convincing at all. We do not get what his philosophy or desire is, or why he is crying over India’s partition after reading a century old (almost) letter, or why he chose India for his daughter’s treatment rather than going to Khulna or Dhaka. It seemed forceful at times. The ending, which consisted of a few hospital scenes seemed hurried and as a result, there wasn’t much drama on screen. The script was quite abrupt in that regard. The story could be of the daughter who has a heart disease as bad as the politics of subcontinent, a father who is still heart-broken after 70 years of the partition or it could also be the story of a pointless border line that divides two countries. Not choosing any particular subject, rather trying to convey all of it, only derails the film.
The spoken language of the film was disturbing at times. The way Badol Master and his daughter Rupsha converse are is not convincing at all (surprising since they are two of the main characters of the film). Rupsha talks like a 21st century urban girl and it’s quite surprising that no one noticed it before the film’s release. The audience face a problem while trying to relate to the character of Badol Master, because he speaks like typical Prosenjit, and not like a rural teacher.
Even though there were good performances and stunning camera work, after watching Shankhachil, the audience can get a fuzzy feeling, wandering about, since they don’t have any direction to follow.
With the current Indo-Bangladesh relationship, we really needed a film that gives us hope instead of pessimism and vulnerability. Unfortunately, Shankhachil is not that film.