Moana: Under the Deep Blue Waters.

Directed by Ron Clements, John Musker, 2016.

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It is not every day that we get to see a film like Moana, which is not just a triumph of the art of filmmaking but also a celebration of the journey that we call life-of man’s eternal quest for meaning in life. Disney uses the old crucible, the same ingredients- but in a varied proportion – and adds a few new spices, to cook up a startlingly fresh recipe that has become a yardstick by which the quality of its future productions will be judged. Based on a Polynesian myth, the story of Moana travels space and time to become a universal tale of adventure and self-discovery which would definitely be enjoyed by generations to come. The film is a product of a great team’s hard work and dedication which gets reflected throughout the film ranging from the beautiful Polynesian islands, to the detailed development of the characters and obviously the soulful numbers which linger in one’s mind long after the film has ended.

The character of Moana (played by Auli’ i Cravalho) is a very welcome addition to the legacy of Disney. In an important inversion of convention, Moana is notone of the anorexic princesses who have stick figures for bodies; hers is a rather rotund figure. She is very brown, and not at all one of the damsels in distress unlike her predecessors. She knows it from the very outset that she will have to shoulder the responsibilities of her island Motunui after her father, who is the Chief of that island. She leads an idyllic life in her island surrounded by her people and knows that no one goes beyond the reef, yet at times, her heart sings a different song. Whenever the sea calls her she cannot control herself and she desperately wants to explore beyond the reef and discover “how far it [the ocean] goes” (‘How Far It Goes’).

The film opens with the mythological tale of Maui’s act of transgression which resulted in the birth of a “terrible darkness”, narrated by Moana’s Grandma Tala (Rachel House). Maui (Dwayne Johnson) had stolen the heart of TeFiti, the Mother Goddess, a thousand years ago in an attempt to please the Immortals who would then be able to procreate life with the help of the heart. Unfortunately, things did not turn out as planned by Maui and he had to pay for his act by losing his magical fishhook and had to lead his life as an exile stranded in an island until the “chosen one” came and grabbed him by the ears, made him board her canoe, cross the great ocean in order to return the heart of TeFiti. The name ‘Moana’ roughly translates to ‘deep waters’ or ‘ocean’ therefore it’s fair enough that the ocean will be inextricably related to her. Thus, she was the ‘chosen one’ who would have to complete this daunting task. Everything in her island was going just fine until one day the predictions of her Grandma came true- a dark disease had afflicted their coconut trees and all their fish were chased away by some uncertain reason. When she proposed to go beyond the reef in search of some catch, she was forcefully silenced by her father. But, no one could silence her inner voice and she set sail and moved beyond the reef accompanied by Pua. But her initial attempt at exploring was thwarted and she almost accidentally survived. It is at this critical juncture that her Grandma tells her the tale which the authority had tried to erase from the collective memory of their people as it posed a deep threat to their safety. This tale revealed that their ancestors were voyagers but after the rise of the darkness, many ships were lost and many men died which made these adventurers permanently settle down. Her Grandma then returns the heart of TeFiti which the sea had given Moana years ago. Time and again Moana is confronted with choices and every time she chooses the road less travelled by and that makes all the difference. There seems to be a deep sense of understandingwhich the women characters share in this tale. When everybody is refusing to believe Moana, her Mother and her Grandma are the only people who reassure her and provide her with the necessary strength to carry on with her quest. This is in stark contrast to the earlier fairy tales where women were portrayed in two colours-either black or white- she was either the paragon of angelic beauty and virtue like Cinderella or Snow White, or the evil stepmother figure.

Thus, Moana sets out on her own to fulfill the task assigned to her and answer the call of the sea. Thestorytellers toy with the expectations of the audience as Heihei-the curious rooster (and not Pua) gets to accompany Moana in heradventure. Heihei is a very interesting figure who likes to walk with his eyes covered in a coconut husk and is disillusioned every time Moana removes the coconut husk from over his head. Heihei fails to come to terms with reality and appears to inhabit a different world altogether. It makes no difference to Heihei if he is pecking on a piece of wood, stone or real food but he goes on pecking enthusiastically. His act of pecking is perhaps an act of desperation which helps him attach some meaning to his otherwise uneventful existence. Heihei is also probably a dehumanized version of every unthinking  individual who accepts whatever he is given unquestionably and overlooks the tyranny of the world by covering his eyes with a coconut husk not realizing what he is capable of and never trying to realize his true potential. When one of the villagers proposes to roast Heihei as such a stupid chicken is of no use to anybody, Moana retorts saying:

“Sometimes our strengths lie beneath the surface… but I’m sure there’s more to Heihei than meets the eyes.”

In our quest for perfection we often bury parts of ourselves not realizing that they are equally important to our being. In this context, it is interesting to note that the person playing the voice of the villager who had proposed to roast Heihei is the same person who has given his voice to the rooster. Therefore, there is definitely more to Heihei than meets the eyes. Heihei also has a critical role to play in the final sequence when he saves the heart of TeFiti instead of gobbling it up proving that he is not stupid after all and surprises everybody just like Moana had.

The ocean is also a very important character in the story. It is the source of chaos as well as order. If there is darkness in its shadowy depths then it also provides the characters with the necessary strength to fight and end the darkness. The ocean might be a friend of Moana but it does not help her until she tries to help herself or asks for help.

                          “The sea doesn’t help you, you help yourself”,

said Maui. Maui might be a demigod but it was his original sin and he had to pay the price for disrupting the balance of nature by stealing the heart. The heart might be a stone which maintains the balance of nature but on a closer look it might also stand for that primitive force which keeps each one of us from falling into pieces, the force which helps us fight our inner demons and emerge victorious in that strife.

In his eighth letter “To a Young Poet”, the great poet Rilke says,

“We have no reason to harbor any mistrust against our world…. If it has terrors, they are our terrors,… if it has dangers, we must try to love them…. How could we forget those ancient myths that stand at the beginning of all races, the myths about dragons that at the last moment are transformed into princesses? Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.”

Moana teaches us that we are a conglomeration of TeFiti and TeKa and only when we acknowledge the chaos inside us will we be able to muster the courage to invoke order out of it. Moana’s quest is therefore every man’s quest for meaning in life.

                                                                                                                 -Aishwarya Das Gupta

বাঙালির রামনবমী

বাংলা ভাষায় একটি বহুল প্রচলিত প্রবচন আছে, ‘চুলকে ঘা করা’। এটি সচরাচর শিক্ষিত কিংবা সংস্কৃতি মনস্ক মানুষের মুখে ব্যবহৃত হয় না। তথাকথিত অ-সংস্কৃতিবান অথবা আম জনতার মুখেই বেশি ব্যবহৃত হয়। কী জানি কেন আমার এই মুহূর্তে ওই প্রবচনটার কথাই মনে পড়ল। অবশ্য আমি যে বিশেষ সংস্কৃতিবান বাঙালি এমন দাবি করবার দুঃসাহস আমার কদ্যপি ছিল না।

আমরা অর্থাৎ বাঙালিরা নিজস্ব কোনো কিছু নিয়ে গর্ব করার দিন অনেক আগেই পেছনে ফেলে এসেছি। আমার জীবদ্দশায় অন্তত তেমন কিছু চোখে পড়ে নি। তবে বাপ-ঠাকুদ্দার মুখে গল্প শুনেছি, বাঙালি নাকি ছিল এক সাংঘাতিক জাত আর তার গর্ব করার মত বিষয়ও ছিল নাকি ভুরি ভুরি। সে যাই হোক, বাপ-ঠাকুদ্দার কথা অবিশ্বাস করতে নেই। পাপ হয়।

গর্ব করার মত কিনা জানি না, তবে একটা ব্যাপার ছিল, সব ধর্মের মানুষের মিলে মিশে থাকার চেষ্টা। সেটা অবশ্য গর্বের বিষয় না লজ্জার তা নিয়ে বিতর্ক হতেই পারে, অন্তত আজকের প্রেক্ষাপটে।

তার মানে এই নয় যে বিভিন্ন ধর্মাবলম্বীদের মধ্যে পারস্পরিক সন্দেহ বা অবিশ্বাসের বাতাবরণ ছিল না। ছিল, সুপ্ত হলেও অবশ্যই ছিল। কিন্তু বিগত চার দশকে সেই সন্দেহ বা অবিশ্বাস মাথা চাড়া দিয়ে উঠে বাঙালিকে দ্বিধাবিভক্ত করতে পারে নি। চামড়া থাকলে ফুসকুড়ি হবেই। আর ফুসকুড়ি থাকলে তা মাঝে মধ্যে চুলকোবেও। কিন্তু সেটাকে চুলকে চুলকে ঘা করব কিনা তা অন্য প্রশ্ন।

আমার মনে পড়ে, ছোটবেলায় কলকাতার রাস্তায় মহরমের মিছিল দেখা ছিল আমার বিশেষ কৌতূহলের বিষয়। বড় হওয়ার পরও সেই কৌতুহল আমার যায় নি। তরোয়াল,ছোরা, লাঠি নিয়ে সেই মিছিল দেখে আমি আগেও মুগ্ধ হতাম, এখনও হই। কখনো আমার মনে হয় নি ভিন্ন ধর্মের একদল মানুষ আমাকে তার অস্ত্র দেখিয়ে ভয় পাইয়ে দিতে চাইছে। তরোয়াল উঁচিয়ে শিখদের মিছিল দেখেও কখনও তা মনে হয় নি। আজ হঠাৎ কী এমন ঘটল যে ‘দেখ, আমারও কত তরোয়াল আছে’ বলে রাস্তায় নেমে পড়তে হল!

এ কথা স্বীকার করতেই হবে, সারা পৃথিবীতে ধর্মীয় সংখ্যালঘুরা সামান্য হলেও অস্বস্তি নিয়ে বাঁচেন। একটা চোরা আতংক তাদের চেতন অথবা অবচেতনে বয়ে চলে । তাই তারা একজোট হয়ে থাকতে চান, থাকতে চান নিজেদের নিরাপত্তার স্বার্থেই।

কিন্তু পশ্চিমবাংলার চেহারাটা তো এমন ছিল না! দুর্ভাগ্যজনক হলেও সত্যি যে এখানকার মুসলমানরা অধিকাংশই দরিদ্র। আধুনিক শিক্ষা থেকেও তারা পিছিয়ে ছিলেন যুগ যুগ ধরে। তার কারণ বিশ্লেষণ করা এই লেখার উদ্দেশ্য নয়। উদ্দেশ্য হল এটা বলা যে অধিকাংশ মুসলমানই ব্যস্ত থেকেছেন জীবন-জীবিকার লড়াইয়ে। সেই জায়গায় সংখ্যাগুরু হিন্দু দরিদ্রদের সঙ্গে তাঁদের কোনো তফাৎ ছিল না, এখনও নেই।

ব্যক্তিগত ভাবে আমার অভিজ্ঞতা হয়েছে সর্বস্তরের মুসলমানের সঙ্গে মেলামেশার। ধনী-দরিদ্র-মধ্যবিত্ত-শিক্ষিত- অশিক্ষিত সব পর্যায়ের মুসলমান পরিবারের সঙ্গে আমি মিশেছি। নিজেকে সে কারণে যথেষ্ট ভাগ্যবানও মনে করি। কোথাও দেখিনি পরোধর্মের প্রতি বিদ্বেষ। বরং তাদের আতিথেয়তা ও আন্তরিকতায় কিঞ্চিৎ বিস্মিতই হয়েছি।

উল্টো দিকে বেশির ভাগ বাঙালি হিন্দু পরিবারে দেখেছি মুসলমানদের সম্পর্কে চাপা বিদ্বেষ। কিন্তু সে বিদ্বেষ ধর্মাচরণ ও খাদ্যাভ্যাসের মধ্যেই সীমাবদ্ধ থেকেছে অধিকাংশ সময়েই। কখনোই তা বৃহৎ আকার ধারণ করে নি।

সব ধর্মের মধ্যেই কিছু শক্তি থাকে যাদের কাজ উস্কানি দিয়ে বিরোধ কে বাড়িয়ে তোলা। সেই শক্তিকে যদি মৌলবাদী শক্তি তকমা দিয়ে দিই তাহলে অতি সরলীকরণ হয়ে যাবে। মৌলবাদের বাইরেও এই জাতীয় শক্তি অবস্থান করে। সেখানেই গুরুত্বপূর্ন ভূমিকা পালন করার কথা ‘রাষ্ট্রের’।

কিন্তু দুর্ভাগ্যের বিষয় হল আমাদের দেশে রাষ্ট্রশক্তি পরিচালিত হয় দলীয় রাজনৈতিক লাভ-লোকসানের দাঁড়িপাল্লায় ভর করে। ফলে রাষ্ট্রের কল্যানমুলক ভূমিকাকে পেছনে ঠেলে সামনে আবির্ভুত হয় রাজনৈতিক স্বার্থ। সেখানে শাসক বা বিরোধী কেউই নিজেকে পৃথক করতে পারে না।

মহরমের মিছিল হয় ঐতিহাসিক একটি যুদ্ধ ও সেই সংক্রান্ত বিয়োগান্তক ঘটনাকে স্মরণ করে। সেই মিছিলে প্রদর্শিত অস্ত্র সম্ভার ভিন্ন ধর্মাবলম্বিকে আতঙ্কিত করবার জন্য নয়। এমনকি সেই মিছিল আয়োজিত হয় মূলত শিয়া সম্প্রদায় দ্বারা। সমগ্র মুসলমান জাতি মহরমের মিছিল করে না। বছরের পর বছর ধরে বাংলার বুকে মহরমের মিছিল আয়োজিত হয়ে চলেছে। বড় কোন সমস্যা কখনও হয়েছে বলে জানা যায় না।

পাশাপাশি রাম নবমীতে অস্ত্র সহ শোভাযাত্রা বারাণসী অঞ্চলে প্রচলিত থাকলেও বঙ্গদেশে তার প্রাদুর্ভাব আগে দেখা যায় নি। একটি উগ্র হিন্দুত্ববাদী রাজনৈতিক দল ও তার অন্যান্য সংগঠন যে রে রে করে অস্ত্র হাতে রামের জন্মদিন পালন করতে নেমে পড়ল তার কারণ সম্পূর্ণ ভাবেই রাজনৈতিক মুনাফা লাভ করা। মূল গল্প হল সেই সাতাশ শতাংশ ভোট। সাতাশ শতাংশের এমনই মহিমা যে অস্ত্র মিছিলের মোকাবিলায় তথাকথিত ধর্মনিরপেক্ষ দলকেও এখন বলতে হচ্ছে,”রাম কি তোমার একার”? এবং ঘটা করে হনুমানজয়ন্তীও পালন করতে হচ্ছে।

সাতাশ শতাংশ ভোট পাওয়ার জন্য যারা সংখ্যালঘুদের উন্নয়নের পাশাপাশি এমন বার্তাও দিয়েছেন,’তোমাদের সাত খুন মাফ’, তারা এটা বোঝেন নি যে লোহার বাসর ঘরের ওই ছিদ্রপথেই কালনাগিনী ঢুকে পড়তে পারে। আর আজ ঠিক সেটাই ঘটতে চলেছে। ভয়ঙ্কর কালনাগিনী ঢুকে পড়তে চাইছে। ভোট শতাংশের খেলায় সে দিকে কারো হুঁশ আছে কি?

আমি দেখেছি, মুখে উদারতার বড়াই করলেও অধিকাংশ ধর্মবিশ্বাসী মানুষই মনের গভীরে এই ধারণাই পোষণ করেন, ‘যাই বল বাপু, আমার ধর্মটাই সর্বশ্রেষ্ঠ, তোমারটা ওঁচা।’ আর সেই বিশ্বাসের গোড়ায় সুড়সুড়ি লাগলে তা যে অন্য আকার ধারণ করে তা বোঝা যাচ্ছে বাংলার অলিতে গলিতে রামনবমীর সশস্ত্র মিছিল দেখে।

এর সমাধান কোথায় তা বলতে পারা খুবই কঠিন। ধর্ম আর রাজনীতি, রাজনীতি আর ধর্ম ক্রমশ আমাদের আষ্টেপৃষ্ঠে বেঁধে ফেলছে। জীবনানন্দের ভাষায়, অদ্ভুত আঁধার, যা ছড়িয়ে পড়ছে বিষাক্ত ধোঁয়ার মত। হয়ত আগামী দোল পূর্ণিমাতে দেখতে হবে চৈতন্য জন্মজয়ন্তী পালিত হচ্ছে নগর সংকীর্তন সহযোগে। আর খোল-করতাল এর মধুর ধ্বনি মাতিয়ে তুলছে আকাশ-বাতাস।তারই মাঝে ঝলসে উঠছে দু’চারটে খোলা তরওয়ালের ধারালো ফলা। সেদিন হয়ত আমিও বলে ফেলব, ওরা অস্ত্র দেখালে যদি মামলা না হয় তাহলে আমার বেলা হবে কেন?

——-সুরথ রায়।

The Tale of Princess Kaguya

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The tale of the Bamboo-cutter is like a tale as old as time. The very recent animated adaptation of this famous folk tale ‘The Tale of Princess Kaguya’ (2013) is no less mesmerising and spellbinding on the big screen. The movie is directed by the legendary animator Isao Takahata of Studio Ghibli. The hand-drawn pastel and water coloured animation brings back the memories of the illustrations that used to come along with such oriental folktales in the children’s books. The story is more or less known to all. A bamboo-cutter found a small and little doll-like girl while cutting bamboos in the woods and brought her home to his wife. Next day, he found gold nuggets in the stalk of bamboo. The childless couple brought her up as their own believing that she is a divine boon and named her Kaguya (meaning, “radiant night”). As she grew up into a woman of extraordinary beauty, men from around the countries came asking for her hand. But she kept refusing their proposals. She put five of her suitors into test but they failed to please her. The emperor himself came asking for her hand but her answer remained the same as before. He kept on proposing to her and she kept on refusing him; telling him that she belonged to a distant realm and that is why she cannot marry him. When the summer came, she often used to stare at the full moon with her tear-filled eyes. When being asked, she told her parents that the people from the empire of the Moon would come to take her away as her days on the mortal realm are going to end very soon. And finally on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month the Moon people came as promised and gave her the elixir of life to drink and put the robe of the Moon or the Feather robe on her, making her forget all the memories, sorrows, joys, and experience that she gathered on the earth. And thus she was gone.

The movie stays true to this original tale of the bamboo-cutter. But a 21st century rendition of an ancient story must serve something new on the plate. And the movie doesn’t fail to please its eagle-eyed audience. The movie turns out to be ‘delicately’ cynical as it starts dealing with the efforts of the nouveau riche parents to cling on to the conditions of being accepted in an elite society and the patriarchal nightmare that Kaguya faces as a result. The bamboo-cutter who used to live in the woodland, found his fortune flourishing after he found the princess and plenty of gold coins and multiple robes afterwards. The bamboo-cutter decided to build a palace in the capital city for his daughter’s betterment. But what really takes place at the city is her imprisonment. The father is gradually engulfed by the urban patriarchal system that sets a nightmare for Kaguya. His sudden act of appointing a tutor and maids for her daughter or arranging an extravagant banquet for the naming ceremony- all these seem to be nothing but vague efforts to blend in with the surrounding aristocratic, elite families. At one point, he seems quite infuriated with Kaguya when she tells him to invite her old rural friends into the banquet. But her mother, although she never really raises her voice against the husband, does not let the system corrupt her. We see her settle in an attached wooden cabin like the one they had back in the mountains and nurture a beautiful small garden as if to nurture the microcosmic pastoral paradise they have left behind. The mother-daughter relationship, however, did not get ruined by the poison that the wealth and the ambition brought. Settling in the capital became tougher and tougher day by day for the Princess as she grew up. Unlike the original tale, the daughter is named Kaguya in a naming ritual in the palace only after she came of age (Her friends used to called her “li’l bamboo” while her parents called her by “my princess”). The hypocrisy behind the norms of the elite society begins to unfold in front of her eyes when she is told to sit behind the curtain for hours and hours in the banquet of her own naming ceremony…doing nothing. Her life goes through hell when Lady Sagami, her tutor, tries to tame her in order to change her into an elite lady from a rural girl. The movie becomes directly satiric towards the ancient Japanese society and tradition as the training session begins. The more Kaguya is told not to move, not to run, not to smile, not to speak, not to laugh, not to scream, not to cry, the more disruptive she becomes. She gets frightened when Lady Sagami comes to put traditional make up on her face, and blacken her teeth. She refuses to live like a “doll” and also announces boldly that if an ideal noble princess is meant to live like that then there is no chance that she is a human being. She only finds her peace in the thought of her rural haven where everything ran wild, where she could breathe freely. The nostalgia plays a very important part in the flow of the entire story. Her inability to go back to the wilderness makes her realize that both the palace and the city are prisons and there is no escape whatsoever. She asks her mother for a small part of her garden as a memoir of her wild and free childhood. In the end she wishes to go back to the mountains that she calls “home” for one last time before leaving the realm of the Earth; her mother does not hold her back. There we see her feel the air, the soil, the trees, the long lost love of her long lost childhood friend Sutemaru for one last time.

The reality hits her hard when one of her five suitors dies while trying to pass the test she had put him in. She understands that she has always been an ‘outsider’ and always will be. Her pain was unbearable and all she could want was her lost freedom. And so she could not help but pray to the Moon to take her back from all the pain when the Emperor grabbed her forcefully even after she refused to be his wife more than once. She confesses to her mother that her curiosity to feel the mysteries of pain and sorrow and happiness of human kind is the reason she was sent to this mortal realm from the empire of the Moon. But her prayers cannot be unheard and she bids farewell to the ones she loves: her Mama, Papa (who realized his mistakes in the end) and Sutemaru and the mountains of her childhood. The 15th day of the eighth lunar month came at last and so came the Moon people. Their arrival is marked by the beautiful oxymoron of the joyous music and the tears of goodbye. A figure of Buddha leads the procession with a promise of peace and harmony. Kaguya has no choice. She says a final goodbye to her parents and as soon as the Feather robe is put on her, all the sorrows, pains, aches, toils, anguish, joys, laughter, smiles and memories take peaceful refuge into oblivion. She disappears beyond the horizon.

The artifices of civilisation have been weaving the web to catch freedom, candour and innocence for centuries. And when the lashes of the social chains are on the verge of destroying the independence of an unblemished entity, isolation offers a safe shelter. Oblivion, eventually, becomes the ultimate destiny. Surely, the time has grown old, but the tale hasn’t.

– Subarnarekha Pal

POEMS FROM THE PAST

A NOTE

3

On a fine spring evening,

When a stranger walking by,

Would remind you of me,

With the same cologne which,

I always wore, while making love,

Or going to war,

Rush home, Run home.

Because memories are like relatives,

Who just refuse to die.

By every word, every poem,

That still lie huddled in your breasts,

Like Jews inside trains whose final stop

Was the end of the world,

I swear to you my love,

Men like me, can pour petrol

On a blooming red rose,

Do not come knocking on our doors.

TOMBSTONES HAVE NAMES

2 (1)

And here I am,

Writing about my favourite hell.

Holding a tourist brochure in hand,

I wonder at the delusion,

Proclaiming, ” Welcome to heaven on Earth.”

You see, in heaven,

Gods don’t crack down,

On Angels shouting- ” Azaadi! Azaadi!”

In heaven,

Tombstones have names.

TWINS4

 

 

 

I switch between two languages

While writing about you.

Between Faiz and Shahid,

Between nights descending on Lahore,

And evenings on small pubs in my neighbourhood.

I slice open with words,

Dark nights, and paint brush them,

Over your city and mine,

Sprinkling stars over Urdu,

Over English.

I switch between two selves,

When writing about you.

One watching the river go by in Banaras.

The other burning in Kashmir.

YOU’VE BEEN GROWING ON ME

You’ve been growing on me,

1Like wine,

Like Jazz,

Like expensive perfumes,

Like charming old Paris,

Like legends which no one believed,

And like family history everyone did.

Like the illusion of greatness,

Or the idea of a prison break.

You have been growing on me,

Like the sea swelling at high tide,

Or the night lamp, post midnight, gaining courage.

You’ve been growing on me,

With every hammer of the second’s hand,

And every turn of the table calendar.

-Sayan Aich

(Illustrations by Shreemoyee Banerjee.)