For a young research student, working on the works of Samuel Beckett, Ashish Avikunthak’s Kalkimanthankatha is an important lesson on reading methodology. I wonder, when I first read Waiting For Godot almost seven years back around the time I was graduating from high school, what did I find so pertinently interesting about the text. Is it the obscurity or the abstraction? Is it poetic sensibility expressed through prosaic precision? These questions have lost their relevance over the years as I re-read the text and realized that they not matter. The text has borne its own relevance every time I have gone back to read it and it continues to change. What could have been the intention of the author is not as important to me any more as the various problems and possibilities the text poses to the reader.
In Avikunthak’s film I find the same spirit of a growing distance from the author that eventually brought the film closer and closer to the Beckettian spirit. Contrary to the Beckett text: the setting continuously changes, even though the location remains the same; the clothing of the characters also keep altering and in the end serve as an important symbol in the film when finally abandoned; and instead of four, the film has only two characters waiting for the arrival of ‘Kalki’— the last avatar of Vishnu. In fact the characters do not wait, rather they use the word ‘search’ that perhaps justifies their movement across the space instead of staggering around a confined spot.
In the film, Beckett’s text is read into Mao’s statements. The confusion over language and philosophy that is one of the thematic facets of the text is thus interwoven into the film as the characters read out from the little Red Book in mundane monotonous module. One wonders if it is a Beckettian reading of Mao or Maoist reading of Beckett, but in the end it is neither since the film tries to fall back upon the political via an act of abandonment of textual language carried out by the characters as their bodies turn to absolute bareness much like the setting in the Beckett text itself — ‘A country road. A tree. Evening’.
The bareness of the bodies stands in between continuous attempts at looking backward to an ideology that has largely failed, and is heading toward a future of indifference. And it is at the face of such crises of memory and hope, past and future, that the characters live out their present in search of someone who has made a promise. If the political is imbued within the act of search itself, the bodies in their absolute bareness, become the space and means of politics. Instead of being read as metaphorical exposure of the political confusions and indifference of our times, they should be recognized as materialization of the anguish that politics proclaims, and constitutive of the materiality of politics. Hence, the identity of Kalki, like the identity of Godot, is no longer relevant here — the search being undertaken by these characters is all that matters while being together, like comrades like lovers, two shadows walking bare in the allegorical mist.
The element of the absurd propounded by Beckett’s text lies in the method in which the film is executed. The dialogues are composed in an unexpectedly refined and lyrical Bengali delivered by the characters that wear very ordinary contemporary outfits; or the sudden shift in colour and tone of the screen are various instances contributing to the sense of absurdity which is if not always Beckettian, very cinematic. Beckett had often expressed his discontent with the cinematic medium when it came to the adaptation of his dramatic works meant for the stage. He was not sure if the screen space was suitable to explore the architecture of his plays. Therefore, the filmmaker has to distance himself from Beckett while abiding by the Beckettian spirit nonetheless, only to rethink the plot in cinematic terms. Perhaps Avikunthak’s reading of Beckett into film would be a fitting tribute to the master and his opinion — but what one takes back from the experience is that reading itself, at once political and cinematic, sustained through the potent performances of Joyraj Bhattacharjee and Sagnik Mukherjee.
– Samudranil Gupta