Having grown up in Calcutta, I’ve been a part of (and witnessed) several absurd plays. I have also watched some really good cinema that the city has produced. What I had not experienced till now, was both the art forms merging to produce something which is spectacular! And that is what I was made a spectator to today!
Q’s Tasher Desh (The Land of Cards) is essentially his adaptation of Tagore’s original play caught on camera. It infuses Tagore’s original songs in a modern day context. As Q had previously described it, it is indeed “Tagore on acid”. A playwright, obsessed with creating a stage version of Tasher Desh starts hallucinating about how he’d recreate Tasher Desh. With elements of imagination mixed with reality, he thinks of a prince and his merchant friend, bored with their monotonous existence, and while tripping on acid to get away from reality they end up reaching the magical land of Tasher Desh, the land of cards.
When they reach Tasher Desh, they are faced by a bunch of human-like tash (card) figures who are obsessed with maintaining the peace, order and discipline of Tasher Desh. When asked what these strangers bring with them, they promptly answer “trouble”. The rest of the film deals with the concept of dissent, and breaking away from a regime which limits our thoughts and expressions, something which finds immense relevance today; especially with the recent uprisings in the Middle East.
The acting is top notch. Kanti and Anubrata are both brilliant! Rii as usual never lets down in a Q film. Imaad Shah too, does an excellent job as well! The Sri Lankan actors, and the other non bengali actors, speaking bangla in their native accent adds to the element of fantasy which the play embodies.
This being a musical, the most interesting thing is probably how the director has managed the sound-scape. Rabindrasangeet has been mixed with elements of dubstep, jazz and electronic music to fit into the current music scenario. Susheela Raman’s voice singing “Gopono Kotha Ti” and Q’s “Elem Notun Deshe” haunts you long after you have left the theatre. “Bnadh Bhenge Dao” having been produced by Asian Dub Foundation lends a feel to the track, which is probably infinitely better than the original track. Q’s rendition which infuses rap with the original song will probably leave a lot of Tagore purists fuming though. Kudos to Neel Adhikari, Miti adhikari and Q for producing a sound so breathtakingly refreshing!
The second half of the film makes up for the slight slow pace of the first half. But then again, Anubrata’s dialogue just before the interval where he says “You probably haven’t understood anything yet. Now is where it all begins” puts a lot into perspective.
The edit is fantastic, and it is probably the reason the movie stands out as an exceptional piece of art. The non linear narrative makes the story slightly difficult to follow. However, the magnificent story line and the superb use of consumer-grade digital cameras makes it difficult to shift one’s eyes from the screen for even a split second. The whole film is deliberately glitchy and it adds to the surreal nature of the narrative.
Overall, Tasher Desh lives up to the tag of being the biggest independent release this year. Q’s vision is distinctly original even though he trips through Tagore’s play and Kabuki inspired visual references. It is visually and musically fantastic! A movie like this getting a release beyond the festival circuits was unheard of earlier. Hopefully this changes things for the better. It’s difficult to gauge whether Tagore would have liked it or not, but I’m certain, he would have have tripped his mind off on Q’s adaptation.