In the mid 16th century, classical East Bengal context – after being betrayed by her fiancé – the young female writer exiles herself inside a Shiva Temple and resorts to re-write the great Indian epic `Ramayana’, where she tells her Ramayana completely based on the ignored point of view of Sita instead of her male chauvinist husband hero Rama.
The young daughter of a veteran poet Dijabangshi Das, Chandrabati is in love with another poet Jayananda. On the eve of their marriage, Jayanda betrays Chandrabati and marries another woman in the community. The pain stricken Chandrabati resorts to chose a passionate life of being confining herself inside a Shiva Temple and takes her vow to rewrite the epic Ramayana. She tries to recall her early write up and decides to transform Sita-the ignored female of the epic into the main hero. Jayanada realizes the wrong he had done to Chandrabati and returns to the temple for seeking forgiveness from her. She doesn’t listen to him anymore and concentrates to complete her mission of rewriting the epic into a ballad of her own conscious. The rejected Jayananda commits suicide drowning in the nearby river. The pain stricken Chandrabati gets very sick after this incident but still struggles to remain obdurate of completing her journey. Set in the mid-sixteenth century, classical East Bengal context, Chandrabati Kotha (The Tales of Chandrabati) is a tribute to the legendary pioneer feminist Bengali poet Chandrabati.
After the betrayal of her fiancé Jayananda, the young poet Chandrabati informs her father that she will never marry again and instead, will start rewriting the Great Epic `Ramayana’-about which she reminds him-that he inspired her earlier. She requests her father to build her a Shiva Temple, where she would live in and continue her writings from. Set in mid-sixteenth century Eastern Bengal, `Chandrabati Kotha’ (Tales of Chandrabati) explores the elegiac life and passion of the first feminist poet of Bengali Literature – Chandrabati.
A young Buddhist Scroll Painter Ashok and his religious Guru are runaway from their own village after a riot and rampage take place against them by Hindu Brahmins. The old man falls sick at the edge of their target settlement-the Garo Hills and decide to stay back in the nearby village to get well and start their journey soon again. Fascinated by the idea, the young Scroll Painter Ashok travels around the village and happens to discover the mystic culture of the land. The old man dies and Ashok is left alone and desperate to travel more frequently for his quest to discover the locality’s ethno-cultural identity. The local myths are visible in his ancient form of painting on cloth-called `the Patachittra’ (Scroll Paintings).
A Boyati group (local stage singers) rehearse the play of Sonai-Binod, a tragic love tale of an unhappy woman, who gets betrayed by her husband and compels to commit suicide to prove her innocence. Sometimes, these stories appear to be real before us with the characters of Sonai, Binod and their surround to relate the progression of Sita’s tale-gets written by Chandrabati and creates a link between the actual progression of the tale of Sita of the Ramayana.
The temple is built and Chandrabati starts living there, passing half of her days devoting herself to worshipping Lord Shiva, and the rest for writing the Ramayana. Jayananda, who had married a Muslim woman on the eve of Chandrabati and his wedding day, realizes soon after that he committed a huge crime; he wants to repent t o Chandrabati, and meet her for one last time in his life. Torn apart by regret and guilt, Jayananda returns to the temple to seek redemption from Chandrabati. Having none of his desperate calls answered by Chandra, Jayananda resorts to taking his own life. Ashok remains the only witness of this incident of Chandra’s life and adopts Sita’s stories on his canvas from Chandrabati’s songs which he used to listen to-while hiding in a corner of the Temple.
Chandrabati does not recover after this incident, and the rest of her days are spent writing and reciting verses of her Ramayana inside the temple. One night, in an encounter with their ach-rival and local power Dewans-the Hajong rebel group kills Ashok in his hut. They burn his paintings and march over his dead body and progress through the Dewan’s Banglow. Dijabangshi comes to visit her daughter in the temple during her last breaths.
DIRECTOR’S CREATIVE STATEMENT:
`Chandrabati Kotha’ (aka Tales of Chandrabati) is our tribute to the 16th century pioneer poetess Chandrabati – portraying her elegiac life story and her passion for trend setting writing. In her version of the `Ramayana’, she has retold the story of the Great Indian Epic from Sita’s perspective, ignoring the glory of its male chauvinist protagonist Rama. Being a regular disciple of her father, another legendary poet in Bangla literature-Dijabangshi Das, Chandrabati wrote her `Ramayana’ in Pala form (long balladic poems), which was practiced to be performed by the Boyatis (performers who used to sing these poems through various forms of singing, acting and reciting the story-also confirmed to be the oldest form of theatrical expressions in the region). These orally transmitted poems of her are still listened to be recited among the regular females of the locality.
`Melodrama’ in Bengali cinema is a long forgotten phenomenon that is linked to the origin of our cultural heritage and aesthetic importance. After the Great Bengali filmmaker Ritwik Ghatak, the trend of using melodrama as a form of narrative style and characterization had been mostly absent in Bangla cinema. We have chosen to use `melodrama’ as form for our film narrative style and appearance, happened to be existed in these particular Balad forms practiced to be written by the marginal community representatives than the elite group of literary practitioners and considered to be the treasure trove of medieval century Bangla literary heritage.
For her trend setting role in re-writing the `Ramayana’, Chandrabati now a days has been hailed by scholars as the first feminist writer of the Indian sub-continental literature. During this present time of existing orthodox Hindu high-caste male chauvinist perspective of Indian society, Rama has been worshipped as a god and used successfully exercising nationalistic sentiments over the mass ego. On the contrary, in Chandrabati’s `Ramayana’, Sita is treated as a victim of the community’s male chauvinist psycho of proving her virginity, after her rescue from the Ravana followed by a long exile. Chandrabati made her Sita daughter of the mother nature and declared her as a rebel against the system who, against all odds, survived to express the misdeeds that had taken place against her. I have chosen this particular polarization of Chandrabati’s characters and decided to portray her passion for becoming a writer, even against the elegiac fate she had faced in her personal life.
Film `Chandrabati Kotha’ deals with the three `woman archetype characters’ of the Bengal origin, Chandrabati – the writer, who is betrayed by her husband-to-be, Jayananda and transforms into a passionate writer, Sonai – whose tragic love story is rehearsed by a traditional Boyati group and Sita – the misfortunate wife of Rama, who sacrificed her life for confirming the ego of the greater male chauvinist representatives of the society. In one point of the film, all three female characters march to the singular plane of our story and mature to the completion of a journey of a pioneer and a passionate writer, leaving behind a treasure that is worth transmitting among generations!
To create the look and temporal context of the film, we had to take support from local myths and beliefs that were then existing. The synthesizing ethno-cultural interacting groups, places of spiritual interests and belongings, the local hierarchy of the socioeconomic structure and their representatives, beliefs and rituals and above all, the melodramatic, balladic metaphor of the fate driven characters governed by divinity, have helped us to adopt the plot of our film `Chandrabati Kotha’.
We tried to blend three different stories together-Chandrabati’s life, story of Sonai & Binod coming out of the Boyati’s play and the story of escaping Ashok & his Guru. Between the metaphor of interval of their escape, Ashok along with his Guru reaches to our story context and gets to discover our protagonist Chandrabati. Ashok manages to paint stories from her Ramayana, listening to it coming out of the temple surface from where Chandrabati used to sing and write. It is said that our other story-the Sonai-Binod story-the Boyati group sings, is also written by Chandrabati. The Sonai is a similar female character of the writer, who ends up with the same suffering of her being betrayed by her husband and reacts the same way her Sita reacted, while getting betrayed by her so called recuing husband Rama. In one point these three female characters’ reach to the same pick of their sacrifice to declare rejection over the betrayal of their beloved. Sonai chose to kill herself drowning in the river, Sita enters into the fire and Chandrabati dies inside the temple after her long suffering.
The film was shot using the long take style to achieve the temporal feeling of the period. The arrangements and sets were made considering the historical research of the story context and ethno-cultural existence of the society. The editing of the film took place by eminent Indian editor Mr. Sankhajit Biswas, in an epical structure-got built out of our visuals shot. Eminent folk musician of India, Mr. Satyaki Banerjee did the film score and our another Indian associate, Sound recordist Mr. Sukanta Bhattacharya has recorded and mixed the Sound tracks, adding an ethnic value judged over the film’s epic characteristics. Beside portrayal of the elegiac life and passion of this legendary writer Chandrabati of the mid sixteenth century, our film also portrays the rich classical ethnicity of Bengali inhabitant of the region and their mythical existence. Adopted from the great trend of ballad writing by the local poets-the Mymensingh Geetika, film Chandrabati Kotha is our tribute to the classical golden edge of the literary phase that existed through out the medieval era of Bengali literature.