IThe locality I reside in Calcutta (situated in the southern fringe) has been subject to massive demographic and topographic shifts in the last three decades. With change being constant, it is obvious that my locality would have witnessed changes all through history; but its metamorphosis over the last three decades is closer to heart and forms the primary time frame for ‘Ismail’. In spite of their proximity, the changes of this region have been characteristically different from Kolkata.
When our family shifted to this place around mid-eighties in the last century, it was more of a village both in terms of its environs and the value system of its inhabitants. A rickety bridge over a canal would literally bridge it with the place where one would start venturing for the city. One would take an auto-rickshaw or bus to move deep into Calcutta. The promise of development was unheard and unfelt of at that time and the capital influx was yet to begin. These circumstances provided an opportunity for small, insignificant enterprises and unskilled odd working class people to grow in this part of the city. For instance, people like Ismail and enterprises like the Xerox cum lamination cum internet café where Ismail worked in, so to say.
In the late nineteen nineties as I got busy in pursuing my study in Kala Bhavana, Santiniketan and later in early years of this century in Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute (SRFTI), Calcutta, I lost my day to day interaction with my locality. The canal with the bridge above started being filled with debris and garbage, the water flow having clogged by that time. And over the dying canal were erected enormous pillars supporting the path through where metro rails were to rumble through in the next few years. The extended service would sew more places to the city, places that were located in the hinterlands would be reclaimed by urbanity. Along the track, waterbodies, flora, fauna, darkness, small industries and many Ismails would be sacrificed at the cost of the promise of ‘Development’. They would be required no more by this vast killing field called ‘Development’, an ever-expanding system programmed to dehumanize and tag discarded beings as ‘Surplus Beings’. Ismail is just one of them.
Frankly speaking, I started looking at my immediate vicinity once again only after this war was over and won by the ‘Capital’ as usual. The situation left me with no option other than to remember the fabric my locality was once clad in.
In the last year, I chanced upon a workshop organized by the German Consulate, Calcutta and conducted by Professor Madhuja Mukherjee. The workshop was meant to address new artistic forms representing a changing city. I decided to present a project proposal which would reflect all brunt and bruises that my neighbourhood went through. Initially, I planned for a graphic novelette with the same title but as I started working on it, I missed many things. I missed sounds, noises, music… In a word cacophony, without which ‘Ismail’ would not be served aesthetic justice. And moreover, a coarse voice over which I wanted to lay all along the film. So, the presentation was made to pitch a hand-painted short film instead of a graphic novelette. As I got the second project development grant, I started working on ‘Ismail’.
As anyone can see that the film, at present, is split into two halves so I need to inform here that ‘Ismail’ did not have the right halve when I initially finished it and showed the film to my mentor. The tale was told on the left one, the entire story. There was no right panel. But I was not satisfied with my project.. Something was amiss. I wanted Ismail to reflect the wit and humor of the people that Ismail represented, the people who knew how to laugh no matter what life dished out or the repression they faced. Perhaps, wit is their sole weapon to unnerve their oppressors. The drawings on the left panel met this goal by and large. Also, in my opinion, I have succeeded in securing a fable-like tone all through the narrative. I am greatly fond of fables because fables convey the message succinctly without much noise and sloganeering.
Anyway, initially, I finished telling the tale of ‘Ismail’ in the 1st week of April 2018. Work on the right panel began not before mid-May. So it took me more than a month to decide on adding the panel. Does the right panel enhance the story? Yes, some of the images on it are extensions of those painted on the left one. But at the same time, quite a few of them are quite non-representational and some of them tend towards near abstraction. So what is their contribution to the tale of Ismail? I tried to make a maze of images that push Ismail off the focal point. The images on the right panel are meant to make Ismail appear inconsistently; like an apparition. A lot of other things actually take charge to tell his story collectively. Ismail should be beyond being a protagonist (in sense of maximum screen presence) even when a film is made on him. Because the reality is that people like Ismail largely remain unnoticed, unpampered, and even unregistered.