“Tagore-on-an-acid-trip” – that’s how Qaushiq Mukherjee, or Q, as he is popularly known, has described his latest film, Tasher Desh. We discovered Q with his last film Gandu which still remains unreleased in India. And we have been following all his work since then – shorts, music, documentaries.
Here’s the director’s note on his new film which is set to release on 23rd August in Mumbai and Kolkata. It’s based on one of the popular musical dramas of Rabindranath Tagore.
(Click on any pic to enlarge and watch the slide show)
Since I was five, Tasher Desh has been on my mind. It’s that fantasy that I always knew I wanted to touch. That elusive texture of human existence, devoid of transient truth. Reality is indeed transient; shifting all the time yet every civilization holds on to its truth till whatever time they can, always leading to antagonism and discontent. The cycle of time makes sure that periods of extreme confusion and chaos happen to alter realities, and we are at the thresholds of such a time.
Tagore wrote Tasher Desh as a mythical utopian expression against the backdrop of a violent turbulence. India was in the process of forming an individual and collective identity. Shaking off a history of oppression and forging a modern society. Tagore saw it as an opportunity perhaps, to tell a story removed so far from reality that it forced the listener to be objective. Modern society is marked by one overwhelming human condition. Of melancholia or depression. Slowly becoming one of the most important issues of our daily reality.
Depression is a symptom of a gloom caused by social system and its invariable ability to isolate individuals.
The film is not about the narrative of the fairy tale. It is but a reflection of how I see the world right now. As it was then, when the piece was written, the world is in a flux. India is changing radically, along with the politics of the world, and these changes are essentially driven by system driven violence. My storyteller, therefore, is a lost soul. Unable to deal with the cacophony of his circumstances, he dives into the fable, as if to save himself. The characters of the fairy tale are all extensions of the storyteller, and the story itself has a life of its own. Every story is the same. And it is always the telling that shifts the paradigms.
In the film, it’s his story that helps the storyteller overcome his ennui and to take a decision that would change his life.
The prince is depressed, because the storyteller is. A deep isolation caused by the sense of loss, of one’s self. Stagnant and paranoid. Stuck in a space and time that is almost a cocoon, with the appearance of a prison. While the storyteller is confined within the two parallel railway tracks, the prince is in his palace, a hopeless fortress, as it seems to him.
Tasher Desh is also about belief and magic. The oracle, the fairy watching over our prince, is needed because impetus is external. This is what connects us to the world outside our mind. Instead of drawing inspiration from the mundane reality, the storyteller as the concerned friend of his protagonist invokes the fairy. The prince’s transformation is immediate. Touched by the power of illusion, he suddenly begins to realize that his emancipation is in movement. He needs to go away. One of the most important things holding him back was his broken mother. He comes out to his mother, and then dives into his fantasy. The storyteller also jumps the wall of his reality.
It could be argued that social governance and its monotheistic, patriarchal nature cause collective depression. Tagore’s utopia is bizarre, with masked beings, strange rules and social paranoia of change. The cards in the film seem to have lost all human tendencies.
When the prince and the friend meet them. But the prince, newly liberated, is impatient to try out the power he has been given. A demi god now, devoid of intrinsic human folly, he delivers the message to the ace of hearts.
The storyteller travels the path he has often traveled in his fantasy, and when he arrives at the palace of his dreams, he finds her. The ace of hearts, a widow living in the shadows of a ruined structure. Mystical, magical, she is the one he was waiting for. Suddenly he has someone to tell the story to. Get it out of his soul. The widow and the ace of hearts merge in his story, and a revolution begins.
Tasher Desh symbolizes the triumph of a pagan form of ritualistic cleansing through love and identification of the self, in a postmodern society. it’s a vision of the man cleansed pure by the woman, and the seed of identity being sexual in nature. The ace of hearts takes away the storyteller’s attention, at the same time making his story more palpable, more intense, and more romantic. The film turns a sharp corner therefore, and begins to intensify on finding that one point, the spark. It’s a feminine revolt that the story narrates now, no longer a tale of male neurosis. A non-‐violent revolution fuelled by love. In utopia. Tagore was a pure romantic, and i have tried to place his sensibilities in the confusion of our time. a violent world without any screen violence. A fairy tale without any fabrication and frills. I have tried to find the unreal right beside me. All the art properties in the film were objects we can find easily. The locations were live. The look, inspired heavily by Japanese forms, from kabuki to manga, had to be basic. There are no visual effects used, apart from layering two or three visuals together, to find an image that allows all the realities to exist together, form a relationship. And a video game reference that was done with video moshing, a very low fi technique. The idea was minimalist. Within that apparent reality, we would try to find the sublime. The magical.
The film is a musical. Following an ancient oral form, we have retained the songs as they were, written eighty years back. Associating with some of the finest musicians across the world, I have tried to place the sound of Tagore’s time with the current ones. The words of the songs, so eloquent, emerging from a romantic poet of the highest standard, are actually lines for the characters that sing them. With the use of music, the reality is broken time and again, but every song contains a message so intrinsic to the character, one can lose one’s self in them. Sound and colour play crucial roles in the film, creating the environment and the tension of the spaces explored.
Tasher Desh is an experiment in form and structure, using one of the most popular scripts of India’s recent history. I wanted to remain as faithful to the original idea as I could, and then use my treatment to bring the seed of the story out of its stagnancy, caused by the sterility of my culture. It is a story about revolution after all, and magic, and I strongly believe in both.
What’s Tagore’s Tasher Desh is all about
A king banishes the older queen and his son to a palace where they lead a life of luxury and decadence. An oracle whispers the secret words to the prince and he leaves the palace with his friend, the merchant’s son. Their boat sinks and they arrive at the land of cards where the inhabitant cards are governed by a military regime. The prince and his friend get caught and bring about a change in the women cards with music and prophecies of love. The woman cards revolt. The king surrenders and the prince finds the meaning of life.
What’s Q’s Tasher Desh is all about
Once upon a time, there was a storyteller. In a lonely railway station, somewhere in Kolkata, he spoke to trains. He wanted to tell a story. It was not a new story. But for him, it was the only story to tell. Inside the darkness of his mind, his story unfolds, a kaleidoscope of fantasy.
Once upon a time, there was a prince. a victim of his destiny, he was banished with his mother to a dark and distant prison palace. Here he grows up, without hope, without a future, with his mother drowning herself in alcohol. His depression countered only by his friend, the merchant’s son, who argues that it was indeed the prince’s choice to remain locked in. realizing the extent of his despair, the friend invokes the oracle. A mysterious figure, the oracle passes on a message of liberation. The prince realizes that he is indeed a prisoner of his mind. He takes a decision, to leave. He has a final moment with his mother, who lets him go. The prince takes hold of his destiny, and sets off on a voyage with his friend, searching for an adventure.
The storyteller begins his journey as well, leaving the city, and traveling to a ruined palace, which is where we had found the prince. Here, he encounters a strange woman, a widow, living alone, as if waiting for him to turn up. He is mesmerized by her, and soon, begins to tell her the story. She is his muse, the one who he was waiting for. Finally having found the listener, the storyteller launches into an even more intense narrative.
Shipwrecked on a paradise island, the prince and the friend encounter a strange culture. The islanders are all soldiers, who call themselves the cards, and live by a code of rules that outlaws any human behavior. Before they know it, an aggressive party of the islanders, holds the visitors captive. Presented at court, and having angered the cards by defying their court customs, they are pronounced guilty, and banished. But before he leaves, the prince asks for a last word, and takes the opportunity to whisper the same message of liberation he received from his guardian angel to a few of the card women. The result is chaos. The women are completely shaken, and soon the land of cards sees dissent for the first time.
– For more info on the film and release schedule, click here for its FB page.