A film that challenges social values of Assam; “Ata Nirjon Duporiya”

A film that challenges social values of Assam; “Ata Nirjon Duporiya”

It’s the Saraswati Puja celebrations in Nagaon, a small town in Assam. As devotional chants fill the air and students walk around in traditional attire, Aditi and Nayan find themselves in a state of anxiety and disagreement with each other. Their pre-arranged rendezvous had to be unexpectedly called off due to the unavailability of the previously promised room of their friend.

While Aditi expresses a desire to abandon the plan altogether, Nayan hesitates. He doesn’t want to give up because of the long-awaited opportunity for a private interaction between them. Written by Suraj Duwara and Khanjan Kishore Nath, Ata Nirjon Duporiya deals with a subject which is not discussed frequently in India, but happens often enough to be brought to life in the film.

So begins a tense ride into a small town’s urban darkness for two young lovers seeking a place to be together intimately. Director Khanjan Kishore Nath takes the characters on a desperate journey, as they try to locate a hotel that will let them stay without the necessary documents that they lack. But rules are rules.

After a wild goose chase and the afternoon sun hard over them, the young and inexperienced couple bends backwards to resolve their helpless situation. With the help of a shady individual (Laden, played by Dhananjay Debnath), they secure a room in a low-key hotel but very soon their attempt at intimacy is interrupted by the local authorities.

Ata Nirjon Duporiya may remind one of the stories by Asghar Farhadi as the shared focus is on how societal and structural factors can create fear and compulsion – compulsion to adhere by or oppose any moral and social code.

As the situation of the two young lovers is comprehended by the local police, they will leave no stone unturned to use the situation to their own advantage. They are threatened and compelled to fulfill their demands because non-compliance can potentially lead them to severe consequences – which include the wrath of family members, society and the media. This is where young love and loss of innocence intersects in the story.

An affect of modernization is the weakening of traditional values as individual desires, personal choice and autonomy gain more prominence. Modernization in India has led to some individuals challenging traditional views on premarital sex.

However, the conflict with traditional and ingrained societal norms continues to persist. In India, premarital sex is legal for consenting adults. However, societal norms often hold greater influence on people’s behaviour than laws. And this leads to challenges like finding private spaces, dealing with gossip and judgment while also risking the possibilities of public humiliation.

The issue of how societal norms often disproportionately burden women with the consequences of transgression, even those backed by a legal standing, is complex. Aditi and Nayan were definitely on the wrong side as they lacked the necessary paperwork to stay together in the hotel legally, but what happened to them after that was even worse.

Ata Nirjon Duporiya aims to make the viewers connect to the couple’s struggles, regardless of their moral background or traditions. However, these cultural realities do shape how the characters react to their situation in the film.

Additionally, each viewer’s own morality, ethics and perspective will influence how they understand the film’s meaning. And the film is an attempt to question the inherent contradictions within this dynamic. It is a bold and risky subject matter and hence the film’s attempt at it is laudable.

The director uses long takes to follow the characters closely through corridors and streets. These long takes also create a sense of anxiety by showing how the surrounding spaces feel unfriendly and closed off to the couple. The suspense builds gradually as the film doesn’t intend to play its hand too early.

The music is barely there, replaced by harsh, unpleasant mix of noises of busy streets and uneasy silence. This makes it feel super cramped and suffocating, like the environment is closing in on them. And to maintain this tension, it is ensured that the danger faced by the protagonists is both psychological and physical, and that further intensifies the threat.

The movie is shot in an unpolished manner, which perfectly fits the story’s harsh themes. But yes, from time to time you do expect a more striking mise-en-scène. However this limitation certainly does not diminish the value of the film.

As the narrative progresses, the film’s focus also subtly shifts towards exploring the insecurities of the female protagonist – of abandonment, fear, humiliation and shame – as she finds herself as a prisoner in a world of men, forced to make a terrible choice.

As a result, from a social drama, we go down on a limited psychological path as Aditi makes a compromise with her dignity. And we cut to a long, colourful and trippy night sequence of people dancing around the Saraswati idol.

I only wished the film ended here without directly pronouncing the intended meaning (as it happens in the next shot) of how the female protagonist was swallowed and then abandoned by the underbelly of a society where men dictated the rhythm of her existence.

One the most appreciable qualities of the film – the absence of a sufficiently detailed content – proved to be a good balance of text and context. And I would have appreciated the anticlimactic and near-silent but agonizing denouement even more, had it been in the similar tunes of a non-didactic approach.

Writer-director Khanjan Kishore Nath skillfully mixes the thrills of a thriller with the discomfort of the intimate. His social drama serves as the echo chamber of a society divided between tradition and modernity, within which young people struggle to find their place.

With the journey of a couple who deal with the contradictions of a modern India, where sexual freedom seems to be an indestructible taboo, Khanjan Kishore Nath’s film of notable social significance – which is both shocking, fascinating and terrifying at the same time.

It is trying to ask the questions that spar with the society’s unspoken rules. The director manages to get very naturalistic performances from his cast – Parvi Barua (Aditi) and Kaushik Nath (Nayan).

Their anguished journey comes to an end with the slow darkness of nightfall which also reflects the residual horror of the day just gone by. Caught between freedom, desire and the weight of difficult choices, Aditi and Nayan will perhaps become forgotten figures, with their hopes and wishes lost in the darkness of fear and shame. But the question still remains.

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