Who is Ananta Das? Is he for real? Or is he a metaphor for every common man and woman who raises his voice against injustices and atrocities heaped on the common man? Or, is he, like everyone else, full of little bytes of dishonesty internalized as ‘usual’ and ‘common’? He is all this and more. In Debaditya Bandopadhyay’s 8:08 Bongaon Local, the story is the film. Padmanava Dasgupta, one of the most talented and powerful writers in Bengali cinema, wrote the story and the script based on his personal encounters with newspaper headline stories that are read with great anxiety and responded to with anger but forgotten the very next day.
Unimass Entertainment, one of the most technology-driven, geographically diversified companies in the state of West Bengal has produced the film slated for a late-April release. “I was angered by a news story of a young father carrying his sick child in a local train to Kolkata for treatment. When the train stopped suddenly near Bamongacchi station for a track block by protestors, he got off the train with his child on one arm and personally began to remove the bamboos lying on the track to allow the train to proceed. The other commuters followed suit and the train set off again. This has been recreated in 8:08 Bongaon Local and is used as the trigger that brought in a change in the protagonist, Ananta Das,” elaborates Padmanava.
Ananta Das (Tapas Pal) is a normal middle-class man who commutes to work everyday on the Bongaon Local. He slips in a torn ten-rupee note to the local rickshawpuller (Raghubir Yadav). He pours acid on his neighbour’s tree because it blocks the sunlight streaming through his window. On his way to work and back, he often encounters incidents, big and small, that raise anger within him perhaps, but does not motivate him to take action. Then one fine day, an incident brings about a dramatic change in him and he rises to the occasion. He changes. To correct himself first, he hands over a 20-rupee note to the rickshawpuller and gifts his neighbour with a small sapling.
“Though the story gradually focusses on the brutal murder of 16-year-old Rajib Das in Barasat in February last year, it is filled with small and big snippets of similar incidents of public brutality no one cares about. Rajib was killed by three drunken youngsters while trying to ward off their advances towards his 20-year-old sister Rinku Das when she was coming back from work. The case created a furore because Rinku's efforts to draw help from armed sentries protecting government official's bungalow close-by drew a blank. A four-year-old girl who had gone with her father to the local market in Maldah was beaten to death because she happened to touch a watermelon. Acid was dropped into a small boy’s eyes because he stole a few mangoes from a garden. Why? Is it because we remain silent and choose to look the other way? Or is it because we are slowly becoming more predatory and less human?” asks Padmanava.
Though the film does not have top-of-the-charts stars, the acting cast is brimming over with talent and versatility beginning with Manoj Mitra followed by Mumbai’s Raghubir Yadav, Tapas Pal whose character has a strong agenda in the film, Sonali Choudhury who portrays Rinku Das, Swastika Mukherjee who plays a television journalist, Kanchana Mitra as a sex worker, and other stalwarts like Rajesh Sharma, Haradhan Bandopadhyay, Anamika Saha and Samik Sinha as one of the drunken youths who killed Rajib. The film has an impressive music track composed by Tanmoy Bose and the lyrics are penned by Srijato. Indraneel Ghosh who won the National Award this year for his beautiful work in Naukadubi is production designer and Sanjib Dutta has edited the film. Agnimitra Paul has designed the costumes and created a special look for Tapas Pal.
“I wanted to bring out that there is an Ananta Das hidden inside all of us. The tragedy is that why should be wait for a Rajib Das to be killed before taking action?” asks Padmanava. Director Debaditya has not made any compromises on the script and Torun Routh the producer, gave him complete freedom to interpret the film in his own way. “In my opinion, every film should be made considering the impact it makes on society at large. Everyday incidents bring out the decay in human values in all of us though we are victims of these incidents in some way or another. We become victimizers because we remain silent and fail to raise our voice against such atrocities. I have tried to portray some incidents taken from real life in this film as our way of creating a movement of protest. The film itself becomes a protest in this sense,” says Debaditya.