Director: Krapil Kalita
Cast: Shiva Rani Kalita, Krapil Kalita, Partha Pratim Bora, Swapnil Nath, Anindita Das
Duration: 1 hour 26 minute
Assam has been seeing some unique, statement-making independent films coming out of the state in the last few years, led by Bhaskar Hazarika’s ‘Aamis‘, Rima Das’ ‘Bulbul Can Sing‘ and Jahnu Barua’s ‘Bhoga Khidikee‘. Another Assamese film that has been making waves in international film circuits, but has not been spoken about much in India, is Krapil Kalita’s ‘Bridge‘. The drama won the Jury Special Mention at the 51st International Film Festival of India in Goa earlier this year as well as the Best Actress award at the Ottawa Indian Film Festival, Canada, for lead actress Shiva Rani Kalita. It was adjudged ‘Best Film’ at the Thrissur International Film Festival as well as the Golden Jury International Film Festival in 2020.
Let’s begin from here. Shiva Rani Kalita, who plays the protagonist of the story, is absolutely outstanding as a village teenager who takes it upon herself to plough and till the family land on the occasion of her father’s death. Her nuanced portrayal is breathtakingly naturalistic but never boring; memorable, but never out of step or “extra”. Kalita is a fresh face to look out for in the cinemas for the coming years as it is rare to see a newcomer have such a hold on the camera the way she does.
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It is not only her, but the rest of the actors too who do a commendable job. There is impressive natural acting from all the cast members in the film including, but not limited to, Partha Pratim Bora, Swapnil Nath and the director of the film himself, Krapil Kalita, for whom it must have been challenging and tricky to do both behind-the-camera work as well as work in front of the camera.
‘Bridge‘ also has a plethora of beautiful landscape shots that render an oil painting-like quality to every frame. Some memorable shots include a village uncle riding a banana raft across a river to carry villagers over to land. There is also a crucial scene in the film when a frustrated family of mother, daughter and son sit at the edge of a bank and stare gravely at the river, an entity that has caused deep trouble to this family as well as irrigated their lands.
The camera work is a job well done. The sense of space is impeccable here as the panning and tracking shots render the film a sense of cinematic expansiveness, reflecting the largeness of open spaces in villages. This sense of open space is sadly missing in many indie films. Even though these movies are shot outdoors, the staticness of the cameras often make the films feel stationary and restricted, which in turn expose their low budgets. This is thankfully not the case with ‘The Bridge‘ which has an often curiously roving camera that seeks to capture the beauty of nature as well as fixate on the faces of people who are on the move. The camera pans, tracks and stays still. Moreover, there are scenes that are elevated to a major film studio-like quality with drone filming sequences, where the audience is treated with delightful aerial shots of the village and the vast flooded lands.
Another great aspect of the drama is the details in the mise-en-scène. Something is always happening. We see impressive attention to the mise-en-scène in an outdoors classroom scene where there are three layers of scenery. The foreground sees a professor giving his lessons to little children who are seated on the floor. In the mid-background, we see three students who have been punished. They stand in a row, on one leg each and holding their ears. Further back, we spot in the background a separate class being held, partially hidden behind a bamboo-made wall. This setup is an example of great detailing because it reveals to us the structure of a humble village school and the student-teacher dynamics, all in a single shot. Another memorable sequence in ‘Bridge’ is when a Guwahati news channel broadcasts a story on the lead’s (Shiva Rani Kalita) life. We see an animated retelling of her tragic life story when her father died by drowning in the aforementioned river. This simple detail of reporters using cartoons to talk about the suffering of a poor family shows us how city journalists can sometimes try softening the edges of these tragic events by using ‘simplistic and cute’ animations to make the story more ‘digable’ for TV viewers. As a result, certain sentiments can be lost in translation. Would these journalists have used cartoons to illustrate the death of a powerful politician or film star? Probably not.
‘Bridge‘ is certainly not a perfect film but comes close to it. Some shots feel too long and lack closeups. More closeups would have provided some scenes with dramatic intensity. For example, the Guwahati dinner scene with the reporter and his parents had lots of closeups which gave each dialogue, each look and each reaction an emotional weight. This weight is sadly missing in some of the village scenes which, with mostly long shots, have a more distant, ‘objective’ feeling to them. But this is not a major flaw and can be ignored or gotten used to after a while.
The sound effects are so very lush and immersive, immediately pulling us into the story’s environment like a vortex. Right from the opening scene (we see the heroine and her mother rise early in the morning and carry out their daily chores) we do not get bored because the sound recordings are so well layered and rich that they give us something to focus on, be it the sounds of morning insects, raindrops or the splashing of bathwater…
The story is so well-crafted. There is always something happening. Often, in indie-scale social dramas and art films, nothing much happens and the story is about the ‘nothingness’. Or a film tends to be about one event, with everything that happens before that leading up to this final event. And that is not a fault at all. However, the unconventional multi-layers of ‘Bridge’ feel like a gust of fresh wind. There are broadly three ‘episodes’ across the story of ‘Bridge’. The first episode sees the heroine becoming famous state-wide and it leads her to have a potential suitor. The second episode witnesses a struggle between the heroine’s family against a more powerful family in the bigoted village. The third and final episode has a frightening deluge that threatens to engulf the villagers. These episodes seamlessly weave into each other and every plot point feels realistic and reasonable. To summarise, the film begins in one point and by the end, it ends up in an unexpected territory that the audience does not expect. In all this, however, there is one constant factor that surfaces again and again, whether in the visuals or in discussions by the characters: the local river. And this justifies the title of the movie ‘Bridge’. One will not be bored while watching this story of a girl, which starts off as an intimate and personal portrait of a hardworking teenager but is almost elevated to an epic thanks to various artistic and plot choices.
Krapil Kalita is a promisingly exciting young director who also takes charge of the cinematography, sound design and, of course, acting in this film. He is truly a multi-talented filmmaker who promises originality and creativity through storytelling in the future.