I am a citizen of Mumbai and live in a suburb which is close to being the heartland of Bollywood. Surrounded by chaos generated by the teeming millions of the city, I sometimes forget what nature sounds like, unless we are in the midst of the monsoon showers. Kolkata, the city of my birth and home for more than half of my life is probably even louder because every driver on the road believes in utilizing the horn to the fullest even while waiting at a traffic light.

I watched ‘Shabdo’ during my rather brief visit to Kolkata. A story about a ‘Foley’ artist (a person who creates the ambient sounds in films), this is a fitting tribute to the unsung heroes of the film industry. Millions of people work behind the scenes to make a movie successful, but we only applaud the ones who walk down the red carpet is dapper tuxedos and trailing gowns. I too at one time would yawn when the ‘technical awards’ would be announced during the Oscars, waiting for the ‘main’ awards to come.

Tarak (Ritwick Chakraborty) is a young Foley artist. He moonlights as an LIC agent but his heart lies in his work of creating myriad life like sounds within the studio. Passionate and creative, he treats his craft with reverence and is always on the lookout for new sounds while thinking in his head about how he would create it within the confines of the studio. A comb, scrap paper, wooden planks and tea cups become sources of inspiration to create various sound effects. So whether he is sipping tea with a friend at a roadside stall or walking through the streets of Kolkata, Tarak is always immersed in his world of sounds. He is finicky and does not rest unless he has created the perfect replica of a sound. Tarak is seen in his inner wear while recording because the sound of rustling clothes disturb the ones he creates.  Dibyendu (Srijit Mukherji) is a sound engineer and Tarak’s mentor who marvels at the young man’s pursuit of perfection.

Tarak’s young wife (Raima Sen) is supportive though she at times does not understand his obsession. She fell in love with and married Tarak much against the wishes of her affluent family. She endures her father’s continued disregard for her marriage and shuns monetary help from her mother and brother who pity her impoverished state. Tarak’s ageing father, whose eyes show pain and suffering, is an almost mute participant in his life. But Tarak is ill. He has started to hear only sounds and not voices and hence does not comprehend conversations. He seems to come alive only when in the studio with headphones on. The world he lived and loved to create has become the only world he can now hear.

The diagnosis is made by Dr. Swati (Churni Ganguly), a psychiatrist who gets more and more drawn to this unusual case. Her professor (Victor Banerjee) and mentor guides her intermittently, when he is not exulting in being the best. Is it acoustic neuroma? The professor cautions Dr. Swati that it could lead to severe depression and suicidal tendencies.

Tarak slowly but surely sinks within this surreal world. The change of scenery and going away for a holiday seems to bring some life back into him but does not help in the long run. Does Tarak succumb to his illness or does he come back to the real world?Watch this fascinating film to find that out. A few lines by Dr. Swati say a lot ….…she asks ‘Who are we to judge what is normal and what is not? There are loads of people around us talking all the time and a lot of times they do not speak sense. Those who listen to that are normal but a person who is more attuned to the sounds nature has bestowed on us is abnormal. Why?’

‘Khali Dev, Prosenjit, Mithun ke niyethakle hobe?’ asks Tarak, themost unlikely hero you can think of. In Bollywood terms this can looselytranslate into ‘Can we make do with only Salman, Akshaye and Saif?’ In my mind,the answer is no. A 21 gun salute to director Kaushik Ganguly for having created such a brave film that gives us such an in depth view of the craft behind the scenes. Withoutsongs, dances, background score or artifice, Shabdo manages to hold its own and that is a feat by itself. It definitely deserves all the praise and awards coming its way. 

Can someone please tell RGV to watch this one? I stopped watching his films because I couldn’t handle the cacophonic sound effects!


Copyright © Taraa Vermaa Senguptaa May 2013

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