October 16 2016
Stepping into director’s world is to be reminded of a wholly different style of filmmaking…
LYRICAL, poetic and hugely symbolic, “The Bait” has a tale to tell, both real, and magical (or fantastical).
There is a particular beauty of form and artistry in the films of Buddhadeb Dasgupta but they are not for everyone.
This is Dasgupta’s ninth film at the London Film Festival and his last one, “Sniffer” (2013) was hugely enjoyable with the now almost ubiquitous Nawazuddin Siddiqui in the lead role as a rather ineffectual private detective.
The veteran filmmaker from Bengal harks back to the golden age of Bengali filmmaking and the great masters, Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen and Ritik Ghatak.
There is much poetry in this, the characters, the music, and it illustrates both the beauty and the horrors of our world.
There is also some politics but you could easily be forgiven for missing it, because it is subtle and complex, like the society in many ways, Dasgupta reflects in this film.
There are three distinct groups of people: there is the postman who has decided to live up a tree and forsake normal life (in India, this is not as dotty as might seem); a couple of travelling performers who have a young, curious daughter; a former prince who has invited a film crew along and agreed to take them on a tiger safari – where he proposes to shoot the creature. He also lives in a grand old palace with a woman whose precise status to him is unclear (at least to this critic).
It isn’t always as easy to follow or to see where this is all going, but it does have a very clear direction (and something a second viewing would probably assist), and quite a stark conclusion.
That way, Dasgupta is more clinical and far less sentimental than others who may make films of a similar pace and structure.
In our interview (not yet published) with Dasgupta, he said the film did have a political purpose and it was something he reiterated in the Q&A after its first screening at the London Film Festival on Wednesday (October 12).
Perhaps being Bengali and rather swimming against the tide of current thinking, Dasgupta is one of the few Indian directors for whom class is an important factor, along other more obvious elements, such as religion and caste.
You might or might not get it (this writer isn’t really sure), but it does ask interesting questions and the beauty of the landscapes and the crumbling old palace mansion are images that stay with you long after you have seen the film.
This doesn’t have the surreal beauty or playfulness of “Sniffer”, but it is a very Dasguptian world, where neither can ever be wholly absent.
If you like Dasgupta’s films this is another distinct work which has strong points to make – though you need to work at them for them to be clear, or at least clearer.
Don’t expect to leave the cinema feeling you didn’t get this or that – it happens.
Be more alive to the images and the characters’ interplay and accept them as you would poetry.
Watch them. Listen to them. Let the sound and the images do their work and then let your soul engage with the artistry…
ACV rating: ** ½ (out of five)
Film images: Swarup Dutta
‘The Bait’ screens today at 3.30pm (Soho)
Check listings/tickets for #LFF (ends today): http://www.bfi.org.uk/lff