When Monday Blues hits you hard, what do you do? You open your blog after months to finally get down to writing something, something besides your research and thesis! Giving you an opportunity to think something beyond your PhD. Oh, and did I mention how my PhD feels both quickly passing by and moving at a snail pace? Or rather it is ME who is moving at snail’s pace on my research and the months are flying by 😛
Moving on, and before I lose my strand of thought about what I wanted to write about, last night, tucked in my blanket I decided it was time to close the weekend with a nice movie. And because it is winters here in the Southern Hemisphere and I was cosy on my bed, I wanted to watch something not too high-brow, not too complicated, but also not something that had no heads or tails! I desired to watch something comfortable and familiar, something that would warm the cockles of my heart. And involuntarily I typed in ‘Bengali Movie’ on Netflix. Although Netflix has a bare minimum collection of Bengali movies, the few that it does have, are fairly good. Browsing a bit, I came across the movie title ‘Mandobasar Golpo’ or a rough translation of it would be ‘A Story of Obsessive Love’. It also happened to have one of my favourite Bengali actors, whom I have a massive crush on, and whose presence in a movie is a valid indicator of movie’s quality, mostly good! 😛
The movie was almost taut, but for the most part really good, exploring the dark side of love and its consequences, furthering my conviction that regional Indian movies’ narratives are far more nuanced and complex than Bollywood mainstream cinema. And in recent years, several Bengali movies, particularly those of Srijit Mukherjee have raised the bar high for Bengali cinema. But I digress. When the movie ended I got back to thinking that a few years earlier I hardly consumed any Bengali movies.
Sure enough I love cinema, and I will watch all the good, bad and the ugly ones. My earliest memories are of me sitting with my mother and watching all movies together. My parents seem to know all Bollywood gossip as well! And although Bengali cinema was oft spoken and discussed, mostly in relation to Bimal Roy or Satyajit Ray, I was not cued into contemporary cinema. It was only when I moved to the Netherlands for further studies, and deterred by high movie ticket rates, did I start scourging for movies to watch during study breaks and discovered a plethora of Bengali movies that could be easily streamed online or available on Youtube.
It was like I had discovered this whole new world of cinema, and with that a part of me as well. Yes sounds cliched, but let me go back to history, or rather my uneventful childhood diaries! Yes I am ethnically and linguistically a Bengali, but intra-country migration of my grandparents, followed by my parents has meant that my upbringing and understanding of things around has been quite varied and multifaceted. (But shush, for the Bengalis born and brought up in Bengal, we are probashis, not true Bengalis :P) So although I do speak Bengali, yes yes, ‘Khichudi’ (mish-mash) Bengali, and eat Bengali food at home, I also eat Rajma, Choley, Gatte ki Sabzi, Dhokla etc etc. And oh, I also don’t have a sweet tooth 😛 For the unbeknownst, Bengalis are known for their sweet tooth, and LOVE for food. I tick the latter atleast 😛
My Baba (father) always jokes that my roots have been lost somewhere, and although I do identify myself as a Bengali, it is not something I identify with a 100%. I also identify as being a Delhiite and someone who has grown up in the Northern part of India. And add to that a bit of Central Indianness as well since that’s where my parents grew up. So you see, quite a mix! And that is why when I was growing up, sometimes I would be acutely aware of how ignorant I am or have no idea of some things ‘BONG’ (the slang for Bengalis often used). If I would visit Bengal, since it is impossible not to have ANY far flung relatives in that part of the world if you’re a Bengali, I couldn’t comprehend many words or even traditions. During Durga Puja (Bengalis’ biggest festival!), I am still unaware of many customs and rituals.
It was a constant struggle and confusion in my head, since when I would be in Delhi or amongst ‘Non-Bongs’, they would remark of how some of my characteristics perpetuate the Bengali stereotype. Love for literature, check. Love for art and music, check. Being able to dance, sing and draw, check. And heck, doing a PhD on cinema and aiming for academia, that is as Bong as it can get!! So I was Bong through and through. But when I would travel to Bengal, I would be disparagingly made conscious of how ‘Non-Bong’ I am, often leading to a disenchantment against people of my own kin.
Yet when I was searching for a comfortable, familiar movie yesterday, without a thought it was a Bengali movie. And when I initially started discovering Bengali cinema, courtesy the brilliant wifi connection in Netherlands, a part of it was also a desire to perhaps reconcile the Bong and Non-Bong within me. I would watch the movies and try to pick up new Bengali words and use them in everyday conversations. I started to learn Bengali songs and sing them with friends, and heck as cliched as it could get, picked up a few Rabindranath Tagore songs too! I remember whilst a vacation back home in Delhi, I kept humming one Bengali song, and my parents were surprised at my sudden interest and knowledge in Bengali cinema and songs. My Baba jokingly suggested I had fallen in love with a Bengali guy perhaps 😛 and he was having a good ‘cultural’ influence on me 😛 Although he was not far off, but yes, later part of the reason why I was with my ex was also because he was a Bong, whose Bengali and knowledge of traditions was far superior to me, and I felt as if in a way he filled that void in me.
But it was not long before I realised that in a very Bong way, I was using cinema as a medium, as a segway to understanding a part of my identity, of perhaps where I came from. I often joke with my friends that the only time I feel Bong is during Durga Puja, and that too because I love hogging on food that time 😛 But it also makes me wonder that despite the now immense distance of years and generation between me and my roots, perhaps in some way it does play out subconsciously or unconsciously. But I also fear that if in future I have children, will this ‘Bong’ identity further dilute? And maybe that fear will make me want to hold onto it tighter, and negatively make me turn inwards? I unfortunately do not have an answer to that at the moment, and as you may have realised a lot of this is my mind rambling about since I still struggle with this.
So where does this bring me to? Perhaps the cliched stereotype of me as a Bong girl doing a PhD in cinema might bring me answers when I finally finish my research. Or maybe the struggle remains perpetual…
Image: Frida Kahlo Self-Portrait
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