Thursday, February 29, 2024

Poetic punch

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The Silent Poet, a documentary on the poetic side of Irom Sharmila, moved Dalariti Nongpiur

 I FELT every blow. As the punches landed on my body knocking the air out of my lungs, I started weeping. So this is what pain feels like, I thought. And this pain spread from my gut to my shoulders and knees.

     I looked at him sitting there next to me – unfazed by the cruelty with which he had beaten me. He was never a big deal to me before, despite all the recognition, but this – this film that flew punches and slaps at me with every word, every shot and every intonation – this made him a big deal.

     I saw Borun Thokchom’s The Silent Poet, a documentary showcasing the poetic side of Irom Sharmila, at the 1st Indie 8 Film Festival organised by the Mass Media Department of St. Anthony’s College, Shillong in collaboration with certain departments of the Meghalaya Government. Borun and I were classmates so this occasion was not only a festival to us, but a reunion after a nine year long separation. Our correspondence over the phone and internet over the years amounted to nothing as compared to this.

     The existence of the film was not news to me. The fact that he got the national award for it was not new information either. Both facts never caused me to think any higher of him. I was proud of him of course and extremely happy for him with regard to all the attention he was getting. But none of it really changed the way I looked at him. He was always the same smart aleck Borun – up to his elbows in pranks accompanied by a mouthful of witty comments and equally witty comebacks.

     But as I sat there during the screening of his 17-minute film, every illusion I had of him, every pre-conceived notion of the man I thought he had become, disappeared. This was a man who took a concept (if I may be permitted to use that word) that had been made stale and unappetising by the media (and by media I mean any sort of news delivering medium); he had taken this and given it an entirely new perspective that I was taken aback, not only by the sheer brilliance of it, but by its simplicity and its brutal honesty. I never thought that I’d use the phrase “taken aback” in a positive light, but I do so here and I make no apologies.

     The Silent Poet is just poetry being recited to a set of carefully thought out visuals. However, the combination of the two creates meaning beyond what they both individually represent. The fact that it is Irom Sharmila’s poem (O Desi) being recited by the poet herself adds a lot of depth to the whole thing; as though the ghosts of her pain, anxiety and frustration haunt the entire length of the video. So despite its short duration, the film stays with you. It lingers in the tiny corners of your eyes in the form of sedimentary tears. It stays on like an after taste in your mouth and you cannot decide whether you like the feeling or not. It adds those extra beats to your pulse rate allowing you to abandon your composure and simply feel.

     Au contraire to popular belief, this is not a propaganda film. It is just a man (Thokchom) trying to tell a story that there is this woman (Sharmila) somewhere who stands tall for her beliefs and he uses her words to tell that story. If in doing so he invokes a calling to thinking minds to not just sit around and wait for things to happen, then his film has become a living entity on its own. And while it might be his creation, The Silent Poet is now free to sow its own seeds of ideals and feed starving minds with something to think about.

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