Red, yellow and aquamarine faces, animated eyes and bodies swaying to the rhythms of the dholak — Eashwar Mime Co. is about an eponymous mime theatre group, and uses mime extensively to tell the story. Made in 2004, it is the only film directed by Shyamanand Jalan, the veteran theatre actor, writer and director from Kolkata who passed away on May 24 this year. Co-produced by the National Film Development Corporation and Xanthus Productions, a Kolkata-based film company run by Jalan’s daughter Mallika, Eashwar Mime Co. was screened at the India International Centre in the Capital recently as a tribute to Jalan.
Pawan Malhotra essays the role of Chitrarth Ray, a struggling writer, while actor Ashish Vidyarthi plays the owner of Eashwar Mime Co. The film opens and closes with an aerial shot of the city of Kolkata with its quinessential yellow taxis, crowded streets and shopkeepers quarelling with passers-by. Bound between these two scenes is an evokation of the nightmarish impulses that animate the world of art.
In a chance meeting, Chitrarth gets mesmerised by Eashwar who invites him to join his mime company. Chitrath drops in to see the daily rehearsals and is perplexed by the seeming lifelessness of the mime actors. Over time, he discovers that Eashwar is an unforgiving task master for whom the ‘show must go on’ and will to go to any lengths, even beat to death an actor if need be, to get the performance he wants. Chitrarth is repelled and wants to run away from Eashwar’s almost maniacal commitment to his art but can’t, pulled back by an unearthly magnetism.
The action moves forward through Chitrarth’s soliloquy, interspersed with sequences — are they dream or nightmare, or are they happening really? — that bring together elements of painting, dance (Kathakali), mime, music and theatre. The evocative colours of the mime actors’ costume and make-up, the sense of decadence and death evoked by the dilapidated old mansions in Kolkata where the film is shot, and the pain-stricken look of the performers give each frame in these sequences a surreal pathos.
The central conflict in Eashwar Mime Co. is between Chitrarth, who comes across as confused, and Eashwar, an eccentric whose passion for his art finally seems to kill him — almost like Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray. The lines between reality and imagination are blurred. For instance, one sequence has Eashwar narrating the scenes of a play to Chitrarth, while also at the same time interrupting the rehearsals to lambast the performers.
An adaptation of Bengali writer Dibyendu Palit’s short story Mukhabhinaya, the film was scripted by playwright Vijay Tendulkar. Artist Rameshwar Broota collaborated on the film, painting the live masks donned by the 12 mime artistes, who seem almost enslaved to Eashwar, as if they have sold their souls to the devil.
There is no catharsis in the end, no closure as the complications remain unresolved. The film is like a work of art that is meant to arouse emotions and reactions, so that it seems unjustified to chase answers to questions such as — did Eashwar really die or was it Chitrarth’s imagination? Why did he die? Who killed him and what will happen to Chitrarth and the players?
The film is worth watching for its aesthetics and the performances by Malhotra and Vidyarthi whose presence somewhat overshadows the other actors in this off-beat film.
Eashwar Mime Co. will be screened at India Habitat Centre in Delhi on August 2