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Since 1st March, 1999
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Whispers in silence

She explores the language of cinema in silence. Raka Dutta’s film Chinese Whispers, screened at Oxford Bookstore this Friday, has no dialogue. “I think cinema has a distinctive language of its own. While the spoken language helps carry a film forward, I don’t like using it unless it’s absolutely necessary,” says the young filmmaker, whose diploma film won accolades at the Cannes International Film Festival last year.

The 28-minute film shows a man and a woman who meet but don’t communicate. They remain strangers as they steadily lose touch with their surroundings and in doing so begin to accept it as part of their existence. Like the woman who comes back to her empty apartment every day to find that the water pipes have sprung a leak and have flooded the apartment. At first, she plugs the leaks and wipes the floors dry before going to bed. The second time she tries to do so again but gives up. And in the final scene, she doesn’t bother at all and chooses instead to lie down on the waterlogged floor.

The screening over, it was time for some interaction. Raka talked about her experience of shooting in water and also walking the red carpet at Cannes. Momm Bhattacharya, who plays the woman, said she shot her parts after a 16-hour workday.

The audience, too, narrated their experience. While a literature student said parts of the film reminded her of the girl in Joyce’s Araby, another commented how the characters became ‘islands of experience’. The use of natural sounds in the film also evoked response. But not everything could be heard, explained Raka. “A lot of the lower level, baser sounds could not be heard, I think. If all of it was, then I guess you would have experienced what I had actually intended to say,” she smiled. But it was the sound of water that dominated the film — the steady patter of the pipes dripping, of the woman wading in water, pouring herself a glass of water, all added to the eeriness of the situation.

“Water’s an element that I really like. While growing up in my home at Lake Gardens, my rooms and my area would often be flooded,” she said. “We were pretty wary of being electrocuted while walking in water and so wore ‘gumboots’. But our obliging leading lady Momm had to take the risk and walk about barefoot,” she joked.

But why is a film with no dialogues (and no whispers) called Chinese Whispers? Its all about broken communication, explains Raka. “You can interpret it from the literal meaning of the word Chinese whispers,” she says. Like the way the original message changes and is distorted in a game of Chinese whispers, communication between people often breaks down.

Eye for errors

The Jhunjhunwala brothers were selling off their father’s collection of stamps. The buyer sat cross-legged, sorting out the valuable issues from the albums. The rest, he was dumping to a side.

Yeh sab kachra hain (This is all rubbish),” he kept saying, dismissively. The use of the word kachra about things his father Sitaram had lovingly collected hurt young Vishwanath. “I asked him how much he meant to pay for the kachra part of the collection. He said Rs 25,000. I paid half of that amount to my brother and kept the stamps.”

That was 1975 and Vishwanath knew nothing about philately. And so it was till about 10 years back. “Then my father’s blood stirred in my veins,” the 66-year-old laughs, with eyes riveted on the visitors walking into the hall to check out his collection of stamps on view on Friday evening at a city hotel, courtesy ABN Amro Bank.

Rajesh, a perfumer by profession, has diversified into numismatics. “I collect commemorative coins post-1947. One has to keep an eye out for advertisements in the newspaper to place pre-release bookings.”

But at the exhibition, it was currency notes that were on view beside his father’s stamps. The series of Re 1 and Rs 2 notes were a lesson in history on the finance secretaries and Reserve Bank of India governors who did duty over the years. For, unknown to most handling the humble Re 1 notes, it was not the RBI governor but the secretary of the government’s ministry of finance who put the promissory sign on the lowest denomination. Thus, a scan reveals how Prime Minister Manmohan Singh holds the unique distinction of having his signature on the nation’s currency in two phases — in 1978-80 as the finance secretary and in 1983 as RBI governor. The run of Re 1 and Rs 2 ended in 1994 and 1995 respectively, with the RBI stopping printing them.

It was the errors and freaks sections that drew most eyeballs. There were currency notes with shifted ink flow, missing watermarks and even missing promissory texts.

The stamps were mostly recent issues, with varieties of errors — double perforations, inverted logos, missing colours or words….

A table displayed the awards that the Jhunjhunwalas have won — prestigious Indipex silver and gold from the 1973 edition of the international philately show being the stars. “The postal department supports philately by organising exhibitions and such contests. But there is no such support for numismatics,” lamented Rajesh.

A bigger worry though is the lack of interest of GeNext in either hobby. “There are not enough newcomers. Perhaps we need to organise more such shows,” said Ronojoy Bose, a dealer who helps the Jhunjhunwalas.

(Contributed by Malini Banerjee and Sudeshna Banerjee)

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