Bow Barracks Forever (drama)
Cast: Victor Bannerjee, Lilette Dubey
Director: Anjan Dutt
Director Anjan Dutt seems to be on an anthropological trip in celluloid. But unlike mothballed academic texts on the study of mankind, his is an artistic inquiry on the life and times of different communities. If The Bong Connection indulged in a fond, irreverent, tongue-in-cheek look at the gone-global Bengali ghetto, then Bow Barracks Forever is an equally fond look at a fast-disappearing community in India. It’s a ghetto of another kind, where instead of macher jhol , you can smell wine and cakes in the quaint alleys of the Anglo-Indian colonies that dot almost every Indian city. In Kolkata, they form an entire new heartland that could easily be labelled Little England, a para where London is El Dorado, Cliff Richards is the in-house crooner and Christmas ushers in a season of good cheer, for all and sundry.
If Aparna Sen’s 36 Chowringhee Lane was a heartwarming-heartbreaking study in solitude of a single Anglo-Indian, Bow Barracks Forever gatecrashes into the homes and bedrooms of an entire community of Anglo-Indians that has been living as tenants in a red-bricked barrack vacated by the American Soldiers after World War 11. The gora sahibs may have gone, but their colonial cousins desperately hang on to the remains of the day. So much so, their mongrel existence has left them schizophrenic, neither completely Indian nor completely phirang . In Potter terms, they are the original half-blood prince and princesses who build their local bands on terrace tops, while dreaming of making it Beatles’ land. And juxtaposed against the battery of dysfunctional youngsters, there is an equally restless adult generation that sees destruction staring into its eyes. Destruction of its dreams, because the English shores never seem near; destruction of their habitat, as new builders try to evict them from this heritage site. But everything’s not lost…they still have their trumpets, guitars, home-made wine and cakes and lots of community camaraderie that spills beyond Christmas.
Peter the Cheater, (Victor Banerjee) a veteran soldier who now spends his time duping people, reflects the mind set of this sad yet happy bustee. And keeping him company as the community’s cheerleader is the greying Emily Lobo (Lilette Dubey) who never gives up speaking to her son’s answering machine in distant England, hoping he’ll call back someday. The disgruntled youth find their trauma represented through two characters primarily, Anne (Neha Dubey) the battered wife of an Armenian smuggler and Bradley, her boy-lover who knows the best he can do in new India is to end up as a waiter in Park Street.
Living people, breathing people, Bow Barracks Forever captures this ‘heritage’ community is all its colourful details. A little more attention to production details, (the low cost canvas gets tacky in places) with some cutting edge editing would have made the film a complete winner. Go for it nevertheless to savour an India that might soon disappear.