Film: "Crossing Bridges"; Cast: Anshu Jamsenpa, Phuntsu Krime; Director: Sange Dorjee Thinkdok; Rating: ***
For a very long time nothing seems to be happening in "Crossing Bridges". We see the urbanised Tashi (Anshu Jamsenpa) return to his unspoilt untouched village in Arunachal Pradesh. Tashi hasn't been home for seven-eight years. He is lost. He is disoriented. He crosses bridges over pristine rivers with a tourist's wobbliness. The camera holds steady, though.
An inner inertia grips the village life of this disturbingly tranquil study of the prodigal son's journey home, his initial wariness about a culture that he has abandoned for the city life, and finally... well, we all know where the protagonist's return to his roots is leading. 'Swades', anyone?
"Crossing Bridges" is not a film that promises excitement. It enters the lives of the villagers with no expectations of drama or devastating revelations. These are people who will live and die hugging the status quo close to their bosom.
This is the only life they know. It is not an exciting life for them and it is certainly not exciting for the audience to watch.
So what weds our senses to these unexciting people?
It's that supreme serenity, the splendid synthesis of ambiance and mood that qualifies and eventually absorbs our interest. These dull lives are unique in their absolute lack of affectations.
Director Thongdok searches out no emotional highs and lows in the narrative. The closest we come to humour is when Tashi buys a battery-operated television set (there is electricity in the village, but only for an hour in the morning and another hour in the night) to while away his time, and it's his father who stays glued to the goings on.
Even here there is only a hint of a smile.
"Crossing Bridges" is a work that revels in placidity. There are no passionate passages or intimate interludes. But there is an abundance of spontaneous warmth in the way Tashi learns to empathise with his roots, the way he wins over little bewildered students by showing them Charlie Chaplin on his laptop... There is a very predictable romance too. But this flimsy concession to filminess is allowed.
The breathtaking natural beauty of the Arunachal village dominates the proceedings, signalling silently the insignificant existence of the people who live in the shadows of the towering mountains.
The beauty of the small film with a big heart lies in its simple unassuming narration. There is no effort to court a stylised vision.
Pooja Gupte's camera shuns conceit completely. We see the world that Tashi returns to as it is. Unchanging. Unspoilt.
"Crossing Bridges" is the 'Swades' of the North East. In one warmly evocative sequence, Tashi and his father are shown quietly watching Ashutosh Gowariker's 'Swades'. These are people whose lives run on a track parallel to the world created by cinema. And when the two worlds meet they barely acknowledge one another.
The film's spoken language is Sherdukpen.
But it could have been anything. These simple folk speak the language of the heart.