books to film

Book versus movie: Swimming pigs and a perfectly adapted short story in Goutam Ghose’s ‘Paar’

Starring Shabana Azmi and Naseeruddin Shah, ‘Paar’ is a visceral piece of cinema that expands on suggestions in Samaresh Basu’s text.

If absolute helplessness has a face, Naseeruddin Shah wears it as he stands at a grilled window listening to the taunting of a small time clerk. In Goutam Ghose’s Paar (The Crossing, 1984). Shah plays Naurangia, a low caste labourer from Bihar who is now stranded in the overwhelming city of Kolkata.

There are no jobs in Kolkata, the clerk says acerbically, none for the literate, and certainly not for village idiots who tumble in with their bundles thinking the city will welcome them. The mills and factories are closing down. A pregnant wife with him as well, eh? And no money to even buy a ticket back to their village? In that case, Naurangia is even less than a village idiot. The clerk finally finds his heart and offers Naurangia a little money. Swallowing any dignity that his wretchedness allows, Naurangia takes what can buy only a measly breakfast for a famished couple.

If complete humiliation has a face, Shabana Azmi hides it with a sob in the folds of a sari she has hung out to dry. Azmi plays Rama, Naurangia’s wife. She has just been told that she and her husband are freeloaders. They are not trying hard enough to find employment. They cannot expect to be eternally humoured or accommodated by the impoverished woman who had offered them shelter in her rickety shed.

Subtly and heartbreakingly enacted, neither of these moments come from Samaresh Basu’s short story Paari (Journey), on which Ghose’s National Award winning screenplay is based. Using mere suggestions from the text, Ghose creates a context for Naurangia and Rama to leave their village and establishes how and why they are now marooned.

The sagacious schoolmaster (Anil Chatterjee), who had helped Naurangia and his ilk stand up against the injustices of their landlord (Utpal Dutt), has died in a suspicious road accident. Seeking revenge, Naurangia and three others murder the zamindar’s aggressive brother (Mohan Agashe).

Payback is swift. The zamindar’s men set the village ablaze and Naurangia and Rama flee into the night. A journey made not of out of choice but circumstance takes them eventually to the footpaths of Kolkata. In spite of misgivings, being deceived and down on luck, there had still been some energy to fight the odds but now there is penury, fatigue, hunger and abject despair.

Fortuitously, a job appears on the horizon – a terrifying task which only the heartless can offer and which only the desperate can take on. Under a sullen sky, a drivel of pigs must be herded across a rolling river. Boats are an unnecessary expense, and naturally, there is no assurance for low caste lives. Pigs, on the other hand, are valuable livestock. Any loss will mean imprisonment. A successful crossing will mean a paltry payment to tide the couple over their immediate misery.

Paar (1984).

The film’s most uncompromising demand on its bedraggled actors begins when Azmi and Shah, waving flimsy sticks to drive the reluctant swine before them, begin their descent into the turbid waters. The land slips away from beneath their feet and with tantalising cruelty, Ghose’s camera captures their floundering in the waves that crash around them. The darkness of the clouds blinds their vision. The wind rips their voices out of their throats. Yellow clay water gushes into their mouths. The terrified animals huddle together but then, incredibly true to Basu’s story, Ghose films a pregnant, panic stricken sow breaking loose. Cut to a close up of Azmi’s expression. A pregnant woman holding life within her womb knows what a pregnant animal feels. Azmi cleaves her way through the swirling water to guide the sow back to the drift. An exhausted, sodden, heaving mass – man, woman and every single pig – finally make it across the river. But unlike Basu who now brings then nightmare to an end, Ghose does not.

Ghose’s scenario, music, photography and direction make Paar a visceral experience like no other and in their ninth film together, Azmi and Shah are as perfectly matched as they were when they played an uptown couple in Shekhar Kapur’s Masoom just the year before..

In an interview in 1992, Azmi said, “…Naseer and I had decided that the message of the film was very important; that is why we surrendered to the roles. What the film was trying to say was more important than any display of histrionics.”

Tight on the thorax, Basu’s story may well be allegorical. The fight to survive the elements could be a fight to survive in society. The text is colloquial. Spare yet vivid allusions, typical Bengali expressions, symbolism and onomatopoeia create a terse atmosphere that engulfs all the senses. The low caste couple have no names. Younger than their cinematic counterparts but as hungry, weary and hapless, they are described merely as two beings. The woman is not pregnant, but the river, personified as a young girl who has come of age, is a full blooded life force – demanding, capricious and willful. The author’s tone is dispassionate, and in a manner that has no visual equivalent, describes the ferocity of whirlpools, wind and rain. On that terrifying evening when lightning pierces the steel grey sheath of water, two nameless beings with the fearlessness of children decide to take the plunge.

Basu’s story finds a sincere and unadulterated representation in the final moments of Ghose’s film.

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Advice from an ex-robber on how to keep your home safe

Tips on a more hands-on approach of keeping your house secure.

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1. Get inside the mind of a burglar

Before I break the lock of a home, first I bolt the doors of the neighbouring homes. So that, even if someone hears some noise, they can’t come to help.

— Som Pashar, committed nearly 100 robberies.

Burglars study the neighbourhood to keep a check on the ins and outs of residents and target homes that can be easily accessed. Understanding how the mind of a burglar works might give insights that can be used to ward off such danger. For instance, burglars judge a house by its front doors. A house with a sturdy door, secured by an alarm system or an intimidating lock, doesn’t end up on the burglar’s target list. Upgrade the locks on your doors to the latest technology to leave a strong impression.

Here are the videos of 3 reformed robbers talking about their modus operandi and what discouraged them from robbing a house, to give you some ideas on reinforcing your home.


2. Survey your house from inside out to scout out weaknesses

Whether it’s a dodgy back door, a misaligned window in your parent’s room or the easily accessible balcony of your kid’s room, identify signs of weakness in your home and fix them. Any sign of neglect can give burglars the idea that the house can be easily robbed because of lax internal security.

3. Think like Kevin McCallister from Home Alone

You don’t need to plant intricate booby traps like the ones in the Home Alone movies, but try to stay one step ahead of thieves. Keep your car keys on your bed-stand in the night so that you can activate the car alarm in case of unwanted visitors. When out on a vacation, convince the burglars that the house is not empty by using smart light bulbs that can be remotely controlled and switched on at night. Make sure that your newspapers don’t pile up in front of the main-door (a clear indication that the house is empty).

4. Protect your home from the outside

Collaborate with your neighbours to increase the lighting around your house and on the street – a well-lit neighbourhood makes it difficult for burglars to get-away, deterring them from targeting the area. Make sure that the police verification of your hired help is done and that he/she is trustworthy.

While many of us take home security for granted, it’s important to be proactive to eliminate even the slight chance of a robbery. As the above videos show, robbers come up with ingenious ways to break in to homes. So, take their advice and invest in a good set of locks to protect your doors. Godrej Locks offer a range of innovative locks that are un-pickable and un-duplicable. To secure your house, see here.

The article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Godrej Locks and not by the Scroll editorial team.