Sunglass: Rituparno’s magic lenses and what wasn’t so magical after all.
Shot in 2005, Sunglass (Taak Jhaank in Hindi) never saw a theatrical release during Rituparno Ghosh’s lifetime, and the grapevine has it that the filmmaker had a row with Planman Motion Pictures, which held up the film until the state government intervened and premiered it at the 19th Kolkata International Film Festival. Whenever I asked him about Sunglass, Rituparno was visibly annoyed, and asserted, ‘I am not bothered whether the film is released or not; I have outgrown that phase of my career long back…I do not make such films anymore…’ Yet, Sunglass is his most light-hearted film; his sense of humor, which informs many of his serious films, imbues almost every frame with a delightfulness which is indeed rare. Towards the end of his career, Rituparno was gradually shifting into darker themes and controversial subjects and the ‘merrymaking’ in Sunglass appeared escapist to him. Discourses on death, loneliness, betrayal, parallel sexualities, and the pains of inhabiting the periphery undercut his later films in such a way that happy endings had begun to appear much too Utopian to him.
But it isn’t that Sunglass only explores the sunny side to life; in fact, like all good comedies, it unveils the gap between appearance and reality, what is and what it appears to be, and how desirable it is to know what one should not know. However, the film appears to be on the verge of plunging into a deeper ethical question, but, unfortunately withdraws and hastens towards a final solution. The dénouement seems rather fast-paced and simplistic and doesn’t live up to the expectation created in the first half of the film.
Based on one of his stories, Chaitali Chashma published in the Bangla magazine Sananda, Sunglass is a fantasy tale of an unassuming and naïve woman’s chancing upon a pair of antique glasses which have the magical power of revealing the thoughts and actions of the person who is watched through it. Here is a glaring inconsistency: it is not made clear what exactly the glasses divulge – what the person is thinking about at that moment, or what happened a few days or moments ago in the life of that person, or whether it reveals precisely what the person gazing through the glasses should not know. Whatever it is, Munni (Konkona Sen Sharma) is infinitely amused or terribly disconcerted at what is revealed through the glasses, and every revelation, at least to up to a certain point, draws a few laughs from the audience. But after a point the revelations become monotonous and the flippancy grates on the nerves, for the film had to take a turn into a profounder philosophical reflection into this very act of eavesdropping. But as I already mentioned, the film indeed makes an attempt to do so; but cannot sustain the discourse. The film meanders into the same old story of the faithful wife and the philandering husband, but, here also, it finds a solution much too soon, leaving the audience baffled.
Sunglass is actually a journey of the female protagonist from innocence to experience, from blissful ignorance to unsettling knowledge. She indeed had to outgrow her over-protective mother, her dependency and complete faith in her husband and familiarize herself with the darker side of life – murky realities which she thought had never existed. The danger of possessing the pair of glasses is that it might lead to complete loss of faith in anyone, yet the temptation to know more is difficult to transcend. While the film does address this double-bind of being powerful, it skims the surface of such a terrible dilemma and ends before exploring the consequences.
Yet what is appreciable is the film’s ‘feel good’ tone, its intelligent dialogues (it is, however, dialogue-heavy like all his other films), and of course Konkona’s effortless performance. What makes the film interesting is how Rituparno places it in an already existing tradition of fantasy narratives, thereby addressing the collective unconscious of the viewers: the curio shop and its enigmatic owner who seems to know more than what he reveals (the curio shop has been the starting point of many a thriller or fantasy fables), a fleeting reference to Rushdie’s fantasy fiction Haroun and the Sea of Stories, the figure of the ageing but all-knowing grandmother, and yes, Bombay Cinema and its fanciful dance sequences. Despite very sincere efforts, the film falls flat towards the end, whereas it opens with a lot of promise. The film which I saw is a re-edited version of the director’s cut, and quite a lot has been snipped as is evident from some of the dialogues. Perhaps, this was done to save the film from dragging, but as a result of that the original story seems to have suffered to a remarkable extent.
But Sunglass would always stand out as ‘different’ in Rituparno Ghosh’s entire oeuvre of films, and might as well find commercial success if released theatrically. When the end credits rolled, and various working stills from the film showing a bubbly and chubby Rituparno faded in and out of the screen, I felt a heaviness in my heart…we might not have a better storyteller of a filmmaker ever! Sunglass, although not a great film, does contain within it the signature of Rituparno’s magic lenses, through which we would never get to see the world again.