By Shoma A. Chatterji
Film-maker Atanu Ghosh’s forthcoming film Ek Phali Rodh (A Slice of Sunshine) deals with a unique theme that has not been seen on Indian cinema before. This is a social phenomenon called ‘The Bystander Effect.’ “My film is complete fiction. It tells the story of a social scientist (Dhritiman Chatterjee) who is conducting research on the passive response of bystanders to a street crisis such as a sudden accident where someone is hurt or is being attacked in the middle of a road while witnesses do not react or even try to run away from the crisis instead of coming forward to help,” says Ghosh who has made significant feature films like Anshumaaner Chhobi, Tokhon Teish and Roopkatha Noy all of which won critical acclaim.
“The ‘bystander effect’ was first coined in 1968 by two American psychologists, John Darley and Bibb Latane, who began conducting lab experiments which simulated an emergency and then monitored whether people reacted differently when alone or in a crowd. Their research was spurred by the prominent murder of Kitty Genovese, a 28-year old New York woman whose neighbours ignored her screams for help. Twenty eight people who witnessed it did not react at all or come forward as witnesses. That part of the story has since been cast into doubt but the theory held up in studies, and there have been endless real-life cases that seem to support their findings,” Ghosh elaborates. The woman died in the second attack because when she was attacked the first time in 1964, the assailant was never caught for lack of witnesses. He attacked a second time and this time, she died.
The social scientist in Ek Phali Rodh appoints two young people Annesh, and Swagata to create mock crisis situations on the streets of Kolkata and to record the reactions of the passers-by and witnesses who watch but do little. After several such incidents, the couple suddenly find themselves in the middle of a real crisis. What happens then makes for the rest of the story interwoven with the personal pains, loves and struggles of the various characters who feature in the story. Several strands of sub-plots offer interesting options on these crisis situations till something happens on location.
“I happened to read the book Mindwatching – Why We Behave The Way We Do by Hans Jurgen Eysenck and Michael W. Eysenk, a father-son duo who take the general reader on a tour of the human personality. It includes an experiment that tests people’s obedience to authority and evidence that stress can kill finally concluding with how personality determines our lives. But I was pulled more to the Bystander Effect because it is very evident in present-day situations and the subject is not only topical but also universal. Therefore, my story moves from mock crisis to real crisis to demonstrate how the humane element is missing in humanity today,” says Atanu.
Piyush Tiwari, Founder-President, SaveLIFE Foundation says, “The Law Commission of India states that 50 percent of those who die on Indian roads can be saved if they receive timely medical attention including assistance from bystanders and passers-by. An astounding 70,000 lives can be saved every year.”
“The fact that most bystanders and passersby choose to remain mute spectators due to prolonged legal hassles and subsequent inconvenience and intimidation is not wholly true. The human mind functions often in ways logic cannot explain. For example, a person who is extremely self-centric and is known not to lift a finger to help someone, might suddenly jump in a crisis situation to save the life of someone he has never met. The incident might have triggered his hormonal reaction and he jumps to the rescue. There are psychological and neurological reasons scientists are trying to discover. My film might shed some light on this extremely dark scenario. So I named it A Slice of Sunshine,” Ghosh sums up.
Ek Phali Rodh has beautiful music by Joy Sarkar whose seven songs have enriched instead of disturbing the narrative flow. The impressive cast comprises Dhritiman Chatterjee, Rittwik Chakraborty, Aparajita Ghosh Chakraborty, Tota Roy Choudhury, Jisshu Sengupta, Arunima Ghosh, Barun Chanda and Mahua Haldar. It is scheduled for an early December release. Based on Atanu’s own story and script, Teamline Productions has produced the film.