Bilal is three,and he can see. So can his younger brother Hamza. His parents Shamim and Jharna are blind. The 88 -minute documentary on their lives that director Saurav Sarangi shoots over a year is a superb example of being there-yet-not-there style of fly-on-the-wall filmmaking. Most of it is shot in a dark room in crowded neighbourhood in Kolkata,where the four live-eat and sleep and cook and squabble.
As the film tracks Shamim and Jharnas attempts at trying to rise above grinding poverty,you realise something astonishing : there is not a shred of condescension or patronage that comes through,something that gets transmitted so easily when all power is vested in the man behind the camera,whose subjects are so clearly powerless. The level of trust and intimacy the subjects share with the man filming them is evident in each frame,and makes for heartwarming cinema.
The story behind the story is equally interesting. The Kolkata-based director was steered,quite inadvertently,in Bilals direction,and was immediately entranced by the boy,and his relationship with his parents,and brother. At two-and-a-half,Bilal is still too young to understand the full meaning and import of being blind,but he knows the consequences : his parents have no time to cuddle or coddle him,or his brother,he has to learn to help himself at his tender age. He is also turned into a care-giver to his younger brother,and we know that he will be a true big brother to his baby sister,who comes along just as the film is about to end.
Meanwhile,he has to handle being hit (cuffed on the head,or hands,smacked on the face),casually and frequently by his parents (more his father than his mother,but both use their hands freely),his teacher who wants him to learn incongruous nursery rhymes by rote,or the children he plays with.
But Bilals life is not brutal or brutish,which it so easily could have been. Shamim has lost all his savings and had a huge loan to repay,but he reacts to his misfortune with admirable fortitude,and you cant help smiling when Jharna tells Sarangi that she prefers being blind,for that prevents her from being able to see the dirt in the world. Bilal moves through the film,sure-footed where his parents stumble,with a smile which lights up the screen. Sarangis film has won awards at film festivals all over the world since it came out last November,and is now out on DVD.