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Film Review Of Dostojee (2021): Friendship In The Time Of Mistrust

Film Review/Dostojee

Film Review Of Dostojee (2021): Friendship In The Time Of Mistrust

Prasun Chatterjee’s debut film focuses on a childhood friendship in the backdrop of communal polarisation to send a strong message

Pan’s Labyrinth: Still from the film Dostojee

What sensory forces inhabit the landsc­ape of childhood? What does it look, sound, feel and taste like? For Palash and Shafikul, two boys growing up in rural Bengal, it looks like fie­lds and rivers to play football and take a dip in; it sounds like the toktoki, a small metallic toy that makes clickety-­clack sounds; it feels like catching caterpillars and flying kites. Dost­o­jee (2021), Prasun Cha­tterjee’s debut film, opens with a childhood scene most of us are acquainted with—throwing pebbles into water. As the two boys try to outdo each other in covering the distance their stones can manage, no boundaries separate them. Yet, a wall appears soon enough, as quickly as the boys—each of whom calls the other by the same name—“Dostojee,” meaning friend—enter their respective houses, separated by a thatched straw wall.

As next-door neighbours, the two boys have abo­ut as mainstream a friendship as two village boys could have during ordinary days. Except, the days have ceased to be ordinary. A spectre of suspicion and ill-will pervades the air around them, holding in its sway, the minds and moods of the grown-ups responsible for showing them the way. Dostojee uses the powerful trope of child’s play to convey messages that are anyth­ing but child’s play. In fact, this relationship cou­ldn’t be developing at a more fraught time in history. The Babri Masjid, a 16th-century mos­que has only recently been demolished in Ayo­d­hya by a mob of Hindutva nationalists, who con­sider the mosque site to be the birthplace of Rama. This last fact is significant, because, alth­ough he’s a part of the region’s folklore, thanks to the epic of Ramayana, Rama isn’t traditiona­lly revered as a god in Bengal. Yet as the wildfire of hurt religious sentiments reaches their vill­age, that is set to change.

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