What drives juvenile delinquency? This is the question at the heart of the film, Dhuusar
Sajal Barui killed his father, his step-mother and step-brother when he was 16.
Barui pretended to be a victim as well, by tying himself to a chair at the scene of the crime. Seven years later, he escaped the grasp of the law by drugging the policemen in whose custody he was. In 2003, he was arrested again and had by then become a full-time gangster. In 2010, he was released on bail, having — as his lawyers argued — served 16 years of a prospective life sentence. At the time of his bail, Barui was received by a solitary relative outside the prison.
This is the true story of one of the most infamous juvenile killers in India. The events mentioned took place in Kolkata, and are now the inspiration for Dhuusar, a film that seeks to answer difficult questions about juvenile criminals, and the psychology that drives them.
The idea for the film was born out of Barui’s life.
“My partner and I (both brought up in Singapore and Gujarat respectively), ‘Probaashi Bangali’ as they call us, had begun our research on juvenile killers from all over the world. We spoke to lawyers, jailers and the inmates themselves, trying to understand their psyche, as to what makes them different from most of us. And the best part about the process was to be able to explore the most unexplored parts of Kolkata,” Snehashish Mondal, the director of the film, told Firstpost.
Mondal, though a relatively little-known name, went about researching not just Barui, but juvenile criminals in general. What strengthened his confidence and belief in the screenplay that he wrote over a year, was the coming on board of Vinay Pathak. “I first met Mr Pathak when h was working on a play I was also involved with. I jumped at the opportunity to share the synopsis for Dhuusar with him once we were done with the screenplay, after being at it for over a year. He was one of the first few people whom we had shared our material with and his response was 'It's wonderfully disturbing and interestingly tragic. Where do I fit in?'," Mondal recounted.
At the outset, a film so generally positioned at the feet of its subject is difficult to draw. Primarily, because it is trying to explore a lot of the psychological side, a side we usually take for granted while passing judgment. “I remember being pleasantly surprised when I visited the first juvenile home which had walls painted by the inmates. Some had painted the memories of their villages; some, their favourite cartoon characters and not to forget, their biggest idols, the Khans. Out of all the inmates that I met, I still think of a [12-year-old ] Assamese kid, who sings, makes perfect bird sounds, vehicle sounds, does cricket commentary, is a pro at beat boxing and knows the Mahabharata and Ramayana inside out, reciting a verse or two of the Gita, to his fellow inmates every evening,” Mondal said of his visits to juvenile homes while researching the film.
Most narratives emerging out of the context, not excluding that of Barui, point to certain factors like parenting and company in early youth. But Mondal says generalisation is risky, because the motivations are myriad. “One of the inmates whom we had spoken to, was not allowed to wear his father's suit which had hurt him immensely causing him to attempt suicide and after failing to gather the courage to do so, he stabbed his father instead,” he says.
Dhuusar is the story of a fictional juvenile criminal Shiladitya,that not only looks at his crime in isolation, but follows his life’s trajectory over two decades. Given the context, the screenwriting for the film becomes crucial, for it has to consider the evolving nature of a child, through language. “I didn't really intend to get into the mind of a killer nor did I regard the killers as different entities. Maybe their actions are but not their character traits, likes and dislikes and sentiments. We all have our moments with people and things we're possessive about,” Soumi Saha, the writer and Mondal’s chief accomplice on the project, said. “I wrote Dhuusar with the idea of me reacting as one of the minors instead. If instead of facing the problem, what if I had the instinct to diminish the problem?” she added.
Saha said that while coming up with the script, and channeling the research and their interactions with juveniles, she felt that generalisations like that of juveniles belonging to the binary of introverts or extroverts was simply far-fetched. “Though I did not necessarily relate to most of them but I could completely comprehend and accept their personalities and mentality and could incorporate it into my own journey, experience and personality to weave the distinct characters of Dhuusar,” Saha said.
Though a majority of the film has already been shot, the project is running short of money, which Mondal and Saha have themselves put in. A crowdfunding campaign has since then followed, which Mondal believes will help the film see the light of day. Given the recent debate over alterations to the old Juvenile Justice Act in 2016, it is perhaps more important, than wishful, that a film like Dhuusar comes to life.
“Dhuusar doesn’t invite judgments or evoke sympathy, nor does it justify itself to the norms. It brings you through a journey of an individual and asks you to have your own perception which you can then attribute to your own personal journey and experience,” Mondal said.
And, perhaps, this is a time good as any, to have ourselves be forced to introspect.