III Smoking Barrels movie review: Critical stories from the North East stand out in this one-time watch
III Smoking Barrels may or may not be forgettable, one can only hope that as a discerning member of the audience, one will not forget the message it tries to convey
castSubrat Dutta, Indraneil Sengupta, Mandakini Goswami, Amrita Chattopadhyay, Shiny Gogoi, Siddharth Boro
If you look at the map of India carefully, you will see how the region that we have come to know as the North Eastern is precariously hanging on to the rest of the nation by a thin stretch of land. The geographical, political, economic and most importantly, social implications of this is not unknown to anyone who has kept his eyes, ears and mind open for the larger part of their life. We all know that the North Eastern states have lived in the shadows of neglect over the years. But that’s hardly all, isn’t it? The people of this region have always had to prove their Indianness while the rest of us have stolen near-xenophobic glances at their ‘foreign’ features – features which our facile minds have conveniently bundled into a single demographic – one that belongs to a country with whom we had gone to war and lost. And thanks to our colonial hangover, while we have always looked at the Occident with a sense of awe and wonder, the Orient has never received our respect. The people of the North East have always struggled to belong with the rest of us – and often, so long-drawn and frustrating has been their struggle that they have rebelled and said: enough is enough, we don’t want to belong anymore. This has led to a strife – both social and political in nature. The years of neglect have led to a struggling economy, which is ironical, given the rich potential of tourism, agriculture and mining in the region, among other things. There is hardly any employment, and that has led to issues of crime, narcotics, insurgency and migration. These dire circumstances come alive in director Sanjib Dey’s multilingual debut film III Smoking Barrels.
Dey – who was spent a significant portion of his life in the North East – tells three unrelated stories from the region, highlighting three raging issues that need immediate attention. Not only that, he goes on to plot these three stories against the timeline of human life – titling the stories as Child, Boy and Man. While this second endeavour does feel gimmicky to some extent, I was perfectly willing to overlook this and focus on the stories instead.
The first is the story of a fifteen-year old girl who was kidnapped into a camp of militant rebels, lived a life of abuse and is now trying to escape by hijacking the car of a city born and bred engineer who is trying to get home from Manipur to Guwahati. To me, this segment felt the weakest of the three, and although it highlights the issue of insurgency in the region, it is handled with rather amateurish filmmaking and acting skills. The dialogues are poorly written, the arc of the story is utterly unconvincing and the actors – both Shiny Gogoi as the troubled young hijacker as well as Indraneil Sengupta as the man whose vehicle she hijacks – seem lost and downright wooden. While the cinematography captures the beautiful landscape through which this segment – essentially a road movie – passes through, it does not help in lifting the film to the heights of maturity that the subject so urgently deserves.
The second story – Boy – is that of a young and disillusioned engineering dropout who slowly gets sucked into the dangerous world of drugs. Much to his mother’s woes, he descends into a world where an escape from reality is the harshest form of irony. Because, as he soon finds out, the more and more you go down this path, the sooner reality catches up with you. Dey – who has credited Satyajit Ray’s films as the reason why he himself is in the filmmaking profession – makes a sincere attempt to explore the tense relationship between a son and his widowed mother, one that Ray had explored so beautifully in his film Aparajito. But once again, in a cruel twist of irony, while the mother in Aparajito longed for his son to return home from his life in the big city, the mother in Dey’s film constantly urges her son to flee this godforsaken land in search of better opportunities. While the performances by Mandakini Goswami and Siddharth Boro are genuine, the craft still shows signs of immaturity. However, it has to be said that it is still a better segment than its predecessor.
The third and final segment of the film – and clearly the best of the lot by a fair margin – is titled Man. It tells the story of a poor man who used to earn his livelihood by fishing in the woods, but who falls on hard times when the government bans fishing in protected areas of the forest. In order to survive, the man falls prey to the lure of the dark but lucrative world of elephant poaching. Subrat Dutta is pitch perfect in the role of the alcoholic crackpot who figures that the best way to give himself and his wife a better life is to take away the life of an innocent animal, until he realises how fruitless his efforts had been all along. His entire demeanour elevates the film to great heights, and he single-handedly saves Sanjib Dey’s film from mediocrity. Technically speaking too, the final segment is the best shot and most diligently crafted among the three.
Together, the three segments make a decent one-time watch, but while the film may or may not be forgettable, one can only hope that as a discerning member of the audience, you will not forget the message it tries to convey.
While Hart does put on a show and comes on with a few surprises playing a father grappling in an uncharted territory, the film leaves much to be desired.
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