Subarnarekha, The Golden Thread (1965)

A girl and her brother enter a deserted military airstrip – an overgrown concrete and tarmac ruin of a recent but already forgotten war, where rusting fighter planes lie scattered and waiting as if for the return of their dead pilots. The girl traces a path that the cracks in the tarmac make with her steps, into the wind that suddenly blows in a terrifying vision of Kali, the goddess of destruction, who towers over the small child on the desolate airstrip. The girl stands frozen, struck dumb with fear. Her brother rushes in, discovers that the goddess is only a bahurupi, a thin itinerant impostor with a scowl, a set of wooden goddess arms, tinsel weapons and a garland of papier mâché skulls. He asks the impostor angrily who he is and why he must scare children so. The bahurupi-impostor-goddess replies, “I did nothing; she came in the way”.

This fragment of film, the ‘bahurupi in the airstrip’ sequence in Ritwik Ghatak’s Bengali film Subarnarekha (The Golden Thread, 1965), is laden with strange encounters. A terrifying yet banal masquerade interrupts a child’s exploration, a girl crosses the path of a goddess, a military airstrip built in World War II invades a remote corner of Bengal, rust, time and the obstinate fertility of vegetal undergrowth encroach upon and encircle the abandoned airstrip and its forgotten fighter aircraft. Everything comes in the way of everything else. Collisions bring collisions in their wake. The girl, her brother, the goddess, the impostor, the airfield, the aircraft, the undergrowth – all seem to be saying, at once, “I did nothing, she came in the way”.

(Sarai Reader 2005: Bare Acts)

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