Naad - The Sound: Bold And Truthful!

By Gajanan Khergamker

Few filmmakers have the grit and conviction to tackle issues - contemporary and controversial - without pandering to validation of the masses. After all, in a hugely-polarised India today, you're swiftly categorised in slots that are politically driven to derive mileage from respective factions. The truth has become a rather subjective horse ridden by whosoever is going in the 'said' direction.

In this context, Writer-Director Abhijit Ashok Paul's most recent make Naad - The Sound, stands distinct in its bold narrative holding on to an unflinching individual stand throughout the movie despite overwhelming waves of populism. That Naad - The Sound was screened at International Film Festival of India (IFFI) 2021 at Goa, India was, in itself, a victory of sorts. 

The crew of 'Naad - The Sound' during the making of the film
In the midst of the selfie-crazed film aficionados thronging venues to catch a glimpse of Bollywood stars, it was Abhijit Ashok Paul's production that shined like a diamond. Particularly in these times of political polarisation and cinematic braggadocios.

It starts with the protagonist offering his obeisance to God and nature through his early morning ritual at home while his daughter Mahul sits on the side playing. Within a while, as the protagonist is reciting Hindu hymns while getting ready for the day, his daughter starts to sing the Azaan - a Muslim call for prayer, much to his chagrin. On her persistent singing, the protagonist Debashish gets disturbed at the trend and asks her about where she learned to sing the Azaan, when everyone in the family was a Hindu. Mahul replies that she hears the Azaan being recited daily from mosque at a distance and has picked it up from there.

A still from the short film
A disconcerted Debashish relates the incident to a friend who tells him that there was "nothing wrong with it," and that he must "change his thinking." An irate Debashish tells him that he isn't upset at her singing the Azaan, in particular, but concerned that she hasn't learned about about her own religion. But that he was being "closed" and that his "thinking needed to change," stuck: Millions can identify with this, the rule rather than the exception, particularly when faced with the influence of a 'non-Hindu' theology and are faced with charges of being "intolerant" each time they attempt to reassert their own religion or culture.

Debashish is, instead, and much to his humiliation, advised to take his daughter to a 'psychologist' for treatment. "My daughter isn't mad," says Debashish, a line that could resonate with millions others facing similar situations of cultural clashes. It's the selective 'boxing' of characters and theologies that is addressed with bold finesse in Naad - The Sound.

It's in the conversation, revolving around the causes of 'West' Bengal's very nomenclature that doesn't reveal the full truth about its separation from East Bengal aka East Pakistan and now Bangladesh, that lies the power of innocent conversation. To put it on celluloid and voice the thought of a potential reunion between the two to re-create Rabindranath Tagore's concept of 'Sonar Bangla' reveals a true nationalism that isn't watered down by a pseudo 'Secularism'. Here, probably for the first time, the concept has been told 'as is' without the sheen associated with selective populism and conveniently palpable narratives clouding reality.

Team members and the protagonist, behind the scenes
Why, even a priest - distinct from Debashish's social strata as a low caste - tells him about the need to introduce Mahul to Hindu culture, his personal failure in doing so and that it was the exclusion of his daughter from his own cultural pursuits that had led to her adopting, albeit innocuously, a culture and music that wasn't her own. And that, it needed to change.

Debashish goes on to include Indian Classical Music classes, through a teacher, at home to train his daughter Mahul and educate about her own culture. He says that he, representative of millions of Hindus, risked his own culture being glossed over in the selective and dangerous processes of 'secularism' that was introduced for political reasons long after the original Constitution of India was promulgated and adopted. So, Mahul learns to sing after being taught by a classical music teacher, the processes starting from Sa Re Ga Ma followed by Veena and Sitar classes.

The years drift pass as Mahul grows into a sensitive music-loving mother herself, Indian Classical Music being played at all times in the backdrop, while Mahul teaches her own son about music and a culture that's unique to the Hindu.

The short film boldly speaks about how the protagonist, without spewing venom in the heart of his child towards a culture unique from her own, brings her back into the folds of Hindu culture and music by gentle persuasion. This, despite most others, interpreting his concerns of his daughter 'forgetting' her own culture and deviating from her own 'religion', as being "closed-minded" or simply an affront to "secularism" that was introduced only after India's emergency in 1975 for political purposes.

(Click here to read a commentary on Secularism)

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