The pandemic and the uncertainties around it have revealed the vulnerability of all artists, performers and everyone depended on culture for their livelihood. As efforts are ongoing to tame the virus, the foreseeable future too looks increasingly challenging for the arts. If the importance and necessity of arts are to be realized, it was one of the most comforting things we had relied upon while in lockdown. Be it creativity in the kitchen, music or movies, everyone turned to the arts and artists seeking comfort, consolation and a sense of perspective. It’s time we recognize the social and economic importance of arts and consider new public cultural policies without crushing their freedom to stand truthful. With such an endeavor, Monoj Borkotoky’s short film Daai celebrates the cause of art and expresses a sincere gratitude to everyone living for it.
Working on the fence paying no heed to the sprinkling clouds, an upset Daai (which means uncle in English), when asked if he liked the girl he had gone to see replies with all his shattered hopes that who will give their daughter to someone like him. This is how, towards the end of the story, the film completes a circle and we stand again at the same point from where we had started from.
Daai, the titular character played to genuine sincerity and charm by Devi Borkotoky, is a man of wonder. As a generous being full of love and care and an undeniable commitment to the society, Daai is an artist, both in mind and spirit. This emotional soul contended with his little ownership and never ever demanding against whatever life has offered is however hold back by his widowed sister-in-law’s concerns and worries about him. The inability to get a job, sit for a marriage and make more productive use of life are some harsh reminders that are constantly thrown at him time and again.
Breathing art and living art, Daai is strong enough in his morals and commitment that he pays no heed to the curses thrown at him from the darkest corner of the night and handles the public opposition to his progressive stand for women participation in the bhaonas (religious plays) in a very balanced and wise manner. However, it’s the indirect taunts and jeers hurled at him to fill that incomplete sphere of his life that weakens him. The constant humiliations have forced him to realize the emptiness in his life. This helplessness in him is carefully captured in a number of ways by writer-director Monoj Borkotoky.
Therefore, disregarding all his inhibitions and regards for age, he gives in to the imposed idea of a complete life. But however, life doesn’t want to take him away from his ideals. After being unable to fill the void in his life, he laments living for the cause of art and an unrewarding service to the society. Failing to realize his own importance he also grieves his lack of a material life. This is where the circular structure of the film completes a round and we are again left with a doubtful and emotionally fragile self in an otherwise humble and strong man.
As he sings with regret now, he finds a new meaning in art and being an artist which makes this remorse different from his previously unsure choices in life. The dusky sky has brought the day to an end but not to his life. An endearing journey of a man who is trying to find his place in the society largely unappreciative of his methods, the film proudly highlights the unabated struggle of artists at various points in their life. Daai is a beautiful ode to art, unsung artists and the loneliness that surrounds them, told with great affection and poignancy. The emptiness is brought out in lonely frames of Daai doing the chores, tilling the land and contemplating life where he shines throughout. The role of nature, the rain, to reflect loss and mourning, a bright sun for the lively spirit, are instances where the weather is used to translate different moods.
If tragedy inhibits the creation of art, Daai’s tragedy is hidden in plain sight. His grief and the feeling of social inferiority is carefully concealed by his vigour for creativity and isn’t expressed otherwise. With Bhupen Hazarika’s modarore ful henu as Daai’s song of life, the short film about finding sweetness in adversity is a fitting tribute to Jyotiprasad Agarwala’s Silpir Prithivi where he philosophize that every person is an artist in their own way struggling to turn their dreams into reality in a world which too was once a dream. We are not complete until we realize the artist within us.