Eternal Bengali Love Story

in 19th Dhaka International Film Festival

by A M Mamunur Rashid

Masud Hasan Ujjal’s debut full-length film Incomplete Breath (Unpanchash Batas, 2020)  has won the FIPRESCI Prize of the 19th Dhaka International Film Festival. It is not a masterpiece, but an elegant film. Throughout its narrative, it corresponds to the identity of the film-maker’s background in painting. A small part of it is a bit boring for its length, but film lovers will enjoy it overall. After a long time, this independent genre film finally felt like a fragrant-wind in Bengali cinema. A new “auteur” of Bengali cinema, Ujjal, is the script writer, art director, music composer, producer and director.

Incomplete Breath is a modern presentation of 1960-80s general audience’s favorite stories,  be it of this country and even in this subcontinent, when masses of people used to visit the cinema halls. It’s the kind where a daughter of a rich family falls madly in love with an ideal but poor young man, but the production quality, way of storytelling within the genre, and technical qualities make it quite elegant and artistic.

Eye-catching cinematography, dramatic but not elevated dialogue projection, no villain’s fuss, so many small and big human values ​​and love stories in a single linear story. A romantic love story of a passionate young woman and a dying young man, Ujjal dragged it for 2 hours and 20 minutes, while the other characters aren’t very significant. In this film Ujjal wants to portray that everyone’s life should be reflected in the commitment of relationships, unconditional connections between human beings, and social responsibilities.

Some long panning sequences or excess mise-en-scene, as well as a couple of unnecessary scenes slow down the pace of the film a bit, but serious movie viewers can also enjoy this film for its story presentation and construction excellence. In this film, Ujjal tries to show a kind of surreal poetic flair by mixing reality, imagination, and hallucinations, which may not be easily understood by the general audience.

The film begins in flashback with a nervous panic scene with a monologue of a young female voice about the history of the discovery of DNA, DNA sequencing, genome-tech, cloning, etc.,but the girl got shot dead, wearing trousers and a T-shirt. The young girl (Neera) sat up in bed at the end of the dream. Flashback ends, the title cards come out on screen. On the black screen, one hears tea making sound, then fade-in to the scenes of a Biochemical lab – some people working with Erlenmeyer flask, lab wash-bottle and microscope. We see Neera, now as an associate professor, experimenting to innovate DNA capsules that would keep the memories of lost loved ones alive. Her professor makes tea then approaches her, asks her what she is doing, and if she is still hugging up on DNA capsules. After a short conversation, he wants to look at her DNA game, which she was trying to present as her MSc thesis, but the professor wasn’t convinced to admit, as the story started with a flashback. After the flashback,  she shows him a virtual emulative version of a four base dual DNA chemical structure of her game, where she used the connections among Mendel’s genetic law environmental selection and next generation chromosome theory to the professor. After displaying her game, the professor said that it’s thought provoking, really interesting, although that lacks some scientific abuts. Then the film comes to end with Neera’s lonely living, imagination and hallucinations of her departed beloved husband Ayon. As the title of the film suggests, incompleteness of breath has come in many ways – Ayon suffering from Mesothelioma, some patient struggling to breathe while in hospital, a special child who had heart transplanted from Ayon’s donated death body, Neera has trouble breathing in the absence of Ayon etc.

For a good film, the story, the logic of the story though is not the main issue, but if you use a scientific or scientifically proven subject for the story, you must have the right knowledge about it. Ujjal uses mesothelioma in the story, takes refuge in genome technology, DNA cloning, where he tries to fill the scientific-evidence gap with illusory fiction, However, in the DNA capsule game, he said through the professor’s statement that there is a lack of science. Here is the logic of the story.

Storyline of the Incomplete Breath:

Biochemistry student Neera (Sharlin Farzana) works to discover a DNA capsule and uses it to keep loved ones from getting lost. In the crowd at the busiest street crossing, when Neera sees the unfamiliar young man Ayon (Imtiaz Barshon) from a distance, she seems to have a unique feature. Then begins Neera’s infatuation with him, and she falls in love with him. On the other hand, Medical Promotion Officer Ayon was seen providing blood and medicine for the poor patients admitted to the hospital, taking the sick people who fell on the road to the hospital and admitting them responsibly.

Following the publication of a report on Ayon in a newspaper, Neera searched for Ayon along with her study-group friends Arthi and Siam. Neera enthusiastically builds a relationship with Ayon. Their love culminates very quickly, and when their love condenses, then Ayon’s fever and cough start to appear. Neera takes him to her father (Manosh Bondopadhay), a doctor and rich man known for his impossibly human beings. Ayon is already known to Neera’s father, he is surprised to see Ayon with Neera. After examining Ayon, he prescribes him some medicine and sends him for a chest X-ray. The next day, after seeing the X-ray plate, he sends Ayon to a pulmonologist. The doctor informed Neera that Ayon was suffering from cancer due to chest mesothelioma and it’s in the final stages. It is known that Ayon used to work in a shipbreaking yard a few years before his current job and from there he contracted mesothelioma.

Neera admitted Ayon to the hospital. Ayon, awaiting imminent death, escapes from Neera.. Later, Neera finds him in another hospital. While able to see, Ayon donates his eyes to a blind boy, whom Ayon and she saw to come to Dhaka by a watercraft with his father for a stupid visit to the zoo. When Neera expresses dissatisfaction knowing the facts, Ayon comforts her – there is an eye, and if there is no Ayon, the eyes of Ayon will see this world… etc. The next day, Neera shoots a video of the boy’s excited visit to the zoo and shows it to Ayon, to his pleasant surprise. Neera then married Ayon at the hospital, accepting seven roses as a marriage bet, which were brought by her friend and younger brother, upon being asked to know of the marriage registrar.

Neera brings Ayon to his house. Ayon fell ill at that night, and died on the way to the hospital in an ambulance. In the morning, while Neera was waiting for the death certificate, the doctor came to her, along with a woman and informed that Ayon had donated his entire body, and that they wanted to transplants Ayon’s heart to an autistic child.

Neera objected, saying that Ayon had donated his body to the poor and helpless patients, not to the rich able peoples, and then the woman persuaded Neera with various emotional words and pleas. Neera tells the doctor that whatever is left of Ayon’s body should be given to her. The flashback is over here.

Neera leaves the lab, went to see the heart-transplant boy, then Neera goes to the graveyard, stands by the grave and tells Ayon it is too late for him to come, because every day she has to see many people who have his different organs transplanted… etc. The gravedigger came to Neera and said that he saw Nira standing by this grave for a long time every day. The corpse informs Neera that when it gets dark, all the dead people will come out of the grave… etc. When Neera asked if Ayon had ever come up, he replied in the negative.

Neera fell into a hallucination while writing on the table at home at night:

“In the darkness of the night Neera breaks the DNA capsule and pours the liquid over Ayon’s grave. At night, escaping his grave Ayon, comes to his house, knocking  on the door, all covered with mud. When Neera opens the door and takes him inside to take a bath, all his mud is washed out in the shower water.”

At that moment the doorbell rings, Neera opens the door and her younger brother enters the room. He tells Neera that their cousins ​​have come from abroad. They all go to have ice cream with her, complaining how Neera never visits them! Despite her brother’s many pleas, in a hallucination Neera sees ‘Ayon standing at the door of another room in a neat and clean dress, calling Neera’, Neera saying that is approaching him. She says to her younger brother, “I can’t go anywhere leaving your brother-in-law alone here.”  When Neera’s brother is surprised, Nira shows him to the door of another room, but there is no one there. When her brother wanted to know where Ayon was, Neera took him to that room. While sticking the thesis paper sheets one after the other across all the walls and windows of the room, showing them to the younger brother, she says, “Here is your brother-in-law” and starts explaining the DNA sequencing

… Then ‍she broke down in tears.

Technical observation:

The film manages to entertain, as well as to enforce the eternal message that love is unconditional, it conveys the message to the spectators that true love never ends. It should be said the screenplay is great with a few minor errors. Cinematography is nice indeed, but there are a few editing and sound recording errors in some of the scenes. Throughout the film, the work of art direction and the details of cinematography add a deep dimension to the scenes. The use of symbols is significant, especially when Neera’s father tells his wife about Ayon’s illness and Nira joins them, the touch of a painting of the hopper lying in blood in the background wall is impeccable. Even after considering some minor errors, the poeticism of the dialogue, the artistic construction of the scenes of dreams and hallucinations, camera framing, the pans and drone shots are quite smooth and high-quality. The background music is very good, expressing the consonance and feelings of the scene. The film uses five long songs to tell the story and express the mood, which slows down the pace of the film, it would have been better to reduce the length and visuals of the song. Editing could have been better, with some fade-in fade-outs and two unnecessary scenes omitted. The dubbing of the dialogue is vague and audible in some places, especially in the dialogue of Neera’s project presentation and his teacher. The color scheme is good except for one or two scenes, it is understood that the director had a conscious plan in this regard.

The acting of almost everyone is a bit dramatic, especially the lead actresses. Sharlin Farzana as Neera’s overall performance is good, but in many places her dialogue projection and expression seems amateurish. Imtiaz Barshon plays the role of Ayon fluently except for one or two scenes. Manosh Bondopadhay plays the role of Neera’s father as per character. Elora Gohor in the role of Neera’s mother feels incongruous because of underacting. D. Inamul Haque in his role as a pulmonologist has his usual melodramatic flair, but it fits the character. The rest of the cast, even the smaller character actors-actresses, do not disappoint.

Ujjal’s Incomplete Breath is a good film which succeeds in expressing individual thoughts, distinct genres, excellence in construction and subtle feelings.

A M Mamunur Rashid
Edited by Savina Petkova