All about Purgatory – Naila Shams

All about Purgatory – Naila Shams

Purgatory is a remarkably unique Bangladeshi short film by Naim Hasan Miraz, presented in the recent film festival held in Melbourne on July 26, 2008 at Monash University. The film is dominated by non-verbal expressions and gestures, and hence, the dialogues by the characters are very limited.
Shams, the main character, lost his family – his loving wife and only daughter – in a tragic accident while holidaying in Grampians. The movie unfolded the consequences and aftermath of that poignant tragic accident gradually.

The first scene of the movie in a restaurant presents Shams as a well accomplished, well dressed good looking man who can attract any woman in a party. The other character, e.g. Nila, the host of the party, reveals it very well.

But after a while we observe his detachment to his surrounding. It shows that he is depressed. He tries his best to cope and interact with the society e.g. his proper traditional Bangladeshi dress code. But his depression due to grief and a sense of loss of his family has created disengagement between him and the surrounding society. The invited guest’s little son reminds him of his own lost daughter and he becomes depressed. So he leaves the function abruptly without having any food. He cannot concentrate anywhere in the world even if it is a fun gathering. The amount of his loss of focus has been portrayed vividly when he remains stagnant in the green traffic light without moving his car. His sense only returns when another car driver points to him with offensive and abusive language.

The next scene shows the endless boredom of his lonely depressed life. Even a lady friend’s phone call (she might be a previous friend or his admirer) is unable to cheer him up. He goes through an endless cycle of boredom. At certain points he makes some drinks for himself. The floating piece of lemon causes an illusion in his mind. This illusion plays a vital role in unwinding the mystery of the movie. Floating lemon reminds him of the floating shoes of his daughter after the tragic accident. This illusion makes him sick, although this scene does not clearly reveal the main cause of his depression. Another family scene at Nandos restaurant reveals an alternate answer for his apparent separation from his family. In this scene his wife thinks that Shams got an extra marital relationship. But it is not clarified. It seems that Shams is not interested but the lady is interested on him. We see in this scene that Shams leads a happy family life despite this disturbance. Then we see his wife leaving the spot. But this is not the exact cause of his depression.

The next scene, the shower scene, reveals the cause clearly. This scene plays a significant role in uncovering the real reasons for his depression. The shower associates us with the exact scene of the waterfall of Grampians, where the tragic accident took place. This holiday scene of Shams family is heart-rending. The floating scarf demonstrates the tragedy in symbolic notion. This scene also reveals why Shams got a water-phobia.

The flashbacks of the movie have mostly portrayed a happy family flavour. The whole movie goes through these flashbacks, which presents Shams as a caring husband and loving Dad, e.g. during pregnancy of his wife he cooks his wife’s favourite dishes. The flashback scenes are the works of association of memories. Everything in the house is related to their sweet memories, e.g. the bedroom, cupboards, bathrooms, kitchen, dining – the memories are scattered everywhere. These haunting memories make him insane which is why he remains off-focus. He has lost his sense of concentration from everything in this world and remains as a depressed detached secluded person from the whole world. He does not have the urge to change his life by creating another family, though he gets good proposals from friends and acquaintances. He becomes a stranger in his own known world. He goes on leading a life between life and death. His inner infliction makes him neither alive nor dead. It is a situation of Purgatory, Purgatory on earth, and Purgatory of human life. He doesn’t live, but only he and his memory exists!

The main character, Shams, is the attraction of the whole film. His behaviour and expression tell us that his life has been tormented by some tragic event. Whilst a consistent melancholy is a prevailing characteristic of the film, it is a credit to the crews and the casts that the movie never let the audience stop thinking about the tragedy and the characters surrounding it. Tragedy touches our lives in some way or other during our lifetime, and the film-maker is aware that such an event could raise our senses and could make us feel sympathised with the characters in this film. The softer human side is what is needed to be awakened, and the film-maker has done this job meticulously. The film could have been gloomy and monotonous if the engagement with the audience has not been carefully plotted by the director.

The most important attraction of the movie is the use of expression and body language of the main character to show all his sense of loss, depression, boredom and loneliness. Dialogue could not have presented all these so effectively. It seemed to be very live and natural.

Use of symbols and similes, such as, the shower scene or the floating piece of lemon in the drink, are brilliant ideas in portraying metaphors. However, it was unclear why it was necessary to show the main character wearing just a bath-towel (but nothing else) for a long period of time. This makes the audience feel little uncomfortable. The significance of the shower scene has been partially lost due to this prolonged show-off of the bare body of the main character. But I think this has given a realistic touch in the movie. This has been shown for the sake of the demand of a scene in a movie.

The climax of the movie is a great masterpiece. It breaks the happy holiday into a tragic death situation of the family. The artistry of the movie as short film lies here as it does not show any death scene in the climax. The use of imagery is appropriate here. The floating scarf of the wife, in a current of flowing water of the waterfall of Grampians is a beautiful imagery to convey the death of the family.

It is a credit of the director that he could portray a whole family life within half an hour. The movie portrayed past, present and future just within 30 minutes.
The dialogues could have been better if dubbed in Bengali (with English subtitle).The movie could be dubbed in English or other different foreign language version later on for its international credit. It appeared somewhat artificial because the current generation of Bangladeshi-Australian community do not usually speak English amongst themselves. Also, the accent and pronunciation of the English words by the characters were inconsistent. There are some instances of swear words in the film, which were unnecessary. The loss of concentration of Shams in the street could have been communicated very well to the audience without the use of the swear words by another car driver next to Shams.

The background score could have been better if an experienced audio-engineer was involved with the film-making, especially during the mixing/dubbing/editing exercise. Extracting music track from a maestro’s CD does not necessarily create the right background environment for the various scenes in the film. Music was too loud at times.

Regarding assessing and appreciating the movie the credit should go to the casts and the crews for successfully making such a dramatic film, e.g., Miraz as Shams, Alpona his wife, the cute baby Jian, Afreen Huq Alo as Nila and others.

Alpona as a Bangladeshi wife acted very naturally. Her performance is spontaneous.

The movie always left some space for questions in every scene as these don’t present a clear answer of the situation. So it really could arrest audiences’ attention. It could engage them for thinking about a solution or answer of every

scene. For example why Shams is lonely and depressed? What’s the exact cause of his family loss? Was he really engaged to a lady extra maritally? If so, why did he love his wife so much? The climactic tragic scene doesn’t show the death directly as it showed Shams hanging with a rock and his wife’s scarf and baby’s sandal floating indicate that the child and mum dead. The idea of this symbolic shoot is unbelievable.

Thanks and rewards should go to the cast and crew of the film and for the group of people who organized this kind of film festival. We expect more of this type of unique films in near future.

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