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A Tale of a Naughty Girl

(Buddhadeb Dasgupta, India, 2002)


 


It is a little alarming when Indian films are offered to Australian audiences as going "beyond Bollywood", when so few people in the general movie-going audience are yet familiar with the considerable delights of popular Indian entertainment.

Buddhadeb Dasgupta's A Tale of a Naughty Girl is the latest to receive this "beyond pop" tag typical of arthouse marketing. But, pleasingly, it at least begins with an oblique reference to ordinary Indian cinema.

The scene is in fact an ingenious variation on Cinema Paradiso (1989). Alone in the cinema he owns, Paladhi (Ramgopal Bajaj) watches endless loops of presumably censored moments from commercial movie releases – illicit glimpses of provocative sexuality and rape, quaintly tame by Western standards.

Paladhi is in the market for a young, virginal bride. The choice has already been decided, much to the consternation of the virgin in question: Lati (Samata Das), a young girl full of dreams and ambitions, who longs to leave the world that is represented by her mother, Rajani (Rituparna Sengupta), a prostitute.

A Tale of a Naughty Girl weaves several other story threads. There is Ganesh (Tapas Pal), a cab driver who finds himself the reluctant chaperone and helper to an elderly couple. And there are new women who arrive from afar to seek work at the brothel, unexpectedly discovering a comforting (and very discreetly lesbian) form of sisterhood.

This is a slight but intriguing film. It captures the cyclic rhythm of small-town life – even if that cycle does bog down in a few too many repetitions – as well as the yearning (expressed in the constant background sound of trains) to get away and encounter the wide world.

© Adrian Martin March 2004


Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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