Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Ghetuputro Komola (Pleasure Boy Komola) directed by Humayun Ahmed

Ghetuputro Komola (Pleasure Boy Komola)
Bangladesh (Bangla), 2012
101 min, historical drama, LGBT+, psychological, musical
Directed by Humayun Ahmed

In colonial-era Bengal, a Muslim zamindar (landowner) hires a musical group to entertain him during the monsoon, when flooding makes it difficult to travel or work. The group performs in the "Ghetu" musical tradition, which combined folk music and dancing with a special performance by young boys dressed as women. Zamindars hired "ghetu" groups for both the musical diversion they could provide and the sexual services of the "ghetu" boys.

In this case, Jafir, who goes by the "ghetu" name Komola, arrives with his father (the head of the troupe) and other musicians. Despite their class differences, he makes friends with the zamindar's daughter, who is about the same age as him. But the zamindar's wife hates Jafir for stealing her husband's affections. In this complicated domestic situation, Komola/Jafir must do her/his job, and make enough money to keep his family fed for the foreseeable future.

This is the last movie made by noted Bangladeshi author and filmmaker Humayun Ahmed, and it was the official Bangladeshi nomination for the Foreign Language Oscar at the 85th Academy Awards.

Religion and Ethics in Colonial Bengal

The zamindar is the most complex character in this film. While praying 5 times a day and keeping a Muslim religious leader in the house to educate his daughter, it seems he thinks nothing of abusing the people around him. His wife, in particular, is the constant target of psychological abuse. This is most clear at the beginning of the film when, having learned that the zamindar has hired the Ghetu troupe, the wife requests that she be allowed to go to her father's house for the period of the monsoon. She can't bear the humiliation of her husband choosing to sleep with a young boy but she knows that she doesn't have the power to stop him - so she makes the reasonable request that she be allowed to spend the monsoon elsewhere.  Rather than engaging with her concerns, her husband continuously puts off his answer: I'm eating right now. It's time for my nap. It's time for my evening walk. When she is finally granted the two seconds that a real answer would take, he refuses her request out of hand. Then, to add insult to injury, he makes his wife apply Komola's makeup every night. 

It seems that the zamindar considers money to be the solution to every problem. The zamindar dotes on his daughter, taking her riding and to eat sweets, and then paying for his tenants' children to also have sweets. He provides for the Ghetu troupe while they are there, and gives clothes and special food to Komola. It seems that in his mind this makes up for raping a child every night. 

The Muslim religious leader is another example of hypocrisy. While imparting his knowledge of the Koran to the zamindar's daughter, he makes sure that Jafir/Komola knows that he is the scum of the earth. His hypocrisy becomes so blatant that the zamindar's daughter storms out of the room, refusing to study with him anymore. 

Another thing that this movie explores is the emotions of Jafir's parents. How do they feel about making their son go through this? His father, the leader of the troupe, has mixed feelings but forces himself to be business-minded. Jafir's mother is more explicit: the only reason she is letting this happen is that they are starving. This is the only way for them to escape starvation. She begs her son's forgiveness before they leave for the zamindar's house, and later tries to help him escape. 

Historical Accuracy

I do not have any additional information about the Ghetu musical tradition, but I do know that this movie is based on real events. Based on what I know about zamindars during this period, I think this is probably a fairly accurate depiction of their life. 

The film has moments of historical accuracy, but many more moments when there are obvious anachronisms. I especially appreciated the outdoor shots, which were filmed on location at an actual zamindar house dating to that time. But it is obvious that the building has seen the worse for wear; cracks and other signs of aging are very obvious. The indoor shots are mostly filmed on a rather sloppily made soundstage that is not at all convincing. 

The costumes are reasonably accurate, except for a few glaring errors. For a large part of the film, Jahir runs around wearing what is obviously a modern, factory-made muscle shirt and shorts. I wish the costumers had put in a little more effort; it would have looked better if he were wearing a lungi, for example, which is easy to find and cheap. 

The rural Bengali dialects spoken in the film and the presence of real Ghetu songs, lend a much-needed ambiance to the story. This almost makes up for the sloppy production in other areas. 

All in all, I would recommend this film for anyone interested in LGBT+ issues in Bangladesh. It explores an interesting cultural phenomenon from the time of British colonialism. As a film, I wouldn't necessarily say that this is required viewing. Instead, I would recommend that you watch Humayun Ahmed's earlier movie Aguner Porashmoni

Watch the full movie (with English subtitles!) here: 

Further Reading: 

"Songs Muffled in Pain" by Tammana Khan, from The Star

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