Technology as plot deterrent
Dec 29 2013
Modern and new means of communication play spoilsport to storytelling techniques
Revisiting a classic like Satyajit Ray’s Sonar Kella (The Golden Fortress), based on his own detective story that he filmed way back in 1973, one is left wondering at the simplicity of the plot if one measures it against today’s times.
A parapsychologist accompanies a young boy from Calcutta to Rajasthan to investigate the kid’s claims to events from his past life that are set in some remote fort there. The boy’s father stumbles upon a conspiracy to kidnap his son by two men, so he gets in touch with Feluda, a private investigator to reach his son and the parapsychologist who are already on their way, unaware of the danger that follows them.
A suspense-ridden journey follows where the detective is fooled into believing that one of the evil men is the parapsychologist, whereas his assistant has already thrown the real one off a cliff. Feluda cracks the mystery and rescues the young boy in the nick of time to bring him back home safely.
The film, which is an integral part of one’s growing up in Calcutta in the 70s still retains the charm that it had when it was first released. It remains one of Ray’s most commercially successful ventures and the characters and dialogues from the film have become a part of a collective Bengali psyche. But if one were to transpose the story to today’s times, one would be stumped by difficulties when it came to plotting.
First of all, a simple telephone call to the parapsychologist by the boy’s father would have immediately cautioned him of impending danger and saved a lot of unnecessary physical journey and screen time. Feluda could have easily Googled the parapsychologist and got to know how he actually looked, instead of being fooled by an imposter. And to begin with, the parapsychologist need not have undertaken the journey with the kid at all, to various forts in Rajasthan; he could have shown him high definition photographs of any number of forts, downloaded from the net, to jog his memory.
There was a phase till 10 years ago when filmmakers and writers did grapple with this problem posed by modern technology. Communication had suddenly become easier, and cheaper, and the ubiquitous scene where a pretty heroine reminisces about her loved one through a song, only to receive a telegram that he is killed in the war, suddenly became redundant.
In this age of virtual communication, the participants in a drama, separated by countless miles can determine a plot by being online, thus hastening the conflict and intensifying the dramatic tension. Recall the scene from Taken (2008) where Liam Neeson hears his young daughter in Paris being kidnapped by slave traders and instructs her over the cellphone to shout out their physical descriptions as they grapple with her. The plot moves at a breakneck speed, skimming over unnecessary details as the father goes in search of his missing daughter.
If changing relationships and attitudes post-globalisation have affected content, then every advancement in technology which came along with the change made plotting increasingly difficult. But any creative endeavour ultimately figures out ways to negotiate such difficulties and turn them into essential elements of expression; and what looked like limitations gradually metamorphose into a new language, innovative and invigorating in the right hands.