Bow Barracks Forever is a film about the triumph of the human spirit. It is not easy to fight back the march of progress. Anjan Dutt's film, simple, powerful, almost pleading for hope, captures the real life story of a tiny but resolute Anglo Indian community right in the heart of bustling north Kolkata trying desperately to keep alive its hopes, dreams, aspirations-and its identity, as the world around them changes swiftly and tries to impose that change on them and their lives.
This is just about one of the worst summaries I have ever come across. The beauty of the film is not about the change (it is a 2004 movie, otherwise I could have commented that it is also claiming to portray 'change', an often-used and abused term these days), but about how life goes on and keeps everyone together as the world falls apart around you. You barely notice the outside world portrayed in the movie, instead it stays focused on the hustle and bustle of Bow Barracks and the intricacies in the lives of its motley inhabitants. It is almost a beautiful collage drawn by a painter who concentrates of each part equally, but draws some parts that are more prominent than the others.
Most importantly, the movie is about finding your roots and sticking to it. The Barrack households seem to be dissatisfied with their present, each trying to break free from the shackles in his/her own way. Aunt Emily Lobo, has been calling her son Ken living in London every day for the last four years, asking her son to take her to London but the son never answers the phone or calls back. The loose-character Rosa seeks comfort in an illicit affair, and plans to leave Melville, her husband, with another guy. Anne, tortured by her smuggler husband Tom, plans to elope with Bradley, her boy toy.
The only person that sticks to the Barrack throughout the movie is Peter the Cheater (so masterfully portrayed by Victor Bannerjee). He cheats people by selling old stuff claiming a antique value, or chilling water in the fridge and selling it as wine. He plays a brilliant trumpet. At first, his claims of denying a Mumbai music industry fortune to stay back at the Barracks sound like another lie. But as the movie unfolds, his character grows from strength to strength. And the others around him go full circle, realizing their roots tied to the dilapidated building. In the meantime, people come to the Barracks, people leave, all the time something keeps on happening in the frenzied barracks, but the life never changes, nor does the characters want to change. Only the realization of their roots bring them closer....
Note. I can critique a lot of things of the movie, some of the casting could have been better, the sound mixing is horrible (very surprising for an Anjan Dutt movie, especially since it has a great soundtrack), some of the melodrama could have been shed. But all in all, my impression is that I sat to watch the movie with little expectation, and I ended up with a heavy heart feeling for my roots.