For good education all you need is a blackboard and a good teacher.This is what Jayabrata Ray(Saswata Chatterjee) believes. He is a teacher in a reputed boarding school in the Himalayan foothills of West Bengal school, where he was once a student .The school is under the threat of being taken over and converted to an élite international school.The only thing that stands between the wily businessman and his dream of acquiring this prime property is the cottage in which Jayabrata Ray lives.His father too was a teacher there and purchased the private cottage which in within the school compound.
Jayabrata believes that his refusal to sell the cottage can save his beloved school from oblivion.He enlists the help of his school friend Rono (Indraneil Sengupta), an eminent lawyer, who dispatches his trusted aide, the ravishing Sushmita (Raima Sen) to help him. And Jayabrata needs help much more desperately than any other man would have in his shoes, over the last three years he has gone blind.He survived as a teacher with the help of the same school administration who has now turned against him.This sets up a cat and mouse game between Jayabrata and his few supporters and the parties interested in buying him out.
But the film is not about the struggle of a blind teacher to hold on to his property.Its is about an idea that quality education resides in robust institutions whose life blood is teachers with passion and integrity.While India becomes richer its education institutions are being undermined and subverted by a wave of new age élite schools which promise “ all round development”.This creates another creamy layer of institutions on top of the existing ones, stacking the odds against the vast majority of hapless students.
The moral core of the film is nurtured throughout the narrative by a cast of supporting characters who keep moving the story forward even as Jayabrata remains steadfast despite his severe handicap. Kaushik Ganguly skillfully weaves the theme of education into a thriller type structure and never becomes preachy.This film follows on the back of Shobdo about which I wrote “It puts the creativity right back into Indian cinema in its 100th year”.While c/o Sir does not scale the dizzy heights of creativity and craft that Shodo did, it delivers its message with elegance.
The background music is overbearing at times and the songs are somewhat shrill and detract from the viewing pleasure.Thankfully they are few and far between.The small budget of this film has some impact on camerawork and costumes but this is compensated by the authenticity of the locations used. Sudipta Chakraborty as Meghna, a teacher at the same school, delivers a measured performance and embodies the dilemma of the common man in the face of formidable opposition. Saswata is solid and Raima Sen is even better.She is an actress whose confidence and artistry grows with every film.
As I savored this film my thoughts kept going back to the Principal of my school and my teachers.He was a singular man, steadfast in his honesty and a rigid disciplinarian.We hated him as students but I have grown fond of him after leaving school.I met him a couple of years back at his very simple home in Kolkata.He could have retired in style and luxury had he compromised his integrity.He makes ends meet by coaching students and draws strength from the love that his students shower on him.Regularly long forgotten students turn up at his doorstep to spend time with “Sir”, and he is always able to recall exactly when and how they broke his sometimes unreasonable rules.
Films like c/o Sir, though slightly sentimental and romantic, serve the purpose of reminding us that our teachers have played a substantial and often under-acknowledged role in making us what we are today. When identifying a school for our children we don’t need to look for that swimming pool or rifle shooting range.We need to look for good teachers.
Categories: World Cinema