Updated: Oct 20, 2018
Directed by: #BiplabDas
The Orphan Lute is an independent short film from Bengali-based Blackmilk Productions, telling the simplistic narrative of an orphaned child-labourer who, on a routine excursion to a river to clean utensils for the roadside hotel he works at, encounters a fish trapped in a shallow puddle a few yards away from the water, and sets about freeing it.
At its core, The Orphan Lute is built upon a parallel between the orphan and the fish: both are trapped, due to circumstances beyond their control or understanding, in an environment that provides some degree of existence, but neither the longevity and security they could have. Such a symbiotic relationship is made more evident given there is no dialogue throughout, establishing an unexpected but interesting commonality.
It is a straight-forward parallel, but one that effectively highlights the inescapable plight that many children face around the world. While the orphan acts as the fish’s saviour, it is implied that there will never be an equivalent for the orphan, and that he will forever be confined to his ‘shallow puddle’ of squalor. Ultimately, any chance of escape is purely down to luck. This poignant message is reinforced by the fact that when the fish is ultimately freed, there is no shift in either visual or musical tone to something more overtly positive. Instead, the film ends with the orphan merely returning to his initial task of cleaning utensils in the river.
Nevertheless, there is an underlying sense of invulnerable childhood innocence and curiosity. Perhaps it stems from a degree of naivety, but the orphan’s initial decision to help the fish and his fleeting smile once it is freed allows an abstract degree of beauty and positivity to come through, even though every other aspect of the film says otherwise and such a moment is both insignificant and brief. This inference sells the idea that that the orphan is just like any other child around the world, making it even more heartbreaking to see him in such a situation.
As a micro-budget indie short, The Orphan Lute is characterised by expected technical imperfections, ranging from sporadic camera movement to clunky transitions between shots to characters spiking the lens. Depending on the viewer, these can be forgivable or insurmountable problems. However, such shortcomings work in the film’s favour in my opinion, for they flesh out a sense of realism that flashy, stylistic editing or Oscar-worthy direction cannot.
Case in point, the central performance by Archisman Karmakar as the orphan is one characterised by a child, rather than a child-actor. This distinction forgives his surface-level amateur flaws, and allows the film to take on the quality of a #documentary without directly being one. Consequently, the aforementioned central message concerning the state of orphaned children and child-labourers on a global scale is made that much more evocative.
Likewise, the #cinematography is nothing exciting or visually-stunning, but nor should it be. Rather than being made up of highly-saturated vistas, director Biplab Das builds a world that lacks visual distinction, blurring everything into an unpleasant void of murkiness, both literally and metaphorically. With a monochromatic colour palette that emphasises browns and greys in an ecosystem that has the potential for vibrancy cleverly sells this sense of genuine unpleasantness.
While nothing ground-breaking, The Orphan Lute evokes a potent central message that shines through well enough to make viewing worthwhile. However, such success relies heavily on audiences accepting and looking beyond its overt, surface-level technical immaturity.