ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

On the Problems of Being Happy Together: Bengali Comedy after Partition and the Crisis of Dwelling


Banerjee Trinankur - University of California, Santa Barbara, Film and Media Studies, Goleta, United States


06 – Housing, Dwelling, Multilocal ‘Home’-Making: Repertoires of Living Together in Urban South Asia and Beyond


 My paper looks at popular Bengali comedy after Partition of India in 1947 and how these comedies often staged a crisis of dwelling endemic to post-Partition Bengal. Many of these comedies would take place in a messbari (boardinghouse) or bharabari (rented apartment)- two spaces of temporary collective cohabitation commonly used by East Bengalis who had been dispossessed overnight because of Partition. For those more fortunate in West Bengal who escaped the mandate of dispossession, the East Bengali refugees were seen as burdensome, creating long-standing intra-ethnic tensions. With a premise of homelessness or forced dispossession, the comedy would show a creative negotiation of the problem. In messbari, the stringent homosociality of the space made it almost impossible for a heterosexual family to live without inconveniences. The bharabari posed a different problem in both its unavailability and the proximal existence of strangers whose social interference was inevitable. I analyze two comedies, Sare Chuattor (the Privacy Fallacy, 1953, Nirmal Dey) and Sadanander Mela (1954, Sukumar Dasgupta)- focusing on the messbari and bharabari respectively as places of dwelling. I argue that these comedies invoked a sociality which was initially posed as mutually burdensome, but eventually, through comic confusions and resolutions, proffered new modes of living together and navigate the post-Partition Bengali socius riddled with intra-ethnic tensions.