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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The immortal Bim

Ralph Maharaj in his early 20s plays Bim
Unmoored from family, home and landscape when his father is shot on the day of his sister's wedding, Bhim (pronounced Beem) Singh is launched into the divided world of colonial Trinidad in the mid 1950s. Without a friend - where was his mother, his sister? - he travels from the sugar cane fields of Chaguanas to the home of his aunt Babsie in the congested Port-of-Spain suburb of Belmont. Babsie is married to Bolo who typifies the worst kind of macho husband, gambler, boozer and wife abuser.

Bim runs through Belmont

Worse is to come when Bhim enters the classroom. As the new boy, he is picked on and roughed up, threatened with death if he "crosses the line." He escapes by stabbing the ringleader with the compass from his geometry set, and runs home where the reaction of his foster family is "oh gawd, wha we go do wid you?" The boy from the country is starting a reputation as a bad seed, misfit, troublemaker. He runs away and ends up in the rumshop-brothel-gambling den run by Wahbam.

Ralph Maharaj (Bim) and Wilbert Holder (Wahbam): Trini actors for any age

Drawn to petty crime for a living, he robs a gas station, and is transported to Cedros in the trunk of a car. Three hours in the car trunk, his rage is fuelled by fear and discomfort. The "Captain" who runs an illegal sea trade - moving Grenadians to Trinidad - gives him a new name with his job as a crewhand. "Beem, Beem," he says, "what kinda name is dat?"
"Bim!" he pronounces, "a good strong name, Bim!"

When the immigration scam is busted, Bim flees back to Port-of-Spain. Wahbam has a new girl, fresh from the country for him. It turns out to be Anna, the childhood friend. "Anna, dis is no place for you gyul," he protests. And this confession, "My life is always full ah trouble. People does say all kinda ting about me."
Bim enters a life of crime; his childhood friend Anna becomes a whore

He takes Anna into his home and protects her like a sister. Outside, the political winds portend a coming storm. In the canefields, Bim destroys Baba Charlie, son of the feuding Gopaul who killed his father, and takes hold of the cane-workers union. In the town, more urbane political leaders emerge, ready to take the reins of power as soon as the British declare independence for the nation.

Bim preaches to his union members, "I say negro and Indian must live like one in this country, but if negro want to live by theyself..." However when he is approached by the black politician Ben Joseph at the Governor's party, he is drunk and retorts hastily,  "Nigger and coolie doh get together in this politics." Rude and insulting to everyone in his drunkenness, it is clear that even though he may have a certain degree of power, he is no politician.

An inward anger is getting the better of Bim as he leaves the Governor's party. Round the Savannah, in front of the emblematic Queen's Royal College, Anna - who has persuaded her guard-protector to go for a walk - is screaming for help, set upon by three men. Bim hears the screaming sees the scuffle and stops. The film ends as his rage explodes in a scream of anguish.


The wedding: his father's murder casts the son adrift

Bim was made by Sharc Productions in 1974, produced and directed by Hugh Robertson and his wife Suzanne (the S and H in Sharc); Suzanne's original idea scripted by Raoul Pantin. The premiere was preceded by a poster campaign that showed a grainy face with the haunted eyes of a fugitive. One suspects that its imagery and language would have been too strong for Trinidad and Tobago just twelve years after independence, and might even have been interpreted as seditious. Politically incorrect epithets "nigger" and "coolie" and the occasional "yuh mudder arse" cuss out were not easily tolerated in the nation where "all ah we is one." Words, we seem to believe, are intrinsically bad or good, rather than situational cyphers for the climate and times we live in.

I was newly returned from university having absorbed the much more deeply rooted rhetoric of the segregated - in 1970s de-segregation was still fresh and raw - south USA. They too wanted so badly to pretend that they believed in equality. Did they know that little tiny islands in the south Caribbean were also working out issues between nigger and coolie, between white and brown, and chinee and creole, indigenous and transported, pastoral fieldscape and barrack-yard town, had been at it for decades, and still continue.

Still, the initial run of Bim was brief, and according to the International Movie Database (IMDb) was banned, undoubtedly too strong language and too suggestive (especially the violence) for the Trinidad Censors Board. Truth is that real life reflected in movies like Bim (even sex scenes that appear comic and un-smooth by today's standards) is uncomfortable and meant to ask us to face what we might want to suppress. So I didn't actually see this important film until another 20 or more years had passed. And then, I am constantly delighted by the rhythms and musical track of Andre Tanker; riveted by the immediacy of the people and the world of colonial Trinidad -  Bim (Ralph Maharaj) and Wahbam (Wilbert Holder); Bhagwan Singh and Captain, Corporal Joseph, Tozo, the Commissioner of Police - with its tentacles curled yet around who we are in 2012.

Bim has been shown in a few local film festivals over the last decade. The audiences attending these screenings realise what an important piece of social, sociological and cultural heritage we have sidelined. Bim, filmed and released in 1974 - after independence, after our black power uprising, after sugar cane and union workers marched together - may have been forgotten like any year's Carnival costume. And with carnival mentality, we try to re-invent the film industry in as many different ways as there may be potential film-makers, story-tellers, cinematographers and animators. What might deeper consideration of Bim tell us about ourselves and our capacity to create with own stories, our own talents and vision.

Fortunately for us, it is a work that is still available for us to see ourselves in and learn from. As a production with all Trinidadian content and cast, it remains an outstanding and authentic expression in a global genre.

A window into the world of colonial Trinidad and our contemporary history


 (All images are stills from the original film Bim, copyright Suzanne Robertson and Sharc Productions)




3 comments:

  1. Thank you for this, I've been looking for this film for twenty years!

    Where can I find it? Or purchase it?

    Any help would be appreciated

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I am also searching for it. If you know where and I can find a copy please let me know
      Thanks

      Delete
  2. Not yet available on DVD: but the plan is to make it available at some time in the future.

    ReplyDelete