Lake of Fleeting Lights
Documentary, 79 min. Digital, Col – B&W, Bengali with English subtitles
Produced by: Films Division of India
Directed by: Malay Dasgupta


The documentary explores the life and work of Joy Goswami, one of the most celebrated Indian poets of our time. Instead of looking at an award winning, critically acclaimed poet sitting in the ivory tower of creative expressions, the film highlights the existential dilemma of a sensitive human being resulting out of the shifting ethical and ideological conditions. The film, at the same time, traces the poet’s very own way of negotiating this dilemma of the present time, and his endeavor to craft a sublime tapestry of poetic images that might turn out to be the reservoir of life to carry on in this decaying world.

Born in 1954, Joy Goswami spent his childhood in the small town of Ranaghat, away from the city. He started writing poems as an adolescent boy and kept on writing against all odds. After a long period of writing in little magazines and periodicals, his writing was finally published in the leading Desh Patrika, which brought him immediate critical acclaim, a number of prestigious awards, including the Sahitya Akademi Award and established him as one of the most influential Indian poets of the present era. He has more than thirty published books of poems, amounting to more than one thousand poems. He has also written twelve novels, two in verse and five collections of essays related to interpretation of poetry.

His poems are brutal, in their expressions and in the impact of their crisscrossed images. His poems place the reader in front of a mirror, and compel them to encounter a transformative experience, making the readers uncomfortable, anxious. Writing for more than four decades, poetry for Joy Goswami has always been a device for negotiating with his ‘self’ and ‘time’. Instead of positioning him in the lofty ideal of a self-assured poet, this impressionistic documentary highlights everyday uncertainties, anxieties and resistance of a poet, who is still struggling to navigate his journey not only through his poetic expressions but also through a wide range of texts, ideas and worldviews. His ideological and existential predicaments coerce him to read and reread Christopher Marlowe’s The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus, which has become almost like a subtext of his own life.

As the poet struggles amidst individual and societal difficulties, fighting with his poor health, tumultuous political conditions, trying to curve out a niche in the profit driven publication market, his struggle does not remain confined only within Bengal or India, but points to similar struggles of art and artists all over the world.

The filmmaker’s long and intimate association with the poet provides the film a privileged entry point to enter the rich and varied poetic world of this fiercely private poet. Thus the making of the film itself is also a crucial part of the documentary, since instead of creating the usual objective, uninvolved framing of the subject, the imposed authority of the frame is broken and the poet’s interactions with the filmmaking process spill over outside the frame. The visuals reflect this dialectics between the subjective and the objective and aim to resemble the structural pattern of poetry.

Devoid of commentary, the film develops as a non-chronological stream of memories recalled by the poet in response to different recurrent tropes in his poems. The structure of the documentary, in contrast to usual biographic documentaries, is discontinuous and episodic and combines soliloquies, dreams and memories. Different colour tones, including black and white, are used to signify experiential shifts. The hard lighting and frequent washed out cinematography along with the free floating, mnemonic images might resemble the stream of consciousness method.