Has there ever been a promotional campaign so intense for a film this short? Months before it was screened, a buzz began to grow around the release of Coolie Pink and Green, which – in 23 minutes – tells the story of a young Indo-Trinidadian woman’s negotiation of her hidebound Hindu community and the wider Creole society.
To begin with, there was the provocative title. Though in India a coolie is simply a labourer, in the Caribbean the word has a pejorative connotation. Then there was widespread press coverage of the film, and strong viral marketing. There was even a launch party for the film’s poster. By the time Coolie Pink and Green premiered last September, there was a sense of inevitability about its success, which culminated in an audience award at the Trinidad & Tobago Film Festival.
What of the film itself? Visually it is quite impressive. The camerawork is by veteran Trinidadian-Jamaican cinematographer Franklyn St Juste, and the landscape and people are lovingly, beautifully shot. The dance sequences, featuring the ubiquitous Shiv Shakti Dancers, are no doubt faultless. Sitarist Sharda Patasar’s score is evocative and complementary without being overwhelming.
The plot is the stuff of classic Bollywood melodrama. The young woman’s family has found her someone to marry, yet she loves another, unsuitable boy (but not too unsuitable: he has dreadlocks, but is Indian). The conflict is played out in voice-over narration, through a conversation between the young woman and her sympathetic grandfather.
Coolie Pink and Green was scripted by Pat Mohammed, a gender studies professor at the University of the West Indies, and journalist Nazma Muller. It begins with titles explaining that Indian (specifically, Hindu) culture in the Caribbean has traditionally been exoticised. Yet the film also “celebrates the sound, colours and meaning” of this culture. Is there a contradiction here? Perhaps, and perhaps an inevitable one. The things that others might see as exotic – religious rituals and festivals, music, dance – are common aspects of a certain Indo-Trinidadian way of life. But is that all there is?
Ultimately a short film can perhaps say only so much about such complex issues. Not surprisingly, there is talk of a feature-length version of Coolie Pink and Green. Which is not to take away from the current achievement. This is a well-made and enjoyable film.
Coolie Pink and Green
Patricia Mohammed, 2009