35mm Reflections: UMA (Bengali – 2018)

Someone had once said, “Great art has the ability to heal.” Where time and circumstance fail to heal past wounds inflicted by life, art often acts as the panacea we crave for. The actual effect of the same is not known–but the illusion of having found a sense of closure for painful memories is what keeps us all going.

Srijit Mukherji’s latest film UMA is all about illusions. In fact, it is, in one sense, a heist film. Heists operate not only on the basis of daredevilry and brains, but also on the basis of the perfect illusions. And what are these illusions here? A young father tries to keep his usual cheery demeanour intact in front of his daughter, who is dying before his eyes. A director, who has fallen on hard times personally and professionally, tries to operate under the assumption that he can still make it work. And then later, both men team up with other committed individuals in order to stage the biggest mirage of all: an entire city engaged in the one festival that defines it globally.

At one level, then, UMA is essentially a father-daughter story. But at another level, it is also a tribute to a city, and a community. It reminds us that at the end of the day, even the most cynical and supposedly-tainted hearts are capable of possessing a modicum of goodness.

The fake Durga Puja recreated in the film seems believable, because every Bengali living in Kolkata knows the ideal Puja checklist. Mohd Ali Park? Check. Mudiali? Check. Dhunuchi-naach? Check. Pandals? Pratima? Check and check. Mukherji takes advantage of this, choosing to focus on the ensemble cast as they grapple with the logistics of creating a fake world for a little girl. You keep cheering on the washed-up director Brahmanand as he marshals the Avengers his production team to come up with the best illusion possible, even as they grapple with their biggest enemy: Thanos Time.

Anupam Roy’s soundtrack is terrific. My favourite remains Jaago Uma, that plays near the climax of the film. Soumik Halder ‘s camerawork is top-notch, but the editing is a bit patchy, especially in the Switzerland leg of the film.

Sara Sengupta and Jisshu Sengupta shine the brightest in the film. But I enjoyed the performances by the ensemble cast more. Abhijit Guha, Sujan Mukherjee, Rudranil Ghosh, Apratim Chatterjee, Amborish are too good. I loved Srabanti in that little role as Mariam Dastidar a.k.a. Fake Menoka. That one scene in the dead of night with Jisshu and her had more chemistry than what Ravi Kinagi could conjure up with them in laat year’s Jio Pagla. And if anyone still doubts Anirban Bhattacharya’s finesse as an actor, they should watch the scene where he breaks down in front of Sara’s Uma when she offers him prasad.

But if the film’s hero is Mukherji, the hero of the film-within-the-film is undoubtedly Anjan Dutt. As Brahmanand, the washed-up cynical who seeks redemption in crafting a “masterpiece” for someone he does not know, Dutt is heartbreakingly real. With Pratim D Gupta’s Shaheb Bibi Golaam, a terrific soundtrack in Aami Ashbo Phirey, and more roles coming up in Ahare Mon, Ek Je Chhilo Raja and Byomkesh Gotro, I think it is safe to surmise we’re all in the middle of the Anjanaissance.

I loved the cameos too. In a post-Zulfiqar world, you expect Prosenjit, Dev and Nusrat to turn up in your film. But my favourite bit was the part where different directors are requested to direct the fake Puja. It reminded me of a similar sequence in Zoya Akhtar’s Luck By Chance, where different actors keep giving hilarious refusals to Rishi Kapoor’s cantankerous producer.

There are so many scenes within Uma that are memorable, and most of them will probably be dissected thoroughly in the days to come. But I loved the film. Arguably Mukherji’s finest illusion since Autograph, Uma is a reminder that, in spite of the Pujas and the yearly date with Salman Khan at the cinemas, perhaps the greatest illusion a person lives and dies for is one that remains off-camera: hope.


Teaser Breezer: SHAHEB BIBI GOLAAM (THE DRIFTERS) (Bengali – 2016)


They say a picture is worth a thousand words.

How much is a 15-second teaser worth, then? Not much, you’d assume.

The best part about the teaser of noted critic-turned-filmmaker Pratim D. Gupta’s Bengali film Shaheb Bibi Golaam (The Drifters) is its ability to hold your attention for those 15 seconds of your time. It’s NOT a trailer, but akin to an appetizer—a swift breeze signalling a fast-approaching storm. Deliciously dark and moody, this storm looks like a spiritual homage to Anurag Kashyap and Sriram Raghavan, the current masters of Indian noir.

There are no dialogues in this clip. But then, you don’t need any. The dimly-lit frames and the gorgeous set design point to a stylishly-poised thriller in the offing. PDG has a thing for shadows—Paanch Adhyay, his first feature film, relied on the constant interplay between light and darkness in portraying the highs and lows of a marriage. Here, the shadows become a soothsayer of sorts, constantly cajoling and teasing you to ruminate on what PDG could have up his sleeves.

Also, it doesn’t hurt with that crackerjack cast lined up. As expected, Anjan Dutt, Swastika and Ritwik receive top billing. However, it’s the other characters that intrigue me more. Vikram Chatterjee, Parno Mittra, Sudip Mukherjee and Sumanto Mukherjee add heft to the cast, leading one to wonder what godforsaken cat-and-mouse game awaits the audience.

For me, though, the teaser stands out not for what is shown to the audience, but what is not shown. A poster that says “Nagorik Convention”. The yellow taxi Ritwik’s character finds Parno in. Parno peeping on someone through a pair of binoculars (a hat tip to Ray’s Charulata) As in PDG’s earlier work, the city of Kolkata literally becomes an all-enveloping character, but unlike Paanch Adhyay and the 8 to 8 segment from X: Past Is Present, she is a lot more sinister. Using a phrase like “quietly explosive” is effectively useless, but there’s really NO other way to describe everything going on in this teaser, with its lethal cocktail of sex, drugs and thuggery.

Small wonder, then, that the film was denied a certificate by the CBFC in January. Whether the teaser points to a cult movie in the offing, is something only time will tell. Though no release date has been finalized as yet, the film will have its world premiere at the New York Indian Film Festival (NYIFF) next month.

Over to you, PDG.