35mm Reflections: MISHAWR RAWHOSHYO (Bengali – 2013)

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It is a truth widely acknowledged in West Bengal that nobody in Tollywood can quite make those slick, urbane Bangla movies the way Srijit Mukherji does. With a hat-trick of critically-acclaimed hits (Autograph, Baishe Srabon, Hemlock Society) behind him, Srijit, along with other contemporaries such as Mainak Bhaumik and Kamaleshwar Mukherjee, has ensured the return of the urban Bengali middle-class to the cinema hall/multiplex. However, some people (including me) felt that Srijit’s writing had suffered in his bid to rake in more moolah, and thus the original and refreshing voice of Autograph was somehow lost in the din of too much rhetoric in Baishe Srabon and Hemlock Society.

With Mishawr Rawhoshyo, however, Srijit cuts out the pretensions, and squarely brings back the focus on the story. Based on the much-loved 1984 Kakababu novel by the late Sunil Gangopadhyay,  Srijit weaves a crisp, taut screenplay that really takes off from the civil uprising in Egypt and comes alive on 35mm. It’s clunky at a few places in the narrative, but Srijit manages to transport the urgency and the unfettered spirit of the original story from page to screen. MR is essentially the story of how Kakababu (Prosenjit Chaterjee) and Santu (Devdaan) manage to travel from Kolkata to Egypt (with a brief stopover at JNU) in search of the key to a mysterious set of Egyptian hieroglyphics, which has probable links with a decades-old legend. While Satyajit Ray’s Feluda franchise had innocence and wonder in abundance, things are much more urbane and realistic in the Kakababu-Santu universe.

Of course Srijit’s trademark witty repartees and his dry humour are present throughout the film. It’ll take me a lifetime to forget how Kakababu sits in that room in JNU composing a tweet, “Just reached Delhi”, gets shot at by an assassin, and then, on his way to the nursing home, adds something more to the tweet—“Having a blast.” However, what stops this rollicking Bangla potboiler from becoming a classic are a few inconsistencies in direction, as well as some other aspects. Indradip Dasgupta’s score for MR has two diverse shades to it—while the songs work well as situational fillers, the background score, though apt, is unusually loud and sometimes drowns out dialogues. Also, the editing is uneven, especially the second half of the movie, where scenes (with the background score intact) get chopped midway for no rhyme or reason. That said, Sonu Nigam’s rendition of Hani Alkadir Gaan, and Srijit’s picturization of the song, is sure to give you goosebumps. And if you love the gorgeous frames of MR, the full credit should go to Soumik Halder, who seamlessly integrates the expansive grandeur of a Red One camera, with the intimate jerkiness of a DSLR.

Acting-wise, it’s a mixed bag, really. Prosenjit (as Kakababu) and Devdaan (as Santu) are expectedly good, and complement each other really well. Neel Mukherjee, Swastika Mukherjee, Tridha and Rajesh Sharma are effortless in their respective roles. But it’s a real pity seeing the veteran actor Rajit Kapur hamming it up as Al-Mammoon. And shooting and prancing around makes Joyraj’s assassin act look more like a cross between Gandu’s Rickshaw and Twelfth Night’s Feste.

But where this film truly scores is in the political stand it takes. It is refreshing to see a film that dumps the political correctness out of the window and takes a strong anti-Mubarak stance with regard to the Egypt uprising, While the link may seem tenuous, it works largely because of Indraneil Sengupta’s knockout act as the mysterious rebel leader Hani Alkadi. Emoting largely with his eyes, Indraneil brings gravitas and intensity to Hani Alkadi, tinged with a slight note of self-deprecating humour. Watch him in that scene where he debates with Kakababu about right and wrong, even as he attempts to kill a traitor. It’s a role that comes across rarely in Bangla cinema, and Indraneil sinks his teeth into it with relish. Indraneil’s Hani Alkadi can truly be called the director’s voice with regard to the Egypt uprising.

Mishawr Rawhoshyo thus throws in a compelling narrative with a fresh bit of pizzazz. It’s rough at the edges and slightly disjointed, but it’s not a bad watch at all. The way it has been directed and mounted on such a large scale, I really hope this movie does well and recovers its budget. The success of MR can only spur Bangla cinema to become bigger and better.

P.S.: Don’t miss out the small cameo by Kamaleshwar Mukherjee, whose mere presence is enough to remind us that another Bangla biggie is coming up—Chander Pahar.