35mm Reflections: CHOTUSHKONE (Bengali – 2014)

2014 seems to be the year of the “movie-within-the-movie” narrative as a form of cinematic storytelling. A few weeks back, Karthik Subbaraj’s acerbic-yet-entertaining masterpiece, Jigarthanda, critiqued and demystified contemporary Tamil cinema on multiple fronts. And this week, we have Chotushkone, Srijit Mukherji’s sixth film, that uses the same concept to tell a tale of love and betrayal.

Chotushkone is a highly-polarizing film. Regardless of how much money it makes for Reliance Entertainment and Dag Creative Media, it is bound to provoke a lot of debate. During the 3.10 pm show today at INOX City Centre Siliguri, the first half provoked mixed reactions. Some people hated the slow, languorous and disjointed first half, and therefore walked out of the auditorium within the first 30-40 minutes; others loved it and therefore stayed back. The only other Bangla film I remember that elicited this sort of reaction was Q’s Tasher Desh.

Frankly speaking, Chotushkone, just like Jigarthanda, is pretty impossible to review without giving the story away. But there are three ways of looking at the film.

Since Chotushkone revolves around the premise of four directors, each with different cinematic sensibilities, coming together to make four segments of an anthology film, the film is filled with so many references that the discerning film buff would happily lap ’em up. 36 Chowringee Lane, Mr and Mrs Iyer, Troyee, Rupkatha Noy, Ghare Baire, Mayabazaar, Talaash…the list goes on and on. Literary references abound too, with Shakespeare, Kafka and Agatha Christie taking the cake. Parambrata, who plays Jayabrata, one of the directors, makes hilarious digs at his own real-life filmography. I loved that line he uses at a very crucial point in the film–“Ebar ektu hawa-bodol hok!” #win

Then there are the references to Srijit’s own career. Never have we seen so many direct shout-outs to a Bangla filmmaker’s previous films. Besides Autograph, whose shadow looms large over this film, there are subtle (and not-so-subtle) references to Baishe Srabon, Hemlock Society and Jaatishwar. From a certain angle, Chotushkone may be seen as a deconstruction of his previous films, wrapped as a sly tribute.

Secondly, Chotushkone may be seen as a real-life tale of revenge and destruction masquerading as a collaborative effort of creation. The “movie-within-the-movie” format is used in this regard to propel the story forward, as the creators of celluloid get trapped in a tight real-life web of their own making.

But perhaps it is the third angle that is refreshing. The disjointed narrative of Chotushkone works best as an astute allegory documenting the highs and lows of Bangla cinema. The ego-clashes and romantic relationships between actors, the failed real-life relationships of directors in love with their own work, fly-by-night producers (or “chit fund producers” as everyone now knows them as), producers who fell prey to the tantrums of their lead actors, conflicting sensibilities among filmmakers and actors alike—nothing is sacred in Chotushkone. In that sense, this feels like a refreshing and in-your-face reboot of Autograph. The scary part is that we see those realities in Bangla cinema even today.

There are some flaws in this story. The revenge angle is set up beautifully, but I feel Srijit gives the game away about 10 minutes too early. The Payel-Indrasish-Rahul track should have been more seamlessly integrated with the main story. The sub-plot involving Koneenica and Anindya Chatterjee could have been fleshed out more. And Barun Chanda’s presence in the film is similar to that of Pankaj Kapur in Finding Fanny—he’s good in that limited screen-time, but even when he’s not there in the film, you don’t miss him.

Still, these are minor glitches in a film that is technically top-notch. Sudeep Chatterjee, whose previous credits as DoP include Chak De India and Dhoom 3, is in crackling form here, as he runs riot with the color scheme of the film. Reds, blues, greens and monochrome are interspersed freely with a muted palette. Anupam Roy’s score is expectedly good, with Boba tunnel, Bawshonto eshe gechhe and Shetai satyi used in the film.

Doing a film like this requires a tremendous amount of guts, and it is to Srijit’s credit that, in spite of that middling second act, he pulls it off. Of course he has a hugely talented cast helping him here. Parambrata, Aparna Sen and Goutam Ghose are expectedly excellent. Neel Mukherjee, Arpita Chatterjee, Debleena Dutt, Sumit Samaddar, Shantilal Mukherjee and Tridha are all excellent in their brief screen-time. Anindya Chatterjee, whom I had last seen in Bapi Bari Jaa, is good as Dipto’s son. Kaushik Ganguly knocks it out of the park in that cameo. And Koneenica Banerjee shines in that Boba tunnel sequence, where her eyes and body language convey so much, even with brief dialogues.

But if somebody has to be anointed the Man of the Match in this film, it has to be Chiranjeet Chakraborty. As Dipto, the alcoholic actor-turned-director, who shares a difficult relationship with his son, and still harbours feelings for Aparna Sen’s Trina, he shows remarkable restraint—a far cry from his “bou harale bou paoa jaayre” days. I really hope he gets more roles like this in the near future.

Chotushkone is a refreshingly original ode to Bangla cinema. Like Bhooter Bhobishyot, this is a film that would be ruined if remade in another language. However, it’s a polarizing film not many would love. If you want to see something that breaks all conventions of storytelling and is entertaining as hell, go for it.

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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.