Category Archives: Art
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Like in the United States of America they have the mid-term polls to gauge the mood of the Nation halfway through the term of the President, India had Assembly polls in five States for 609 seats. Coincidentally, the Modi Govt has completed half its term already. The massive victory for BJP in the largest State of the country – Uttar Pradesh – will surely boost the morale of the ruling party. The Opposition clearly needs to face the mirror, for 2019 is barely 24 months away.
A lot of opinions have emerged on the victory of BJP in UP, most praising Modi-Shah duo for riding their party towards a stupendous win. Of course, praise is due for them for getting their caste arithmetic and social-engineering right. One must not also forget that BJP currently is a rehabilitation centre for the disgruntled leaders from other parties. Personal charismas of local candidates may have helped too.
Those who think development agenda won the BJP this election will be living in fool’s paradise. From the shamshan-kabristan remark to the ‘Mandir Wahi Banayenge’ rants or the diatribe of the likes of Sakshi Maharaj against Muslims clearly gave away the BJP’s intentions. As a friend wrote on Twitter, the Muslim vote was fractured between BSPand SP, while the Hindu vote, cutting across castes went en-bloc to BJP.
I for one was hoping for a win for the SP (and I say SP not SP-Congress alliance because the Congress virtually non-existent in the political map of India at present and the alliance was an illogical decision on Akhilesh Yadav’s part; an alliance with Mayawati would have been more fruitful). Could sabotage by the old guard be a reason for the shocking defeat? Akhilesh clearly enjoys huge popularity among the people but it didn’t translate into votes. Only organisational weakness is to blame for it.
After this verdict, Modi’s position as the leader of the country is consolidated further. So, the Opposition must reinvent its strategy. Currently there is no face to challenge Modi on the national scale. The Congress must get off the high horse it is sitting on and take all parties on board for a rainbow coalition against the BJP. Criticism of Modi is not enough to dislodge him from 7, Racecourse Road. The Opposition needs to present a credible alternative.
The elections post 2014 have thrown up one interesting factoid. Modi is not invincible. States where there have been strong leaders have rejected the BJP – be it Bengal, Bihar or Delhi. Direct contests between Congress and BJP have obviously led to BJP’s victory; credibility of the Congress is at an all-time low and only a change of guard can bolster the party’s image.
A major factor that played its role in the elections is the complete collapse of the Opposition. Rewind to the turbulent times between 2010 and 2013 – BJP would hit the streets on issues all and sundry. Have we seen any such mass-scale protests by the Indian Opposition parties on the issue of demonetisation? I remember only Mamata Banerjee holding multi-city protests! Sharing memes on digital media is an important communication tool. But to make the masses understand the alternative is a different ball-game altogether.
Two years is a long time in politics. All is not lost yet. The right strategy and the perfect leadership can turn things around. In politics, you should never write anyone off. Remember, in 2004 Mamata Banerjee was the lone MP from Trinamool. Now Trinamool is the fourth largest party in Lok Sabha with 34 MPs.
Adaptation (noun) is a film, television drama, or stage play that has been adapted from a written work. Since art is subjective and personal, written words get a new meaning in the new medium. While the central theme remains intact, the setting and interpretation infuse new life to the text. Thus, Romeo and Juliet become warlords in a remote village of Gujarat or Hamlet turns up as a misguided freedom fighter in Kashmir.
In Srijit Mukherjee’s Zulfiqar, we get a slice of Rome in the dock area of Kolkata; Senate turns into Syndicate and Caesar falls not because Brutus loved Rome more but because Bashir Khan prided himself for being a ‘desh bhakt’.
Recreating a play that was staged in Europe in the sixteenth century in the context of socio-economic politics of a miniscule region of a metropolis is no mean feat and Srijit Mukherjee passes with flying colours – Zulfiqar (Caesar) is the Robin Hood-esque leader of the dock area; his growing popularity is a cause of concern for the syndicate. Kashinath (Cassius), a don turned promoter, hatches a plan to cut Zulfiqar to size. But without Brutus (Bashir)’s support the plan cannot materialise. Hence the Conspirators appeal to Bashir’s patriotism (with forged documentation and hacked emails), forcing the ‘honourable man’ to betray his friend.
Zulfiqar’s death is avenged by his trusted lieutenants Marcus and Tony (an intelligent digression from the original text; while Marcus is a fighter who is romantic at heart, Tony is the man who manages the finances of the Syndicate. Clearly, Srijit Mukherjee chose to distinguish between Mark Antony, the scheming worrior whose loyalty we witness in Julius Caesar, from the Antony who falls in love with Cleopatra). The Triumvirate of Akhtar (Octavius), Laltu Das (Lepidus, a corrupt policeman in the film) and Marcus-Tony take down the conspirators. However, the greed for power, naked ambition and distrust bring down the Triumvirate too as Akhtar establishes his control over the syndicate business.
Little nuances throughout the film embolden the reason why Srijit Mukherjee is considered one of the few intelligent filmmakers in Bengal. Queen Cleopatra (Rani Tolapatra)’s Egypt becomes ‘Blue Nile’ bar in the film. To give credence to Calpurnia (Karishma)’s premonitions, she is established as a drug addict with agrophobia. While Shakespeare used long monologues to establish Brutus’s love for Rome, Srijit Da introduced a sub-plot of terrorists seeking safe haven in the area ruled by syndicate.
The scene where Caesar’s ghost appears before Brutus is one of the masterpieces in cinema – the tranquil waters of Rangit (resembling deceased Zulfiqar’s state of mind) stand a stark contrast to the turbulent waters of Teesta (portraying the conflict within Bashir’s mind). The beautiful locale of Triveni (one of my favourite spots in north Bengal) only add to the visual opulence.
Obviously, the film has its flaws. The flawless Bengali diction of predominantly Hindi speaking characters come across as strange in some scenes. Also, why would a mob in a Hindi/Urdu speaking area get incensed by a speech made in predominantly English (interspersed with broken Hindi)? Julius Caesar stands out for Mark Antony’s speech in Act III; the one in the film, though impassioned, lacked punch.
The reason why Zulfiqar will be a cult film in Bengali film history is because a genre of cinema is born in this part of the world. Underworld and gang wars had hitherto been unexplored in Bengali cinema and we finally have a mainstream movie that has taken gangsters beyond the mindless pot-bellied villains with horrific hair who are beaten black and blue by the angelic heroes. In fact, Srijit Da has written the scenes as if he were staging the play on silver screen; this really is a fresh approach to telling a story.
Srijit Mukherjee has in the past redefined actors in his films. From Prosenjit (Autograph) to Rituparna Sengupta (Rajkahini) we have seen how mainstream actors broke free from their moulds to essay characters that will forever be etched in the minds of viewers. Zulfiqar gives us Dev and Ankush. Dev has silenced all his critics and trolls with his portrayal of Marcus. The feeling of angst, betrayal, failed love and jealousy in his eyes in his last scene was so intense, only a seasoned actor could have pulled it off. Ankush effortlessly transforms from the soft lover-boy who loves his music to the ambitious heir who not only seeks revenge for the death of his uncle but finishes off all his competitors without even batting an eyelid.
Jishu Sengupta as Kashinath kept reminding me of Maganalal Meghraj from Joy Baba Felunath. Only an actor of calibre can deliver a performance so monstrous! Kaushik Sen surprises in his avatar of tragic hero Bashir. Paoli Dam remains unexplored as Karishma (but I guess the scope of her character was limited). Nusrat adds the oomph as Rani Tolapatra (while succinctly displaying her inner conflict as she remains undecided till the end whether to choose love or social security; her suicide was also cleverly conceived).
Music has always been an important pillar of Srijit Mukherjee’s films and he does not disappoint in Zulfiqar either. The background score by Indraadip Dasgupta fitted the bill. Anupam Roy’s compositions were soothing as usual. Only one romantic track in the second half felt out of place in the narrative. Nachiketa’s haunting voice will keep you seated in the theatre till the last letter of the end credits fade from screen.
To sum up, when you are adapting a story that has been told many times, it is the freshness of storytelling that matters. That is why Vishal Bhardwaj’s Omkara clicks while Aparna Sen’s Arshinagar fizzes out. Srijit Mukherjee made Shakespeare’s play his own, and there he stands out in the crowd.
My Rating: 3.5/5 stars
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