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Movie Review – Shah Jahan Regency by Srijit Mukherji

 

“There is another world inside this one – no words can describe it.” – Rumi

Uma, one of Srijit Mukherji’s recent works, ends with an ode to Kolkata. What that 2 minute sequence elaborated in words, ‘Shah Jahan Regency’ does in frames, poetically shot, in the first and last scenes. From Parambrata (Rudra)’s monologue to ‘Jokhon Porbe Na More Payer Chinho” in Rupankar’s voice – one falls in love with the City of Joy all over again.

Change is the only constant in life – and what better can reflect on this constantly evolving mad rush of existence than a hotel? Guests arrive, guests go, but life goes on forever (sorry, Tennyson). Manishankar Mukhopadhyay tried to capture the essence of an ever-changing city through the highs and lows of a hotel in his novel ‘Chowringhee’. Seven decades later, Srijit Mukherji took on the mantle to write his love letter to the city in his film ‘Shah Jahan Regency’.

When I was walking in to the theatre, there was a lot of chatter among the crowd – who is playing Sata Bose, whether the film will live up to Utam Kumar’s magnum opus of the same name, and likewise. Although the director had made it amply clear that this is an adaptation of the novel in the 2019 context, comparisons with the 1960’s film were bound to arise.

That Srijit’s Shah Jahan is different, comes as a disclaimer right at the beginning when the protagonist Rudra declares his ‘Shah Jahan’ is Chowringhee’s reincarnation (jaatishwar; the reference to Srijit’s previous film, where he adapted another famous Uttram Kumar character, is unmissable). Thus the characters also sport different names here – Sata Bose is Sam (Sameeran). Karabi Guha becomes Kamalini. Marco Polo is Makaranda Pal. Mr and Mrs Pakrashi have become Mr and Mrs Sarkar here. Nityahari has become Nitty Gritty in the modern take, and we have a new character – Gayatri.

Like his other works, the dialogues bear the touch of intelligence, the signature-Srijit we are familiar with. Even the sub-titles are written with such care that anyone unfamiliar with quintessentially Bengali colloquialism won’t miss out on subtle references. So, when Rudra asks “Amar ekta prosno ache”, pat comes the reply “Ora kaanta benchhe khay” from Sam. Or that one character is jokingly referred to as ‘Shah Jahan’s Jahanara’. Brilliant is the word.

The sublime writing is complemented by the transcendent background score. In a contrast to the high-note orchestra, which we are accustomed to hearing in Srijit’s films, the score here is minimalistic. It is almost like a muted tassar saree that stands out in a crowd of Louis Vuitton and Gucci.

Shah Jahan Regency unfolds like the first spell of rain after a long hiatus. As chapters unfold, we are introduced to the characters. They have been sketched with the same tender care that a kumor would take while carving the goddess out of clay. The director humanises the hotel through the characters and the guests.

Essentially a chamber-drama inside a hotel, Shah Jahan Regency encapsulates the soul of the city and eases its way in the inner recesses of your heart. The performances never fail to tug at your heartstrings, sometimes leaving a rock-shaped hole in the crevices of the heart with their stellar act. In an ensemble, balancing storylines is often a tightrope walk, but in this film each character has a marked identity.

Parambrata impresses as Rudra, the out of work young man, who evolves into a skilled hospitality manager, thanks to the training he’s received from the efficient duty manager Sam (played equally emphatically by Abir Chatterjee). His entry into the hotel, and his chance encounter with Gayatri (Rituparna Sengupta), who plays classical instruments at the lobby, is a scene worth preserving in memory.

Even in the two-odd minutes of screentime, Sujoy Prasad expresses the angst of marginalised people in his monologue. The emotions behind the cold words are so palpable and relatable. Rittika Sen also does a sincere job in her role as the air hostess. Anjan Dutt and Mamata Shankar, too break their moulds to portray characters, which we have rarely seen them play. Anirban Bhattacharya, as the love-struck, romantic son of industrialist, reaches for your heart with his rendition of ‘Kichhu Chaini Ami’.

But the soul of the film belongs to Swastika Mukherjee. The hostess of a rich Marwari businessman, she is a permanent resident of Shah Jahan Regency, and often entertains guests in her suite. Whether it is the moral dilemma of extending favours as an escort, or the innate craving for love, in the mad where every customer desires her body, or the conviction of saying no to a prospective customer because her mind is not at peace – Swastika lives the character of Kamalini effusively.

The fate she chooses for herself can be debated – but the inherent poetry in her pain, and the heart-shattering beauty in her tragic last moments, will make you squirm with unease in your seats. I would have loved to see the film end with her track (and Samiran’s chapter before her). And then there is a the contrast – the soul of Shah Jahan – Gayatri, who resigns to her fate and moves on (signifying how heritage gives way to modernity, and one can only accept the new world order and continue to exist).

Overall, Shah Jahan Regency retains the essence of Shankar’s Chowringhee and the soul of Kolkata – the ever-changing, always-evolving, flowing bursts of change, and how things remain the same. As Rabindranath had once said, “অন্তরে অতৃপ্তি রবে, সাঙ্গ করি মনে হবে- শেষ হইয়াও হইলো না শেষ…” (it ends on a discerning note, you feel there is more to come. But alas, the curtain falls), you leave the theatre with a heavy heart, expecting more from life.

My Rating: 3.5/5 stars

DISCLAIMER: All Images Used In This Film Have Their Respective Copyrights

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The Best of Bengali Cinema in 2018

2018 has been a satisfactory year at the Box Office. For cinephiles like me, there was a lot on offer, across genres. What set 2018 apart from previous years was the fact that content-driven films took the centre-stage and even big-budget films with superstars failed to make a mark, because of the lack of good content.

 

Some of the releases of 2018 – Image credit: The Times of India

 

While the year saw the ‘return’ of Saukarya Ghoshal (who had decided to give up on making films after Pendulum did not do good business), and new directors like Ranjan Ghoshal, we also had veterans like Srijit Mukherjee delivering two blockbusters. There were new filmmakers who wow-ed us, and there were experienced directors who failed to meet the expectations.

Here are my top 10 favourite films of 2018 in Bangla:

10. Alinagarer Golokdhadha – History, they say, is written by the victors. And in India, the history that is taught in schools, is mostly that of Delhi. It took director Sayantan Ghoshal to remind us of the history of Kolkata, and Bengal, in this adventure film. A pacy thriller, the film keeps you hooked, despite a few slippages in writing, and overtly melodramatic performance by Gautam Halder as the villain. Watch it for the history, and Anirban Bhattacharya.

 

 

09. Happy Pill – Ritwik Chakraborty plays the role of a medical school dropout, whose life changes after he discovers a pill, accidentally, which makes people happy. A simple film, it wows you with its innocence. Watch the film for power-packed performances by Ritwik, Sohini and Parno.

 

Ritwik Chakraborty in Happy Pill

 

08. Mati – This is one film, which is so close to my heart, that I’d happily overlook its technical flaws. There are very few films in Bangla that deal with the topic of partition, and how it affected lives. While Ritwik Ghatak made films on the refugee crisis, this film explores a second-generation refugee from East Bengal grapples with her roots. Having grown up hearing stories about our ancestral home in Mymensingh district of East Bengal, Mati made me nostalgic and made me crave for a visit to Bangladesh in search of my roots.

 

 

07. Uranchandi – Probably the first film that can be called a ‘road-trip’ film, except that the film is not about friends. Three women are forced to go on the run. Their paths cross and they go on a trip of a ‘lifetime’. The breathtaking visuals of Purulia, the powerful writing, solid performances by Sudipta Chakraborty, Chitra Sen and Rajnandini Paul (her second film), and the fresh take on social issues make Uranchandi stand out in the crowd.

 

 

06. Ahare Mon – The sweet innocence of the film wins over your heart. The track involving Chitrangada Chakraborty, a cancer patient, tugs at your heartstrings. Veterans Anjan Dutt and Mamata Shankar surprise you with a new side to their acting prowess, while the helplessly-fascinating chemistry between Paoli Dam and Adil Hussain melts your heart. The twist in the tale is a signature Pratim D. Gupta touch.

 

 

05. Sonar Pahar – A film with an eight-year old child and an eighty-year old lady in the lead, Sonar Pahar is like those heartwarming tales of fantasy your mother would read to you as she put you to sleep every night. Complexities of relationships, dynamics of life and constant struggles of living get a fresh touch of professionalism in Parambrata’s direction. The quest for the ‘mythical’ Sonar Pahar is one adventure you must trek for this year.

 

Tanuja in one of the scenes from Sonar Pahar

 

04. Uma – Himadri, an NRI businessman in Switzerland, must fulfil the last wish of his daughter Uma, a terminally-ill teenager, who has only months to live. She wishes to soak-in the festive spirit of Durga Puja in Kolkata but she might not live till October. So, Himadri must arrange a mock-Durga Puja in the month of April. The film was an emotional roller coaster. The divine innocence of Uma, the triumph of the human spirit, and the victory of the heart (good) over scheming machinations of the head (evil) allow you to gloss over the logical fallacies in the film. To even think that the film is a recreation of actual events (when an entire town came together to create Christmas in October, for Evan) makes your eyes moist.

 

 

03. Pupa – A much-acclaimed film, Pupa deals with the controversial subject of euthanasia. The director, Indrasis Acharya, does not for a moment sermonise or take a moral stand. He does not impose any ‘good vs evil’ drama on the audience. He simply narrates the story of a family, whose lives go through an upheaval as the family patriarch suffers heart attack and is bed-ridden. Lives are torn apart, strength of relationships questioned, tough choices have to made, but they come with scarring consequences.

 

 

02. Ek Je Chhilo Raja – The problem with historical movies is that such movies face the danger of being criticised for being eons apart from the actual events, or too committed to historical texts, to the point of being outright boring. Srijit Mukherjee deftly walks the tightrope. A film on the much publicised Bhawal Sanyasi case, the longest running court case pre-independence, EJCR ticks all the boxes for a classic period drama. The astoundingly wonderful make-up, production design and cinematography will transport you to Bengal of the 1920s. Jishu Sengupta’s career-best performance is matched equally by the ensemble, specially Jaya Ahsan. The laborious production is indeed one of Srijit Mukherjee’s best work of all times.

 

Jishhu Sengupta in Ek Je Chhilo Raja

 

01. Rainbow Jelly – After Pendulum did not get the response he expected, Saukarya Ghoshal decided to take a break from making films. Thank God, he returned to filmmaking, or else audiences would have been deprived of this cinematic beauty. Rainbow Jelly brings back memories of fantasy tales of Thakumar Jhuli and young adult fictions – with hidden treasures, an aunt with a mysterious box, a special child who must fight against his oppressive uncle, his only living relative, childhood crush and above all – the quest to break free. Ultimately, this jelly is a sweet concoction of hope, childlike innocence, sweetness, and indomitable spirit of survival.

 

 

Special mentions must be made to films like Rang Beronger Korhi (probably a joint tenth with Alinagar), Guptadhaner Sandhane, Manojder Adbhut Bari, Rosogolla, Kabir and Biday Byomkesh for satisfying the never-ending craving for good cinema. I wish I could add Jonaki, Tarikh, Abyakto to this list, but they have not yet been theatrically released (although I have watched them at the Kolkata International Film Festival).

Here’s looking forward to be wowed in 2019.

 

DISCLAIMER: All Images Used In This Post Have Their Respective Copyrights

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