Category Archives: kolkata
“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
As I mentioned in a previous blog, the annual calendar for Bengalis is broadly divided into two parts: CP and DP (Countdown to Pujo and Durga Pujo). Our wait for the grand festival begins the moment Maa Durga leaves the mandaps. Fun, frolic, food, new clothes, merriment mark this festival that celebrate women power and the victory of good over evil. And over the last few years, Durga Pujo has become an occasion for the clubs in Kolkata to showcase the best of the art that our State boasts of.
Bengal has always been one of the most liberal States. Right from the days of the freedom struggle, Bengalis have given direction to the rest of India in terms of culture, philosophy, spirituality and even nationalism. However, there was a rapid decline in the leadership of Bengal post-independence, compounded by the 34 year old Left rule in the State. With the rise of the BJP across the country in the recent past, there have been attempts to appropriate our culture and impose the north Indian ‘Hindi-Hindu-Hindustan’ mantra on Bengalis. And Durga Pujo, being our biggest cultural symbol, has been under attack too.
Nazrul had once famously written, ‘Hindu na ora Muslim, oi jiggase kon jon… Kandari bolo dubiche manush, sontan mor maar (Who is it that asks the faith of the drowning figure. He is neither Hindu, nor Muslim; he is the son of our Motherland).’ This beautifully exemplifies the culture of solidarity and harmony prevalent in Bengal. And using the pretext of Durga Pujo, there were repeated attacks on the very foundation of this bond of unity by the aforementioned forces.
Durga Pujo is more than just the autumnal worship of Goddess Durga following Vedic scriptures and rituals. The festival has transformed into a cultural melee where we celebrate the homecoming of a daughter (Uma returns from Kailash). We indulge in limitless gluttony as the rest of India fasts. Rules are relaxed for these five-odd days. The young have the permission to stay out at night with friends; womenfolk get respite from the kitchen. There is a popular saying that during Pujo you even forgive your enemies.
This year, the BJP tried to cook up a storm over some restrictions imposed by the State Government regarding the immersion of Maa Durga, in light of Muharram falling on Ekadoshi. The Modi-media in Delhi, which is ever so eager to paint Bengal in a bad light, jumped into the fray and called this an assault on Hinduism (I am not sure if anyone noticed it, ANI which fervently tweets about every little detail of Ganesh Puja in Mumbai, does not even spare a tweet for the best of the pandals in Kolkata which excel in creativity). There were sustained social media campaigns to make this a ‘us vs them’ issue.
The unkindest cut of all was the cultural aggression of some of the biggest symbols of Durga Pujo for the average Bengali – food and fun. A very creative ad depicting Maa Durga getting a makeover at Jawed Habib’s salon had to be taken off after a massive outcry by the north Indian Hindu right-wing on social media. Several pandals in Delhi this year were forced not to serve non-vegetarian dishes like fish fry or biriyani because cowbelt fasts during Navratri. Could it get more idiotic and cruel?
As Deepanjan Da wrote in this piece, Bengalis have humanised Maa Durga. For us, she is the daughter who is coming home for her annual vacation. Durga and her entourage of children have always featured in promotional ads like the one Habib posted. We have grown up on Pujabarshikis that showed Kartik as a rockstar, Saraswati playing the guitar and Shib dropping Durga to Kolkata on a bike.
Food is an absolute essential part of Durga Pujo festivities for us. Nabami is incomplete without a sumptuous meal featuring mutton. This is the time of the year when people let go of their daily drudgery and indulge in uninhibited frolic. Specially so for countless probashi Bangalis, who get a taste of the Bengali food only at the food stalls in Durga Pujo pandals. The imposition of vegetarianism on them is a downright assault on their freedoms.
But in New India, this seems to be the order of the day. The culture, ethos and language (sic) of a handful of Hindus in the cowbelt must be adopted by all Indians; any reluctance would invite the tag of anti-national. This is a disturbing trend where we must give up the humanisation of our Gods, put them up on a high pedestal and revere them in the Sanskritised, Brahminical traditions as ordained by our masters sitting in Delhi.
Anyone who has grown up in Bengal would know that apart from Bonedi Baris (traditional households) hardly any community puja immerses their Durga idol on Dashami. Ekadoshi is an inauspicious day for which immersions are naturally avoided on this day. Most immersions in Kolkata, and districts, happen on Dadoshi (the second day after Dashami). The main ritual followed on Dashami is the ‘Darpan Bishorjon’ (immersion of the mirror which is an embodiment of the idol) into a pot of water at the pandal. This ritual is carried out early in the morning, following which Maa Durga’s boron happens. The scriptures say no more. There is no word about idol immersion.
But the BJP, eager to carve a political space in Bengal, and with the ulterior motive of imposing the ‘Dussehra culture’ here, insisted on immersions on Dashami and Ekadoshi. Leaders sitting in Delhi or Bhopal were making comments without any semblance of ground realities in the State. Inciting communal hatred, as they have done in the past, with fake news and photoshopped images on social media, was their grand plan. But the indomitable Bengali spirit defeated them.
Over the last few days, the average Bengali in Kolkata was on the streets, with their friends, munching on the yummy egg roll, criss-crossing the city, hopping from one pandal to another. My personal Facebook feed was full of gleeful selfies, Instagram was full of bright colours of the pandals and enticing food on the plate. The Kolkata Police was actively screening posts on social media for any fake updates. Moreover, the community Pujo organisers in Kolkata have decided to defy the High Court’s fatwa of immersion on Ekadoshi and stick to decades of traditions.
The BJP has a long way to go to breach the Bengali citadel. They may have the support of a handful of rich probashi Bangalis in CR Park or Whitefield. But our culture is not for sale. We will safeguard it in our own style. As the popular inscription at the back of autorickshaws in Kolkata say, “Dekhbi aar jolbi, luchir moto fulbi“.
P.S. I am taking My Alexa Rank to the next level with #MyFriendAlexa with BlogChatter. This is Post #8