“Your Honour, as my first witness, I would like call to the witness box, a dead body”
And thus began a court case, which ran for 16 years, and etched its place in history for the astonishing absurdity of its premise. The famed Bhawal Sanyasi court case, as documented in academician Partha Chatterjee’s book “A Princely Imposter?” is transformed into a saga of grandeur, love, betrayal and spirituality by Srijit Mukherjee, as Jisshu U Sengupta delivers his career-best performance as the ascetic king, who fought for his identity.
Any Bengali, worth his salt, would have heard about the infamous Bhawal case while growing up. Srijit Mukherjee in his adaptation, has named the estate ‘Bikrampur’ instead. Mahendra Kumar Choudhuri, the middle prince of the estate, was a man who lived two lives (in his own words) – one who lived a life of lascivious luxury on one hand and played the part of guardian angel for his subjects on the other. He was affected by syphilis and was taken to Darjeeling for treatment along with his wife, Chandrabati Devi, brother-in-law, Satya, and a family doctor, Ashwini. He apparently died in Darjeeling and was cremated there as well. After 12 years, a Sanyasi shows up at the estate, arousing people’s curiosity and leading to a rumour that he is the lost prince of the Bikrampur Estate. What follows is a 16 year long case, which is the foundation of this grand saga.
From the word go, the film charms its way into your hearts – with the breathtaking cinematography by Gairik Sarkar, the muted colour palate (black and white for the court scenes, a brilliant thought), astoundingly real make-up (the heart of the film – Jisshu has 4 different looks in the film) and soul-stirring music. “Esho Hey” remains the lingering theme throughout the film, and the mesmerising use of the classical instruments keeps the tune lingering in your ears for hours ever since.
Srijit Mukherjee deserves a huge praise for the intricate detailing that’s gone into designing each frame. The aura of erstwhile Bengali Zamindari household has been brought to life with elan. The accent (coached by Jaya Ahsan) did not seem forced, and gave the film a touch of incredulous realism. The production design is top-notch; a production of this scale was unprecedented in Bengali cinema. One must commend SVF for believing in this film.
What makes Srijit Da endearing to his fans is his intelligent writing – and he doesn’t disappoint in this magnum opus either. Agreed, the film does not have a lot of witty one-liners, or abstract references to other literature or films, like his other works. But, it connects directly your heart, with its captivating narration. Truth, they say is stranger than fiction. And in this case, there are many layers to it, which make this court case no less than a thrilling adventure in the Himalayas.
It goes without saying that such a majestic premise would require actors of repute for cementing the rock-solid foundation. As I mentioned earlier, Jisshu Sengupta as the prince, fills the screen with such an aura that you cannot take eyes away from him. Anirban Bhattacharya, as his scheming brother-in-law puts up a splendid performance, which makes him endearing to the core. Jaya Ahsan, as Mrinmayi Devi, the prince’s favourite sister, steals the show with her effortless, emphatic performance.
Among the notable others, are the lawyer duo, Anjan Dutt and Aparna Sen, who add life to the courtroom with their spirited debates; they have a backstory too. Going beyond the case of identity of the Mahendra Choudhuri, they fight their own battles in the courtroom – one of nationalistic pride against British rule, and another against the patriarchal foundation of the society. The two women in the prince’s life – his wronged and neglected wife Chandrabati (Rajnandini Paul) and the courtesan Kadambini (Sreenanda Shankar) essay their parts to perfection. Rudranil Ghosh, as the doctor, had a pivotal presence throughout.
Ek Je Chhilo Raja, is different from Srijit Mukherjee’s other films, but also bears his signature style of filmmaking throughout. Undoubtedly, among his best five works till date, the film provokes you into introspection. It works because, at heart, it bears allegiance to a prophetic dialogue from Srijit Da’s last film – “Golpo ta bole jete hobe. Ekjon dorshoker jonyo holeo bolte hobe. Golpo bolai amader kaaj.”
My Rating: 4/5 stars
DISCLAIMER: ALL IMAGES USED IN THIS POST HAVE THEIR RESPECTIVE COPYRIGHTS
To captivate the genius of Rituparno Ghosh within the realms of a few words would be a feat I can never excel in. It has been two years since he passed on. But his works, which will be alive forever, will continue to inspire generation of filmmakers. His demise was a personal loss for all his fans, because his films had a personal appeal. He ushered in a new wave in Bengali cinema and was an extremely gifted writer.
Ritu da’s talent lay in his scene-building and the eye for detail that was evident in every frame of his film. His characters were believable, people we could relate to. The issues highlighted in his films were also mundane, not out of the ordinary. There was an element of straightforwardness in him which reflected in the characters he wrote. There was no veil of pretension.
He had only embarked on a new journey in the filmmaking process – with his quasi-autobiographical Chitrangada – when he left us! The void he has left lies unfilled even now; his shoes are too big for anyone to fill.
Here are five movies by the maverick director which will always be close to my heart:
An adaptation of Agatha Christie’s ‘The Mirror Cracked from Side to Side”, this film is so Bengali at heart that Christie might herself might wonder in her grave if she actually set the original story in England. Rangapishima (Ritu Da’s Miss Murple, played by a brilliant Rakhee Gulzar) is a simple middle-aged widow with extra-ordinary observational skills. Her niece Mallika (Nandita Das) is a journalist who gets embroiled in the murder of an actor. The film which won Sharmila Tagore a National Award deals with intricacies of relationships and complexities of the human mind. Ritu Da’s first “thriller” which can give a lot of mindless, B-grade pot-boilers a run for their money even today.
A film about a joint family that meets for Durga Pujo and skeletons from the past come to haunt them. Starring a galaxy of stars, the film is essentially a bedroom-drama. Despite being dialogue heavy, not once would feel bored. A quintessential Rituparno film, the story deals with sibling-love, ups and downs of conjugal life, dynamics of relationships and the dark secrets of the human mind – all against the backdrop of Durga Puja festivities. The juxtaposition of festivities and sorrows of life only add to the brilliance of the film. Rituparno once again proves that key to making a good film is not extravagance but simplicity.
This is a film which is very close to my heart. A film about a director and his muse, Rituparno tries to deal with the question, given a choice what would we choose? Sophistication or Unsophisticated spontaneity? With a memorable performance by Ananya Chatterjee (which won her the National Award), Ritu Da fulfills his wish of making a film on Noti Binodini. The last scene of the film describes film-making as “capturing fleeting moments in a frame”. Rituparno Ghosh breathed a soul into the frames with Abohoman.
When I watched this movie, I had a major crush on Konkona Sen Sharma. That did not stop me from admiring Prosenjit’s spellbinding performance. For major part of the film, he is bed-ridden, in a hospital or at home. He communicates with his silence. Three stories woven into each other give us an insight into adultery, without being moralistic or preachy even once. The breach of trust, mending bridges and the rejuvenation of ties – all communicated without being judgmental. Black and white filming and almost complete lack of background score is the USP of Dosar.
“Poetry in motion” is the best phrase to use for this beautiful film. Set in the idyllic locales of Darjeeling, Titli is about a teenage girl who has a crush on a popular actor. Fate brings her face to face with the man of her dreams, only to acquaint her with some unpleasant truths from the past. It is a treat to watch Aparna Sen and Konkona play mother and daughter in reel life too. Mithun Chakraborty’s measured acting will make you his fan.
I could go on and on and write a line or two about all 20 films Ritu da made. But now is not the time. Hope you love watching these films. After all, what better way to remember a filmmaker than watching his works?