Durga Puja is the biggest socio-cultural event in the calendar of Bengalis. From food to frolic, the festival brings with it freshness and gaiety aplomb. Whether it is music or literature (pujor gaan and pujabarshiki for fellow Bangalis), Pujo has become synonymous with an annual splash of cultural pot-puree. And in the last couple of years, a string of blockbuster releases have added to the Durga Pujo blitzkrieg.
This year Tollywood celebrated Durga Pujo with five releases: Yeti Obhijaan by Srijit Mukherjee, Projapoti Biskut by Anindya Chatterjee, Byomkesh O Agniban by Anjan Dutt, Cockpit by Kamaleshwar Mukherjee and Chawlochitro Circus by Mainak Bhowmick. Adding to the pleasure of cine-goers, Newton (India’s entry to the Oscars this year) released in the same week.
Apart from Chawlochitro Circus, yours truly has watched all the movies that released during this period. I have already written detailed reviews of Yeti Obhijaan and Projapoti Biskut earlier. Being too lazy to write reviews for the rest, I decided to pen my thoughts about each of these movies in a single post. So, here goes:
Newton: Brevity is an art that is often found missing in India movies. Newton not only delivers its message in less than two hours, but its simplistic and honest commentary on the wonder that is Indian democracy will move you to tears by the time the end credits roll.
Image Source: The Wire
We, the privileged urban middle class, often take our rights for granted. For some of our fellow countrymen, like the tribals residing in Naxal-dominated areas of Dandakaranya, basic survival is nothing short of a struggle. Thus, even the biggest festival of democracy – elections – becomes an orchestrated spectacle here. And then there are upright officers like Newton, who would go to any lengths to ensure the rulebook is followed to the T. Alas, he is just a spoke in the cycle of power, which keeps moving on.
Rajkumar Rao’s understated performance, the subtlety in the writing, quirky yet effective and pointed dialogues and the sublimely used background score help Newton achieve a feat one can only dream of. The film shows the society a mirror and forces us to question the pre-conceived notions we live with, in our urban bubbles. Without being preachy, the film packs a solid punch into mainstream belief system that we are accustomed to.
My Rating: 4/5 stars
Byomkesh O Agniban: Anjan Dutt’s Byomkesh franchise finally comes of age with Byomkesh O Agniban. Based on Saradindu Bandyopadhyay’s Agniban and Uposonghar, the film brings Byomkesh face to face with his arch nemesis Kokonod Gupta.
Set against the backdrop of the turbulent late 60s, the film takes us into a murky underworld of arms dealings and drug cartels. In a deadly matchstick lies the recipe for a global disaster and it is incumbent upon a dhoti-clad Bengali ‘truth-seeker’ to avert this apparent apocalypse.
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The film breaks free from the typical Byomkesh mould that we have so far received from Anjan Dutt. The freshness is apparent in every frame. The background score, while retaining the signature Byomkesh tune, adds to the drama with the somber notes.
Jishu Sengupta brings the suave, intelligent, Bengali sleuth alive with finesse while Saswata Chatterjee’s somewhat subdued charm complements his friend. The exchange of dialogues during the climax, between Byomkesh and Kokonod, is essentially a commentary on the current socio-political landscape.
My Rating: 3.5/5 stars
Cockpit: Perhaps the weakest link among the films that released during Pujo (apart from Chawlochitra Circus, which is worse I am told), this is Tollywood’s answer to Sully; and ruefully so. The film suffers from several inconsistencies that are glaring on your face, juvenile visual effects and a botched-up execution of a novel concept.
Firstly, I was confused whether the film was about how a pilot saved his flight from a near-apparent crash, or was it about the relationship woes of the pilot and the air hostess. The entire first half of the film is devoted to the chemistry of Dibs and Kirti (Dev and Rukmini) and the audience is led to believe they are into each other, except that Dibs friendzones her. It is also baffling why an air-hostess, who is spurned in love, chooses a flight to be flown by the man who dumped her.
Image Source: GDN8.com
And to complete the circle of love, Koel’s character makes a sudden entry at a beach party in Mumbai (where they play Bengali songs from the 90s). In fact, throughout the film, most characters – whether they are doctors in Mumbai or non-Bengali air-hostesses, speak Bangla (sometimes better than the Bengali actors). Koel’s character has acrophobia and so she avoided flying. But there is a full song dedicated to her honeymoon with Dibs in Thailand. Did she take the train?
Then there were the back-stories for some of the passengers. The film suffers from too many sub-plots without any substantive story. Kirti’s character deserved more development. The final half an hour, where Dibs faces the actual crisis while landing, lacked gravity and was overtly melodramatic (like Rukmini’s Neerja moment while saving a child). In fact, when the whole flight was going through turbulence, and from luggage to bottles of fruits juice and milk were falling at will, Kirti’s hat did not even move an inch.
I can go on and on. Surely, Cockpit is not a film that one would expect from the person who made Khawto or Meghe Dhaka Tara.
My Rating: 2/5 stars
Did you watch any of these movies? What were your views after watching them? Do share with me!
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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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