Durga Pujo is upon us. The autumnal festival that celebrates the divine feminine, has gripped the City of Joy, and how. Braving the torrential downpour, people have begun pandal hopping, dressed in their best clothes.
As it was pouring on my way to work today, I was immersed in my thoughts. Is it merely coincidental that it has been raining incessantly for the past one week, causing floods in many States? Does it have to do anything with Maa Durga’s arrival on a horse this year?
The Hindu scriptures say that Maa Durga descends every year from Kailash to the earth in different rides – although her vehicle is the mighty lion. She uses four different rides – horse, palanquin, elephant and boat – to arrive in or leave from the earth. The ride, scriptures say, decides whether her arrival/exit will be auspicious or calamitous.
Depending on the day of arrival or departure, the type of ride is mentioned in the scriptures:
রবৌ চন্দ্রে গজারূঢ়া, ঘোটকে শনি ভৌময়োঃ,
গুরৌ শুক্রে চ দোলায়াং নৌকায়াং বুধবাসরে।
In simpler terms, if Saptami (the day, Maa Durga’s ‘pran protistha’ is performed) falls on Sunday or Monday, Maa Durga’s ride is elephant. The result is ‘Soshyopurna Basundhora’ (earth with abundance of crops). Similarly, if She arrives on Saturday and leaves on Tuesday, the ride will be horse. The result will be ‘Chhatrabhangastu Rangame’ (calamitous destruction).
If Maa Durga arrives/leaves on Wednesday, the mode of travel will be boat. This will result in ‘Sashyabriddhistha Jalam’. Which means that there will be a rise in the productivity of crops. However, there will be deaths due to floods. Meanwhile, if she arrives on Thursday and leaves on Friday, then the ride will be palanquin, resulting in an epidemic (Marakang Vabatu).
This only goes on to show that the elephant enjoyed immense respect among the Rishis who devised the scriptures. It is associated with good fortune. The other means of transport are all inauspicious and symbolise death and destruction.
One may brush this off as mere superstition. But the calamitous floods that have wrecked lives across the country, only make me wonder if the ancient sages were accurate in their vision.
It is no secret now that Uma is based on the real life story of Evan Leversage, a terminally ill Canadian boy whose wish to see another Christmas prompted his townspeople to bring the festivities forward by months. In the film, Uma is a terminally-ill Bengali girl, who lives with her father in Switzerland. Having heard tales of the grandeur of Durga Pujo in Kolkata, she has been yearning to visit the city of her roots to immerse herself in the autumnal festive fervour.
Having ignored this wish for years, Uma’s father finally gives in to her wish when he learns she only has two more months to survive. But Durga Pujo is a festival held in October. And Uma may not survive beyond May or June. So, her father moves mountains so that her dying wish can be fulfilled. Uma is the story of this journey, where a father, determined to gift his daughter all the happiness in the world, battles all odds to create ‘Durga Pujo’ in April.
Rituparno Ghosh had adapted a western novel into a Bengali setting so well in ‘Shubho Mahurat’ that I had decided it was the ultimate benchmark of internalisation of a concept into our culture. Srijit Mukherjee not only matches that standard, but outdoes his ‘Sir’ with élan. Imagining Christmas as Durga Pujo is just the tip of the iceberg. The beauty of his intricate detailing lies in the names of the characters. Uma’s parents are named Himadri and Menoka. The director who takes charge of creating the grand Pujo illusion is named Brahmananda. His art director is Bishwakarma, the person responsible for crowds is Lokeshwari and the light management is the forte of Arka Ray.
Then there is Himadri’s friend Barun, who creates artificial rain in one scene. His wife is aptly named Neera. There is a ‘guest’ actor who plays an errant officer of CESC, responsible for electricity. No prizes for guessing, his name is Indro. Then there is Gajanan, who’s penned an entire ‘Mahabharat’ for the script and Gobindo, who takes care of all arrangements. The icing on the cake – the anti-hero, Hindu fundamentalist who tries to foil the preparations is named Mahitosh Sur. Only a brilliant mind could fit in the entire Hindu mythology associated with Durga Pujo, into the 2018 setting.
Srijit Da’s detailing is even more enunciated in the introductory scene of Brahmananda. On the walls of his home hang posters of films he directed – Nirbashito (signifying the exile he is in), Meghe Dhaka Tara (the unrequited talent) and Autograph (which was a film about an eclipsed film star trying to make a mark). In fact, this film belongs as much to Brahmananda, as it does to Uma and her father. Anjan Dutt outdoes his performance in Nirbaak and Chitrangada to make us realise what a talent Bengali directors have wasted all these years.
Sara Sengupta mesmerises in her debut performance. She has the quirky persona of her mother and the gravitas of her father. A new star is born. Her chemistry with her (on and off-screen) father Jisshu, makes you yearn to go give your parents a big hug, and say ‘thank you’.
Uma has an ensemble cast that packs a powerful performance throughout. Rudrnail Ghosh, Ambarish Bhattacharya, Abhijit Guha, Neel Mukherjee are all clogs of the giant wheel – the ten hands of Maa Durga, who make anything happen, just for the smile on Uma’s face. And despite the personal dislike for Babul Supriyo, the politician, I have no qualms admitting that he shines as the Bihari goonda, who has a change of heart ultimately (specially so, because his only record of acting is in a terrible remake of Uttam Kumar’s last film).
Anirban Bhattacharya deserves credit for his stern, hate-filled, bigoted act that melts in a moment of emotional transformation into a loving father-figure. Just like Mahisasur had surrendered himself to Durga, just before the Goddess slayed the buffalo demon. Srabanti, who plays Mariam, an actor roped in to play mother to Uma, when she returns to Kolkata, is her usual best. Uma’s real mother, played by Sayantika, struck a chord in the few scenes she appeared.
Supporting the cast in equal measure were the songs composed by Anupam Roy and the background score by Neel Dutt. Shoumik Haldar’s photography needs no separate mention. There are scenes in Switzerland, where you automatically shout ‘wow’ or ‘jiyoh’ and want the scene to freeze so you can keep staring at the visuals.
After all that praise, a little note on what I felt I would have done differently. While retaining the character of Indro as the CESC officer, I would have changed his backstory (ektu playing to the gallery hoye gelo na?). Also, the happy ending at Babughat, where Brahmananda meets his estranged wife, was a bit far-fetched. Talking of the grand climax at Babughat, I would have also ended the film right where the camera panned out of the banks, giving us an aerial view of what the city is capable of achieving, if she wishes to. Himadri finding out that Uma knew about her mother, could have come in Nabami itself, making Bijoya sweeter.
Having said that, this was Srijit Da’s film and he envisioned it in a certain way. It is not my business to pass judgments about how he brings up his baby. This is a very personal film and the effort shows in every scene. As I had tweeted earlier, Srijit Da’s dad must be very proud.
What defines a good film? This is a question that has divided the society for long. For some, it is an escape from the motley of practical world. For some, it is a medium of mass movement. For some, it is just a means of making money.
Why do I watch films? Because they help me survive, one day at a time. And, Srijit Mukherjee’s films have always been that elixir that helped me gain a new perspective of the world. Uma, surely is one of the crowning jewels in Srijit Da’s box office offerings so far.
My Rating: Emotions cannot be rated
P.S. – The end credits with Evan’s photos choked me to tears.
DISCLAIMER: ALL IMAGES USED IN THIS POST HAVE THEIR RESPECTIVE COPYRIGHTS