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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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Movie Review: Ek Je Chhilo Raja by Srijit Mukherjee

“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

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