The problem with a class of Bengalis is the blatant intellectual snobbery, the condescending attitude that they know more than the rest, that they are superior. Clearly they have not heard how knowledge brings with it a sense of humility. These select few are so accustomed to living in their bubble of ‘know-it-all’ that they sacrifice their creative side at the alter of ego. This exactly is the case with the writer of a review of the film ‘Rajkahini’ on a website called ‘Bangla Live’.
Criticism is always healthy but to tom-tom a ‘holier-than-thou’ air and scathingly pour out “emotions” for having watched the film sitting on the stairs of the theatre is taking things a bit too far. A not-very-fine line separates the personal from professional, the Bangla Live review was much of the former; it was evident.
In the very beginning the writer makes the assumption that most viewers of the film may not be very “knowledgeable” and only few “learned” people (like him, of course) would be privy to the fact that the opening sequence of the film was “ripped off” from a Manto story. Clearly, he does not have the patience to read the opening credits where the director clearly outlined the sequence was an adaptation of “Khol Do”. In fact, Manto’s name figured in the list of acknowledgements too.
He also has a problem with the portrayal of the prostitutes. Too elitist and classy, he thinks. Of course, why not. Brothels have to be like Sonagachhi – delinquent, dark, dingy, dirty. How dare a lady who was raised in Bengal and became a kothewali in Lucknow speak Urdu interspersed with Bangla (with north Indian accent)? How can a prostitute trained in Lucknow have class? How dare prostitutes have fair skin?!
The third problem the knowledgeable reviewer had with the film was the overt depiction of sexuality. Clearly, Srijit Mukherjee is at fault here. How dare Mr Director think that he can depict the sexual desires of women? Women can NOT have any desire. They must only serve. That too prostitutes? How dare they. They must only sell their bodies in lieu of money. Women do NOT masturbate; it is the fiefdom of men. To even suggest they do is sacrilege.
Might I add here the bone of contention – lesbian relationship. Even another friend of mine said it was useless sub-plot that was left in the cold. While I agree the relationship had enormous scope, it was not justified on screen. But useless? No. This film is all about people in minority. Fringe. ‘Prantik manush’ as I understand it. The lesbian love is symbolic. People of all castes, creed, sexuality were affected by partition and everyone’s story needed to be told.
Then there was reference to a scene (which was one of my favourites in the film) between Zoya Ahsan and Rudranil Ghosh. He thought it was useless sexualisation of women. I thought it was oft-told tragedy of women with a touch of empathy. There lies difference of opinion. Despite having limited knowledge of film craft, I loved the sequence for its camera angles, use of colours, the setting and above all the heart-wrenching performances.
The reviewer also wondered why Rudranil’s cremation was shot on a huge rock in the middle of the river, so away from the kotha… Agree. But then, what if Rubina wanted Sujan’s last rites to be held at the spot where they spent many afternoons in each other’s company?
Having said that, the knowledgeable reviewer did point out some minor inconsistencies. Like the setting. Haldibari is not arid and neither does it have hillocks as shown in the film. But to discredit an entire narrative for this flaw? I would not do so. There was no continuity in the scenes between Mountbatten and Radcliffe. But then again, these are minor aberrations – highlighting these would be missing the larger picture.
The chase sequence at the butcher market also raised eyebrows. Why were carcasses and goat meat hanging in the middle of night in a closed market? I had the same question. The most logical explanation to me was they were metaphorical to make the tragedy that was about to unfold even more gruesome! In a way those carcasses depict how mercilessly butchers slice innocent animals, just like Kabir was about to do with Sujan.
Finally the burning question – how a bunch of prostitutes who were the champions of feminism throughout the film decided to perform Jauhar in the end. I was perplexed. The look on Begum Jaan’s face as she shut the door of the kotha was that of pride and victory. Feminism had won. Where is the paradox? Begum Jaan or her girls did not surrender to the enemy. They breathed their last in the very house they fought for. Again, Aban Thakur’s Rajkahini was a metaphor here. What perturbed me was that Thamma was alive and well to read passages from a book as fire raged on. But then, cinema is all about taking liberties.
In the end, my humble submission to everyone who reads this piece would be to learn more about film craft, definitely. Yours truly himself loves reading. But never let your knowledge get the better of you. Debate, discuss, deliberate. Never condescend. Comprehend, instead. Filmmaking after all is a director’s personal art. You may have different ideas but that does not necessitate spewing canards.
Thus, when the reviewer on Bangla Live contends Rajkahini is Srijit Mukherjee’s “nikrishto tomo” film, I object. In terms of scope, subject, writing and overall performances, the growth of Srijit Da as a director was evident. A film of this scale needed to be made in Bengal. This story needed to be told.
It would be audacious to say that I have mustered the courage to actually write a ‘review’ of Rajkahini. For a mere mortal with hardly any understanding of cinema, critiquing a masterpiece like this would bring to fruition the old Bengali saying ‘Bamon hoye chaande haat deoya’. Yet, I have been yearning since last evening to scream from the tallest rooftop of the city urging people not to miss this experience.
Packed within 160 minutes of cinema is a lifetime of emotions, the human zeal of struggle, the undaunted spirit of fighting for freedom and oft-ever told story of the victory of good over evil. What better time to release the film than the fortnight when the entire state is gearing up to celebrate the divine feminine.
Rajkahini derives inspiration from several stalwarts – from Sadat Hassan Manto to Aban Thakur. But the film is quintessentially Srijit Mukherjee’s own. His craftsmanship has left every member of the audience with a lump in the throat and glistening, moist eyes. As they say, ‘Rajay rajay juddho hoy, ulukhagrar pran jay’. Srijit Mukherjee skilfully narrates a tale where independence faces resistance from freedom; individual liberty as people’s lives are sacrificed at the altar of independence by those in high seats of power. A group of feisty women, that too belonging to brothels, take on the might of the government and embrace the ultimate fate with their heads held high.
Rajkahini is set in 1947 in Haldibari (north Bengal). But the story is universal and timeless. If the first sequence leaves you shell-shocked wait till the last scene where Rituparna’s victorious-yet-sad stare will leave you numbed. Lily Chakraborty’s voice still rings in my ears; the final passages of Padmini from Aban Thakur’s Rajkahini resonating in the heart. In fact Rajkahini is a film that one must watch out for the performances. In never-seen-before avatars, each actor outdid themselves, making an indelible impression in the heart.
Rituparna as Begum Jaan is stoic yet emotional. The owner of the ‘kotha’, she is the matriarch who has not let the woman in her die. Parno Mitra, the gullible sweet woman will win you over with her innocence. Zoya Ahsan, a favourite actor from across the border, is sensuous and earthy. Priyanka, Sohini, Sayoni – all justify the roles they are cast in. Riddhima’s opening scene was shocking and made me skip a beat. Sudiptaa was a natural. Bnuchki will leave you stunned in her final sequence. Rajkahini transforms these girls into women. Nigel Akkara’s support to the ladies as Salim was phenomenal; his death sequence will shatter your hearts.
Among the male actors, Rudranil steals the show with his earthy and innocent portrayal of Sujan. You cannot help must cry out loud when he meets his fate. The romantic sequence between Rudra and Zoya Ahsan was probably the best written scene I have watched in a long long time. The colours, dialogues and the flawless execution through acting just took that sequence to a ethereal level of finesse. Rajkahini is filled with moments which make you go ‘awww’ or ‘Ohhh’. You cannot prevent your heart from melting in empathy and love for these women forsaken by society.
Saswata Chatterjee’s cold, calculating maneuvers, silent stares will freeze your innards. His exchanges with Kaushik Sen are ‘harh him kora’ to say the least. He epitomises the administration that supersedes all laws and rules only to get things, it views as right, done. The pain of Partition is expressed in his tears, the vengeance of the violence during that period reflected in his eyes. How calmly he advises Dr Ilias (played by Kaushik Sen) to incite riots if people do not ‘move’. Between Saswata and Kaushik, Rajkahini transgresses time and become epochal.
The icings on the cake are definitely Jishu and Abir. One is the cold-hearted goon who is for hire to instigate violence. The other, the innocent-looking, scorned lover who can to any extremes for revenge.
Essentially Rajkahini is a melting pot called India. At times one can even see shades of the Singur andolan where the government of the day decided to usurp the land of farmers using every rule in the book (and even going to the extent of using muscle power). People of Singur put up a brave fight but could not save their land. But they had the moral victory.
Rajkahini is dedicated to all the refugees in the world. The film in essence champions anyone who stands up against the state for individual liberties. Thus Rajkahini is even more relevant in today’s times.
I would end this piece with only one line: Jaya Hey, Jaya Hey, Jaya Hey.
My Rating: 4.5/5 stars
DISCLAIMER: All Images Used In This Post Have Their Respective Copyrights