“There is another world inside this one – no words can describe it.” – Rumi
Uma, one of Srijit Mukherji’s recent works, ends with an ode to Kolkata. What that 2 minute sequence elaborated in words, ‘Shah Jahan Regency’ does in frames, poetically shot, in the first and last scenes. From Parambrata (Rudra)’s monologue to ‘Jokhon Porbe Na More Payer Chinho” in Rupankar’s voice – one falls in love with the City of Joy all over again.
Change is the only constant in life – and what better can reflect on this constantly evolving mad rush of existence than a hotel? Guests arrive, guests go, but life goes on forever (sorry, Tennyson). Manishankar Mukhopadhyay tried to capture the essence of an ever-changing city through the highs and lows of a hotel in his novel ‘Chowringhee’. Seven decades later, Srijit Mukherji took on the mantle to write his love letter to the city in his film ‘Shah Jahan Regency’.
When I was walking in to the theatre, there was a lot of chatter among the crowd – who is playing Sata Bose, whether the film will live up to Utam Kumar’s magnum opus of the same name, and likewise. Although the director had made it amply clear that this is an adaptation of the novel in the 2019 context, comparisons with the 1960’s film were bound to arise.
That Srijit’s Shah Jahan is different, comes as a disclaimer right at the beginning when the protagonist Rudra declares his ‘Shah Jahan’ is Chowringhee’s reincarnation (jaatishwar; the reference to Srijit’s previous film, where he adapted another famous Uttram Kumar character, is unmissable). Thus the characters also sport different names here – Sata Bose is Sam (Sameeran). Karabi Guha becomes Kamalini. Marco Polo is Makaranda Pal. Mr and Mrs Pakrashi have become Mr and Mrs Sarkar here. Nityahari has become Nitty Gritty in the modern take, and we have a new character – Gayatri.
Like his other works, the dialogues bear the touch of intelligence, the signature-Srijit we are familiar with. Even the sub-titles are written with such care that anyone unfamiliar with quintessentially Bengali colloquialism won’t miss out on subtle references. So, when Rudra asks “Amar ekta prosno ache”, pat comes the reply “Ora kaanta benchhe khay” from Sam. Or that one character is jokingly referred to as ‘Shah Jahan’s Jahanara’. Brilliant is the word.
The sublime writing is complemented by the transcendent background score. In a contrast to the high-note orchestra, which we are accustomed to hearing in Srijit’s films, the score here is minimalistic. It is almost like a muted tassar saree that stands out in a crowd of Louis Vuitton and Gucci.
Shah Jahan Regency unfolds like the first spell of rain after a long hiatus. As chapters unfold, we are introduced to the characters. They have been sketched with the same tender care that a kumor would take while carving the goddess out of clay. The director humanises the hotel through the characters and the guests.
Essentially a chamber-drama inside a hotel, Shah Jahan Regency encapsulates the soul of the city and eases its way in the inner recesses of your heart. The performances never fail to tug at your heartstrings, sometimes leaving a rock-shaped hole in the crevices of the heart with their stellar act. In an ensemble, balancing storylines is often a tightrope walk, but in this film each character has a marked identity.
Parambrata impresses as Rudra, the out of work young man, who evolves into a skilled hospitality manager, thanks to the training he’s received from the efficient duty manager Sam (played equally emphatically by Abir Chatterjee). His entry into the hotel, and his chance encounter with Gayatri (Rituparna Sengupta), who plays classical instruments at the lobby, is a scene worth preserving in memory.
Even in the two-odd minutes of screentime, Sujoy Prasad expresses the angst of marginalised people in his monologue. The emotions behind the cold words are so palpable and relatable. Rittika Sen also does a sincere job in her role as the air hostess. Anjan Dutt and Mamata Shankar, too break their moulds to portray characters, which we have rarely seen them play. Anirban Bhattacharya, as the love-struck, romantic son of industrialist, reaches for your heart with his rendition of ‘Kichhu Chaini Ami’.
But the soul of the film belongs to Swastika Mukherjee. The hostess of a rich Marwari businessman, she is a permanent resident of Shah Jahan Regency, and often entertains guests in her suite. Whether it is the moral dilemma of extending favours as an escort, or the innate craving for love, in the mad where every customer desires her body, or the conviction of saying no to a prospective customer because her mind is not at peace – Swastika lives the character of Kamalini effusively.
The fate she chooses for herself can be debated – but the inherent poetry in her pain, and the heart-shattering beauty in her tragic last moments, will make you squirm with unease in your seats. I would have loved to see the film end with her track (and Samiran’s chapter before her). And then there is a the contrast – the soul of Shah Jahan – Gayatri, who resigns to her fate and moves on (signifying how heritage gives way to modernity, and one can only accept the new world order and continue to exist).
Overall, Shah Jahan Regency retains the essence of Shankar’s Chowringhee and the soul of Kolkata – the ever-changing, always-evolving, flowing bursts of change, and how things remain the same. As Rabindranath had once said, “অন্তরে অতৃপ্তি রবে, সাঙ্গ করি মনে হবে- শেষ হইয়াও হইলো না শেষ…” (it ends on a discerning note, you feel there is more to come. But alas, the curtain falls), you leave the theatre with a heavy heart, expecting more from life.
My Rating: 3.5/5 stars
DISCLAIMER: All Images Used In This Film Have Their Respective Copyrights
Happy World Tourism Day to all my readers. Although I am not a travel blogger in true sense of the term, I have occasionally shared my experiences of exploring some places, which have wow-ed me. Travelling always brings with it a welcome relief from the tedious monotony of life. Occasional breaks always energise you with a fresh spirit to take on the world.
Having grown up in north Bengal, my childhood had been one of great joy – with multitudes of places to explore: from the hills to the forests. And with the tourism infrastructure improving by the day in the State, destinations in the bucket list keep increasing forever.
Whenever it comes to travelling, I always choose Bengal over any other place, not for any parochial reasons, but for the simple reason that it is meaningless to explore the world when you have not even discovered the hidden gems of your own motherland. As Rabindranath had so beautifully said it:
দেখা হয় নাই চক্ষু মেলিয়া. ঘর হতে শুধু দুই পা ফেলিয়া. একটি ধানের শিষের উপরে. একটি শিশিরবিন্দু।
(I have not seen yet, just two steps outside my home, a drop of dew on the shaft of paddy)
India, we know, is a land of great diversities, ranging from the Himalayas in the north to the seas to her south. Bengal, too, is guarded by the Himalayas in the north and is bordered by the seas on the south. She is blessed with natural resources – forests, tea gardens, beaches, hillocks, canyons, mangroves, land of red soil, tribal hamlets, heritage sites, places of worship… you name it and you’d find it in Bengal. And with the recent thrust on eco-tourism, and home stay tourism, these destinations have become more tourist-friendly.
For simplicity, Bengal can be divided into 4 zones:
Zone I – North Bengal (Cooch Behar, Jalpaiguri, Alipurduar, Darjeeling, Kalimpong, North & South Dinajpur)
Home to the Himalayas and Dooars forests.
Zone II – Gour Banga (Malda, Murshidabad, Nadia)
The seat of power during medieval period. Home to historical and religious sites.
Zone III – South Bengal (Hooghly, Howrah, Kolkata, North & South 24 Parganas, Purba Medinipur)
The remnants of colonial rule can be best experienced here. Also, home to beaches and mangroves.
Zone IV – Paschimanchal (Bardhaman, Birbhum, Purulia, Bankura, Jhargram, Paschim Medinipur)
The land of red soil, tribal belt of Bengal, folk culture and art.
I initially wanted to make a listicle of places to visit in Bengal, then, changed my mind, as the list would be forever-expanding. Instead, I am sharing pictures of some of my favourite destinations. Hope you like it.
All images are from the official website of West Bengal Tourism Department. You can visit the website for more information, booking and photos.
P.S. I am taking my Alexa rank to the next level with Blogchatter. This is my last post.
On 1st September, my Alexa rank was 6,143,301 (global) and I did not have a country rank. As of today, my global Alexa rank is 1,223,202 and my India rank is 42,525.
DISCLAIMER: All Images Used In This Post Have Their Respective Copyrights