15 August, 2004 brought the curtains down on the life Dhananjoy Chatterjee after 14 years of trials and tribulations. The central character to a heinous crime that shook the ‘Bhadralok’ city of Kolkata, Dhananjoy’s name evokes emotionally-charged responses from people even to this day. Accused of raping and murdering an 18-year old Hetal Parekh, Dhananjoy (who served as the security guard of the building where Hetal lived) claimed innocence till the day of his hanging.
The trial of Dhananjoy Chatterjee left many questions unanswered (he was unprecedentedly awarded death sentence solely based on circumstantial evidence when many key witnesses had made contrary statements in the court). There was a groundswell of clamour for his hanging at the time in Kolkata, led by none-other-than the wife of the then Chief Minister of the State, political pressure from the Gujarati vote-bank and a huge media pressure which led to the final culmination of Dhananjoy’s fate. Was he guilty? Or was he just another scapegoat sacrificed at the altar of our inept judicial system? Arindam Sil’s film explores the unsolved pieces of the puzzle.
The film is a gripping courtroom drama that compels you to challenge the notions you have lived with till now. It makes you question the system and assume a ringside view of life as it unfolds. The film can be separated into two parts: the first half explores the Dhananjoy trials as it happened in a flashback while the second half is a work of fiction where the case is reopened and available evidences re-examined and questioned in a trial. Although the film is judgmental, the director lets you be the judge of what could have transpired on 5 March, 1990.
The first half of ‘Dhananjoy’ has shades of inspiration from ‘Talvar’. It also has a ‘Roshomon’ style narration of the fateful incident. However, Arindam Sil shines in his story-telling with the daft writing and striking background score. Although the film indulges in melodrama at times, it is balanced by performances that will keep you to the edge of your seats.
A courtroom drama is expected to be dialogue-heavy, which can often get tedious for the audience to digest. In ‘Dhananjoy’ the scenes are interspersed with witty one-liners that keep the film from slipping into monotony. Kanchan Mullick and Mir (Kaushik Sen and Deepanjan Ghosh post intermission) play their parts well as the lawyers in the case. In fact, the legalities in this film were more believable and ‘real’ than most films are. Kabya Sinha, played by Mimi, is emotional yet focused. Mimi does full justice to her part.
Anirban Bhattacharya and Sudipta Chakraborty steal the show with their nuanced yet emotive performances. The stoic villainy portrayed by Sudipta is enough to send a shiver down your spine. Anirban Bhattacharya’s eyes do the talking for him. His slow walk to the gallows with Manna Dey’s ‘Mahasindhur Opar Hote’ will haunt your memories for days to come. These are performances that will define the year 2017 for Bengali cinema.
However, Kabya’s motivation to work in this case, that too four years after a man has been hanged, is a bit too much to handle. A more convincing back story could have added to the film. Why require a full-fledged trial to re-examine the evidence? With the research she had, she could have written a book instead. Also, was the public prosecutor in the second half only there for providing comic relief through objections? He hardly made a case. Moreover, the opening disclaimer says the film is purely a work of fiction, while the name as well as the promos belie the claim.
All controversies aside, there is an inherent honesty in the making of the film which sets ‘Dhananjoy’ apart. One must watch it with an open mind and separate the facts from the fiction while walking out of the theatres.
My rating: 3/5 stars
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I had ended my review of ‘Ebar Shabor’ with the lines, “Looking forward to more adventures of Shabor Dasgupta – the sleuth with a heart – in years to come”. Needless to say, Arindam Sil has recreated the magic of Shabor Dasgupta in his second adventure ‘Eagoler Chokh’ (Eye of the Eagle). Shabor is truly the ‘Sleuth of the Year’. Crisp, witty, sharp – the murder mystery will keep you the edge till the end.
By now, any fan of Bengali sleuth flicks would know what a powerhouse of talent Arindam Sil is. Razor-sharp writing, screenplay that keeps the thrill intact throughout the movie, performances to die for and haunting score, the second installment of Shabor series gets full marks in every quarter. Shabor Dasgupta was a welcome break from the tonnes of Feluda and Byomkesh films, and the freshness of the flavour is intact in this film too.
‘Eagoler Chokh’ picks up the strings where ‘Ebar Shabor’ left them – right from the chase sequence in the beginning to the indomitable style of Shabor’s problem-solving, the director has recreated the magic of the first film. But Shabor is riddled with an overbearing guilt in his heart. He is constantly at war with his subconscious self; Sil’s treatment of Shabor’s mental feuds has been splendid throughout. In the middle of this tussle, he is drawn into a murder mystery.
‘Eagoler Chokh’ is much more than a who-dun-it thriller. It delves into the psyche of people, the deep layers of human thought process, tries to analyse how the mind works. That is why we empathise with Bishan Roy (played to perfection by Anirban Bhattacharya) who has a charm that attracts women towards him – despite being told he turns into an animal in the company of women.
Bishan has many women in his life – his wife Shivangi, with whom he does not even share a room. Shivangi’s friend-cum-business-partner Nandini lives with them and has tried to seduce Bishan on several occasions. There is a teenage girl Janhabi in the flat too. And there are dark secrets of the past, which open a can of worms when revealed.
A cerebral thriller would fall flat without performances up to the mark; in this regard all actors pass with flying colours. Saswata Chatterjee easily fits into the skin of any character, Shabor being no exception. On one hand he is an emotionless sleuth whose only job is to bring crooks to justice. On the other hand he is empathetic to Bishan, who is coping with a mental conflict like him.
Essaying Bishan’s character is not easy – essaying the nuances of psychotic stress can often become melodramatic. Anirban Bhattacharya easily jumps from blank expressions to guilt-ridden self. The other actor who makes this film classier is undoubtedly Joya Ahsan. The way she emotes with her eyes is a lesson for upcoming actors.
Calcutta too is a character in the film. It seems every location of the shoot had been selected after much deliberation. From the small eatery where Shabor and his assistant have dinner to the ghats of Ganga, Soumik Halder’s camera work breathes life into the city. Like the different layers of human psyche, we are introduced to the various underbellies of our own city like never before.
The captain of the ship definitely deserves a big ‘thank you’ from the Bengali film audience for bringing the thrill back to the theatres. He has dealt with a subject so delicate with extreme finesse. He gives us the ‘bird’s eye view’ of a crime on a canvas splattered with shades of grey.
‘Eagoler Chokh’ gives us hope that Shabor Dasgupta will help us understand our society better in the future offerings too.
My Rating: 4/5 stars
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