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Movie Review: Dhananjoy by Arindam Sil

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.

 

dhananjoy movie reviewA still from the movie

 

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

DISCLAIMER: All Images Used In This Post Have Their Respective Copyrights

Bring Back Sense8

I have been with this show since the beginning.

I was home alone one night, and saw it pop up on the top of my Netflix screen. I googled it first, and read that the general consensus was that the show was a bit odd and not particularly good. I flicked past it on Netflix, couldn’t find anything else to watch, had dinner, and decided to sit down and try the first episode.

I watched the first season within three days.

Sense8 is perhaps the most beautiful show I have ever watched, alongside shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Six Feet Under.

 

Sense8

 

In the current climate of popular television, popular shows are usually one of two things (or a combination of both): they are extremely negative and cynical, and they are more about shock or twist than substance. Think about it: shows like Game of Thrones, as an example, are almost entirely about the dark side of humanity, psychopaths, manipulators, violence, sexual violence, death, destruction. The television landscape is often bleak, emotionally cheap, lacking in artfulness.

Sense8 is the antithesis of that. Sense8 is a television show that is explicitly and unapologetically about how diversity is our strength, love and compassion are our superpowers, and fear is our enemy. It is not a show that wants to suggest to us that we, as human beings, are inherently evil. It is not a show that wants to reel you in through shallow twists or gore or suicidal ideation. It is a show that says to each viewer: ‘Can you feel your own humanity? It’s right there, come with us into this story, and feel your humanity again’.

It is a show about Kala, an Indian woman who is equally dedicated to science and religion. It is a show about Nomi, a trans woman who is capable, happy, dedicated, loyal, clever. It is a show about Capheus, a man from Nairobi who is endlessly positive in the face of adversity. It is a show about Lito, a Mexican man who wants to entertain you, who is brave, gay, and dramatic. It is a show about Sun, a Korean woman who will sacrifice even for those who don’t deserve it. It is a show about Wolfgang, a German man who is living with trauma and trying to find himself underneath it. It is a show about Will, a cop from Chicago who will protect us at all costs. It is a show about Riley, a woman with endless empathy and strength, who can lose a husband and child and still have a heart full of love.

It is a show about us. The best of us, us being individuals and humankind. It is a show that, I think more so than any other show that is currently on television or has been on television perhaps in my lifetime and maybe yours, that demonstrates the true power of art. Art can heal us, art can move us, art can tell us stories and educate us about people and experiences we don’t personally know or understand, art can bridge gaps, art can challenge preconceptions, art can make us brave, art can challenge fear, art can repair.

Sense8, for me, has been an important show, and a very necessary show. In a time when the political conversation across the world seems to turn on whether or not we should start separating from each other, whether or not we should fear each other, Sense8 has been there to show us why fear and separation are antithetical to love and joy.

Sense8 is also a show that has the most wholehearted and kind and careful representation of queer people and queer culture that I have seen on television. The show contains four openly queer characters, all of whom are happy, successful, fulfilled and loved. It is a show that has had no interest in playing into the stereotype, as is often found in television and film, that queer people are inherently unhappy.

I had never had any particularly strong feelings about Netflix before I watched the first season of Sense8. But Sense8 to me, was the embodiment of what I, at least thought, Netflix was about. Bringing programs to an audience, programs that were fearless and new and boundary pushing and actually interested in artistic integrity over profit or perceived return; that was what Netflix was to me.

I feel that in cancelling Sense8, Netflix has betrayed it’s own philosophical vision and what I think is it’s artistic integrity, and responsibility.

But mostly I feel that today, an opportunity and a light has left the world. Art, in our darkest times, is often one of our strongest allies, one of our strongest antidotes. Sense8 was not only a television show that people loved to watch, it was a television show that people needed to watch. It radiated joy, friendship, respect, global community, hope, empathy and decency. It was a television show that did not simply encourage our base, unrefined, animalistic tendencies towards competition and violence, but one that tried to remind us of the conscious choice we can make to be kind.

Sense8 wanted you to feel that the world, every individual within the world, was a part of your cluster; if only you could broaden your mind ever so slightly to the idea. Sense8 wanted you to know you were not alone in feeling hunted, in feeling tired, in feeling overwhelmed. Sense8 wanted you to know that together, if we try, and we use each other’s knowledge and skill and perspectives, we can be better.

I want to thank the entire cast, crew, and creatives of Sense8 for trying to give us that light. I want to say I am disappointed in Netflix for not realising it’s potential as not simply a company, but as a patron and distributor of 21st century art. I would also like to note that as a queer person, I no longer consider Netflix a ‘network’ that actually values the stories of people like myself – especially since there seems to be no indication of finishing this show with the respect the audience deserves.

I hope we can all remember what this show gave us. Be critical and clever like Nomi, strong but forgiving like Sun, positive and courageous like Capheus, protective and loyal like Will, open and joyful like Lito, dedicated to your mind and your heart like Kala, strong in yourself and unapologetic like Wolfgang, kind, empathetic and resilient like Riley.

Remember, that you can be a sensate, if you just try.

 

This post has been penned by Dr Anindya Kar

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