Friday, October 14, 2011

'Sahib, Biwi aur Gangster': Love, Sex and Politics

Tigmanshu Dhulia transposes Abrar Alvi’s Sahib Biwi aur Gulam (a Guru Dutt production) to contemporary Uttar Pradesh, precisely to the realm of a decadent Raja (Jimmy Shergill as Sahib), unable to outgrow his faded feudal glory and cope up with the rise of the common people, once their subject. Set in the bleak backdrop of dirty politics, Sahib, Biwi aur Gangster is a nerve-racking tale of crime and passion told with a spine-chilling honesty. The film in many ways recalls Vishal Bharadwaj’s classic Maqbool, especially in the love/power nexus in which the three main characters are caught.

Chhoti Rani (Mahie Gill) is way too modern and remarkably less passive compared to Chhoti Bahu of Sahib Biwi aur Gulam. In the game of power that unfolds Chhoti Rani plays a pioneering role that is almost destructive. Enigmatic and whimsical, Chhoti Rani has fallen from grace in Sahib’s eyes for having harbouring amorous feelings for a certain Lalit; the details of the love story, however, is left undisclosed. Under no circumstances is she ready to transgress class boundaries, even though she falls in love all over again with her ex-lover’s namesake, incidentally her chauffer (Randeep Hooda). A clandestine steamy love affair ensues whereby Lalit is ensnared by Chhoti Rani into acting the way she wants him to. Lalit too is no simpleton; madly in love, he throws morality to the winds and embarks on a vicious mission of overthrowing the Sahib and usurping his throne. What he realizes with a fatal blow is that he, despite his cunning and daredevilry, cannot outgrow his class. Class remains central to the narrative; and every human emotion subservient to the necessity of preserving the hierarchy.

The world of Sahib, Biwi Aur Gangster is not very unfamiliar to us. Besides Maqbool, we are also reminded of Anurag Kashyap’s Gulal, one of his finest films till date. In terms of storytelling the film scores the most for it keeps you glued to the screen as endless surprises await you till the end. The film is also worth a watch for the powerhouse of performances it delivers: Randeep Hooda is reinvented as the macho Lalit (alias Babloo); equally credible as a passionate lover and a compulsive evil-doer, Hooda steals the show almost effortlessly. Jimmy Shergill dons the turban of royalty with dignity, and delivers with aplomb. Mahie Gill is good, but needs more experience, it seems.

I am somewhat enjoying this new trend of reworking classics that have crazily caught up with Hindi filmmakers, and interestingly, most of them are doing justice to it. This is a very postmodern phenomenon, which not only offers a reinterpretation of the classics, but also calls into question the sanctimony of authorship and originality. Thanks to the emergence of the multiplexes, again a very late capitalist event, that films such as Sahib, Biwi aur Gangster, are finding producers and of course a doting audience.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

'Baishey Shrabon': Death of Poetry and a Deadly ‘System’!

It’s extremely difficult to review a thriller, for you often tend to give out the plot, which, of course, is commercially murderous for the film. Srijit Mukherjee’s Baishe Shrabon is primarily a thriller, but it is much more than that. The very title of the film, I believe, underscores the hegemony of the poet who has of late become so literally omnipresent (thanks to the farce the new government has made of him) that all other Bengali poets have been swept into oblivion. Sukanta, Sukumar, Binay, Shakti, Joy Goswami, and others are still esoteric property while Tagore has found access to the popular domain: none can deny Tagore’s superlative potentials as a poet; but this is also irrefutable that a politics of canonization can be discerned in analysing Tagore’s massive popularity and the comparatively lesser recognition the other poets have received. The climactic moment of the film therefore coincides with 'Baishe Shrabon', the day Tagore breathed his last. Interestingly, both Abhijeet and Prabir have to take the assistance of Google to find out the days on which the ‘lesser known’ poets have passed away.

On the other hand, the film is also about the death of poetry. A mad poet, who had set fire to the Calcutta Book Fair for publishers had time and again refused to publish his poetry, is at the centre of the narrative. Baishe Shrabon is different from other thrillers because it is not just about finding out with bated breath ‘whodunit’; it also engages the audience in working out the clue that may be hidden in the poetic lines found in the chits beside every victim. Interestingly, the victims are all from the lowest stratum of society, and the verses found next to them are predominantly proletariat in nature. Although the film does not clarify the choice of such verses, the silence speaks volumes. In fact, there is no criminal in Baishe Shrabon! It is the system! The reference to the anti-Establishment poetic movement (Hungry Movement) of the 60s is of special significance here.

Baishe Shrabon has adroitly blended the esoteric and the populist to a marvellous effect. The handling of the camera, especially in the narrow alleyways of the slum and in the last scene, is simply brilliant. Anupam Ray has not been able to recreate the Autograph magic though. However, Gobhire jao, profoundly rendered by Rupankar, stays with you long after the film is over.

The most promising performance is offered by Parambrata: it is his best, till date. He emotes perfectly, almost flawless; his comic timing is enviable; his accent, recalling his ‘Bengali medium’ background, is awesome. Prasenjit does not disappoint either, as was expected, although the character he plays has affiliation with several suspended police officers we have seen in numerous Hindi films; but, nonetheless, he is good. Raima Sen is effortless and Abir is loveable. The surprise package, however, is Goutam Ghosh. He animates Nibaran Chakraborty with so much life that you do feel your eyes moisten at his death.

Big Cinemas had a considerable number of viewers on Ashtami morning, and that speaks for the success the film is already enjoying. Wishing Baishey Shrabon a long run at the box-office! And a request: Those of you who have already watched the film, please do not give out the end! It does not deserve to be given out, really. People must go and find out for themselves, and believe me, it’s worth it.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

'Rang Milanti': Queen of Hearts: Polyamory to Compulsory Monogamy?

Kaushik Ganguly’s Rang Milanti returns to the age-old theme of the woman’s search for the right mate, vaguely recalling innumerable Bernard Shaw plays, particularly Man and Superman, minus the Shavian concept of the woman’s duty of creating higher beings and preserving them. However, the biological primacy of the woman over the man is certainly assumed. Kamalika is in love with four of her very close friends (Rik, a computer engineer; Tito, an aspiring filmmaker; DJ, a DJ; Laden, a clothes supplier), but cannot make up her mind. Deeply despaired of the separation her sister goes through, Kamalika does not want to take any hasty decision in settling on her partner, lest she too ends up in an unhappy marriage.
The interesting part is that film does not moralise about Kamalika’s polyamorous disposition; rather it approves of it jubilantly. The rest of the film is a delightful journey whereby Kamalika puts her four lovers through a series of tests, assisted by an equally delightful fake psychiatrist, suggestively named Anu Ghatak (which translates into catalyst). Kamalika’s brother-in-law (Saswata Chatterjee in an amazingly fun-filled role), lovingly patronizing as he is, doubles up as the psychiatrist to help her choose the right partner. The ten tests he designs for her lovers have names drawn from film titles: Kapurush Mahapurush (test for bravery), Bajimaat (test for presence of mind), Saheb (test for fluency in English), Father (test for baby-sitting), Kori Diye Kinlam (test for financial standing), Amanush (test for sanity in a drunken state), Ashukh (test for fitness), Abhijaan (test for adventurousness), Apanjan (test for love for family), and Lathi (test for respect for old people). Surprisingly, there is no test for sexual compatibility. Either the assumption is that the woman has no sexual desire, or the director did not have the guts to shock his middle class Bengali audience by making the heroine sleep with all the four lovers. The question of sex arises only when Kamalika has decided upon her partner and is thoroughly disappointed by his approach to sex. Then again, she accepts him for the message is that nobody is perfect. It’s disappointing that sex features last in Kamalika’s search for the ideal partner. The search is interestingly more class-conscious and value-oriented: actually, in order to survive happily in the upper/middle class bracket the woman is compelled to judge her partner on the basis of his social functionality rather than sexual prowess. Therefore, sex takes a backseat in the quest for the ideal mate, and practically so.
The four men surprisingly do not fight over the girl; they rather exhibit an incredible sanity in this whole affair, accepting gladly the girl’s agency in deciding upon her partner. They are too careful not to fall out with each other, notwithstanding who Kamalika eventually chooses. I was wondering when men became so civilized and rational. Ganguly’s men have finally come of age, at least on screen. It’s a tad difficult to believe that none of the four men really protest having to play a remarkably passive role.
The final message is that nobody is perfect, and one has to settle on the best out of this imperfect lot. Kamalika is ultimately not agential in this whole affair of making up her mind for the right partner. Her brother-in-law directs her through this utter confusion: the woman does not get the opportunity to consider her own priorities. Her final choice is conspicuously conditioned by the demands patriarchy makes upon women. Her desire for the right partner is given free play so as not to disrupt an existing social structure. The man eventually wins, all over again.
Nonetheless, Rang Milanti is an amusing watch. It is a fun-filled journey, thanks to Saswata’s amazing performance, Churni’s sophisticated demeanour, Ridhima’s vivacity and the credibility of the four men, Gaurab Chakraborty, Gaurab Chatterjee, Tanaji and Indrashish. Ringo as the snobbish Prakash is also praiseworthy. The music is a downer though. What is after all important is unalloyed entertainment, and Rang Milanti does not disappoint you to that end. A packed Star Theatre on Panchami evening was frequently breaking into splits and cheery claps, and that’s all a director wants.