In the rather lackadaisical prelude that takes almost 15 minutes to arrive at the core narrative, Sabysachi Chakraborty who volunteers to share a plot idea with the aspiring director Parambrata Chattopadhyay, tells the latter that his story has “layers”. As Aneek Dutta’s Bhooter Bhabishyat (The Future of the Past) progresses with amazing alacrity after that, the audience laughs through the exploration of these ”layers”, while, in the spirit of a good comedy, being compelled to think. Bhooter Bhabishyat is not mindless entertainment, but an amusing social satire that demands considerable attention.
Delightfully auto-reflexive, Bhooter Bhabishyat brings back the benign spook, the kind popularized by Ray’s Goopy Gayen Bagha Bayen (Parambrata’s cell often breaks moments of eerie silence with the benevolent Bhooter Raja’s ghostly articulation of the three boons) The crew of ghosts Dutta introduces is comprised of well-known caricatures: the North Kolkata zamindar, a British official of the East India Company, a yesteryear heroine of Bengali cinema, a “Bangal” refugee, a Bihari rickshaw-puller, a royal Muslim chef (from Sirajudaulla’s kitchen), a Naxalite, a colonel who lost his life in the 1999 Kargil War, a pseudo-intellectual band-singer, a college girl spurned in love, and a hilariously ruthless mastaan.
The bhoot is all about recalling history: the arrival of the East India Company, Sirajudaulla, the British Raj in Bengal and the complicity of the Zamindars with the colonial rulers…the Partition…black and white Bengali cinema of the 1940s… the Naxalite Revolution and its martyrs…the Kargil War…Down to the Rizwanur case, and the obsession with band formation…"revolutionary music” that is ear-splittingly cacophonic and demands a lot of attitude! This history needs to be preserved…and hence, the fight to save Chowdhury Mansion which has drawn the greedy attention of Ganesh Bhutoria, the avaricious promoter. Since, everbody (read the State) is completely nonchalant about preserving this heritage the band of ghosts takes upon themselves the Herculean responsibility. The mission is accomplished, and the ghosts “live” happily ever after. The story-within-the-story ends happily indeed. But this is mere wishful thinking…in reality nobody is bothered about the future of the past. Therefore, the story of the past needs to be told…and what can be a better medium than cinema? In order their voices are heard the ghosts produce a film. And the film is Bhooter Bhabishyot. For you!
A superlative ensemble cast keeps you in splits all through: Paran Bandopadhyay brings in his inherent comic talent to the portraiture of Darpanarayan; George Baker plays the representative of the British Raj with a pampering concern for the “natives”, the lesser mortals; Biswajit Chakraborty’s colonel is too full of nostalgia, playing out with utter faith his patriotic leanings much to the annoyance of the other ghosts; Swastika Mukherjee goes full retro with remarkable credibility; Saswata Chatterjee surprises us with his maastan act; Samdarshi, the self-proclaimed revolutionary and Mumtaz, who has been badly betrayed by her boyfriend, bring in the romantic streak; and the Bangal refugee, the Muslim chef and the Bihari rickshaw-puller are much too real…magic real?
One of the most cerebral films made in recent times, Bhooter Bhabishyot uses double-entendre to an amazing effect…the film shows how one can be intelligently crass. The film merges the elitist and the populist to a commendable degree, resulting in full-on entertainment. As I have said earlier, it remains true to the spirit of good comedy, never losing sight of the Shavian dictum that comedy is not about mindless laughter…it should make you think while you laugh.
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