Thursday, October 2, 2014

Chotushkon: Triangles and Tragedies

The seemingly complex parallelepiped-like structure that encloses the title of Srijit Mukherji’s Chotushkon is a figurative representation of the plot which unfolds to reveal several twists and turns, surprising the audience with its sudden shift to a popular generic mode, which was unanticipated. But, for an alert viewer, the end should not come as a surprise: as it happens with several Hollywood thrillers, the more fastidious audience would constantly be nagged by the film’s prelude to the main plot. Beginning with a macabre suicide, the film leaps into a sophisticated world of filmmakers, three veteran and another struggling (completing the Chotushkon), who set out to make a film, which would be a bouquet of four shorts, each linked by a common theme: death! 
Actually, three different texts seem to operate without any apparent connection; and within those three texts, three other texts are inserted (shot in three different filters, green, red and blue), with a fourth text constantly signalling its possible emergence but never materialising. Interestingly, as this fourth text is anticipated with a lot of expectation, the twist comes with the audience realizing that they have been always already inhabiting this fourth text, without knowing. (If one notices the deployment of the three different filters, RGB, it would not be difficult to apprehend the fourth story. It's technically already there...the three filters merge to produce colour scale of the fourth story, the main demands a little more attention!)

The plot gets even more layered as the characters within the main plot also realize that they have been made to perform within a text, plotted long time back. It’s as complex as the line structure that encapsulates the title! One really needs to pay attention to find one’s way out of this maze of overlapping fictions.

What makes Chotushkon an interesting watch is how the geometrical structure of the quadrilateral is deconstructed into a triangle, which becomes the base of, not one, but a triple tragedy. Srijit Mukherji seems to have come a long way from his Hemlock Society or Mishwar Rohoshyo to conceive something as intriguing as this. Located firmly in Tollygunje, the film to a great extent is auto-reflexive, concurring within it several intertexts (some a little too obvious, some subtle). This auto-reflexivity engenders a rare humour that undercuts the predominantly dismal circumstances in which the film starts, and seems to meander into now and then. Sample this: When Dipu (Chiranjeet Chakraborty, alias Dipak Chakraborty in real life) proposes a plot about an eccentric man, devastated at his wife’s death, he introduces his wife as Banalata and the framed picture shows Kirron Kher in her Devdas avatar. Several discourses are in operation here. First, Chiranjeet had played the treacherous lover to Kirron Kher’s Banalata in Rituparno Ghosh’s classic Bariwali. Kher also played Parvati’s mother Sumitra in Sanjay Bhansali’s 2002 adaptation of Devdas, and had appeared more comic than tragic in her exaggerated boisterousness. While Banalata is a victim of a man’s ruthless exploitation and is still remembered for her composure, poise and muted agony, Sumitra is etched in the memory of the Indian audience for her loudness and over-the-top, high-strung melodrama. The conflation of the two images (which also symbolise merging two different gharanas of filmmaking) in the framed photograph, therefore, appears hilarious, provided the audience could make the connection. This little scene also functions as a small tribute to Rituparno Ghosh who was supposed to play Jayabrata (the role now essayed by Parambrata Chattopadhyay). If Ghosh had played this character it would certainly have a different name.

And there's the unmistakable 36 Chowringhee Lane and Mr. and Mrs. Iyer connection. Aparna Sen had shot into fame as a director with the former revolving around a lonely Anglo-Indian English teacher, who is eventually betrayed by her favourite student. With Aparna Sen as the conjurer in the third film-within-the film, Mukherji makes it a palimpsest of her career as it were. Mrs. Meenakshi Iyer (Mr. and Mrs. Iyer) come together with Violet Stoneham (here Miss Havisham in the second film within the film, the Great Expectations link going very well with the English teacher in the third story) creating a thrilling memory game as it were. 

In another scene, towards the climax, posters of popular films hanging on the wall, act as interesting intertexts for the film in discussion. Through posters of such hardcore commercial films (specially, Protishodh and Troyee, which also hint at the theme) Mukherji makes a conscious effort to locate his own film in history.  The Aranyer Dinratri poster, on the other hand, becomes a literal reminder of the final setting: a bunglow in the middle of a dense forest. Sesh Anko again underscores the theme of murder and retribution. Nemesis? However, this could have been done far more subtly.

One of the primary strengths of the film is its cast: Parambrata Chattopadhyay is brilliant, in his easy-going, slightly effete and vulnerable disposition as the youngest of the foursome. Aparna Sen is restrained and it is interesting to note how she plays herself, but with a detachment. Chiranjit Chakraborty surprises by his performance which is comparable only to Dipankar in Bariwali. This time he speaks in his own voice though. Goutam Ghose is real, and delivers satisfactorily. But, it’s Kaushik Ganguly who leaves an indelible impression. The Payel-Indrashish-Rahul trio needed a lot more grooming though. They barley appeared as belonging to the 70s...the grey-scale did not help much.

Anyway, whether spring has returned to Tollygunje is difficult to confirm, but Chotushkone would surely contribute to expedite its arrival, given others also come up with equally interesting stories, not just a dumb Dev gyrating to cacophonous music in exotic locales and punching blood out of puppet-like goons. Bangla Cinema has always sustained itself on good storytelling, not on special effects or action (that’s why a Bangla Troy with Moonmoon Sen as Helen appears so classically hilarious); and Chotushkone tells the story well.

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