The cine-lover in me has an absolute reason to celebrate when she watches two beautiful new bengali films back to back within a fortnight. Two weeks back, it was the deliciously flavored Ahare Mon. And today, it was a very satisfying experience watching the beautifully made Shonar Pahar, highly rich in innocence, affection, loneliness, hurt, pain, and unconditional blissful love.
Thank you Parambrata Chattopadhyay for telling such a heartfelt story about a suddenly found friendship between two most unlikely people, an aging lady struggling with her solitude, and a young innocent and lonely boy, both craving for love and companionship in this fast paced materialistic world where relationships no longer mean much. And thank you Param for blending in another story of a long lost friendship between a mother and son so smoothly into it, all of it with subtle natural finesse without resorting to melodrama at any point of time which could have been a very easy pitfall for the film. No wonder it tugs at the heartstrings at the right places and delivers a beautiful emotional experience at the end of it.
The masterstroke here of course is to cast Tanuja as the central character, and there couldn’t have been a better fit than her as Upama / Uma / Ma. In an absolutely stellar performance, she doesn’t deliver one false note in any scene (and she is there in almost all the scenes)! Her expressions say it all – sternness, solitude, naughtiness, warmth, anger, indifference, bitterness, pain, love and happiness, and all of it perfectly! A brilliant canvas of emotions, I am so glad that its her who finally did the role after the initial choices of Aparna Sen, Madhabi Mukhopadhyay or Sabitri Chottopadhyay did not work out. No one, just no one could have done what Tanuja delivers here – absolute masterclass!
Jisshu Sengupta has a relatively smaller role, but in that small space he proves what a terrific actor he is. He shows his range in what he can do in two very different scenes with his on screen mother with completely conflicting emotions, and delivers both of them perfectly. We have been missing this Jisshu in other films like Uma where he had completely missed the boat and had delivered a badly exaggerated performance.
Parambrata himself is very nuanced and restrained as needed for his important role, and is in fine form. Good call from him to choose the characters of his and Jisshu’s, because a swap clearly would not have worked knowing both of them.
Arunima Ghosh is adequate in a not so simple role, and the script ensures that we see through her perspective in the story as well. Gargi Roychoudhury holds fort in a role that had zero dialogs and conveys all that she was needed to convey. In a small but memorable role, the thespian Soumitro Chattopadhyay is endearing, and no one will complain about the little nostalgia trip from Tin Bhubaner Paare, although it is slightly forced.
But beyond all of them, the actor who carries the entire film on his delicate, fragile shoulders along with Tanuja is the delightfully vibrant little Srijato Bandopadhyay! The little boy delivers such an enlightening top class act amidst so many veterans around him that its hard to believe that he has little to no experience of facing the camera. The innocence of his eyes, his smile, his pitch perfect dialog delivery, his sense of timing and his expressions are all on point, and totally capture all the emotions of the wonder boy Biltu who comes in as the catalyst of happiness in his Uma’s life! His performance is right there at the top this year along with Adil Hussain and Anjan Dutt, and his future should be as bright and spunky as his charm is. You rocked it Bitlu!
It was important to speak about the performances of the film first because they are the strongest points of the film, which does have its share of minor flaws here and there. Some plot points are too convenient, like a suddenly induced change of heart of a son and his wife, or somewhat long drawn sequences of elaborating the stories within the ongoing story. But thankfully they are not too distracting and do not derail the film at any point. What also helps the film a lot is a terrific background score by Neel Dutt, including the adequately placed songs that take forward the narrative. They stay back with you long after you have walked out of the theatre.
And so does the film. The charm and the warmth of the world created by Uma and Bitlu is infectious and they soak you completely in it. Its impossible that you have not fallen in love with both of them by the end of the film, or do not feel their joy and peace as they along with everyone around them finally find their own Shonar Pahar as their individual metaphors of life. All this, because a beautiful tale has been narrated with its heart at the right place. Other filmmakers can take a lesson or two on how to make a good film involving kids without needing to manipulate any emotions through excessive melodrama.
Thank you Param!