‘Palki chale… Hun huna…. Gagon tale… Hun huna…. Aagun jwale… Hun huna…’ – It is a recurring phrase that is repeated time and again at various situations, and beautifully summarizes the crushing cycle of life that Bijoya depicts as a film! It wouldn’t have been an easy decision to make a sequel of Bishorjon – after all it was vintage Kaushik Ganguly whom we had seen after long, and whom we have not seen since then (Bishorjon review here). It was a deeply engaging story of Padma Haldar, Naser Ali, and Ganesh Mondol set across the Indo-Bangladesh cultural fabric, and though it had ended with some open questions, many of us had drawn our closures based on our interpretation of those characters and their motivations. Of course, Ganguly the director had other plans, and some of those interpreted closures fell flat on the ground as we got a sneak peak of Bijoya a few days back. We were not complaining though, because it meant that we could again embark on a voyage with the three central characters, and this time around the journey would become even more engaging with a tighter script and more nuanced storytelling!
It is the terrific writing of Bijoya that sets the film apart. The sharpness of the thought process shows in the smartness of its writing all over. In a way, the structure of the film is strikingly similar to Bishorjon and yet the context is switched brilliantly to make it as dissimilar and fresh as possible. One can say that the screenplay almost plays out as a alter ego to its predecessor, and because we have already bought in to the depth of emotions of the three central characters with the earlier film, we are quickly immersed in their pain and agony of love and loss here, and ride along with them to their destinies with a constant lump in the throat and moisture in the eyes for the most part.
While Bishorjon was the story centered around the trials and tribulations of Padma and her journey of changing surnames, with Jaya Ahsan shining above everyone else in that film; the anchor and focus shifts to Ganesh Mondol in Bijoya on how the uncertainties of his life becomes the premise for Padma and Naser to cross paths again and decide where they want to go from there. This story clearly belongs to Kaushik Ganguly the actor and his Ganesh, he sparkles in every frame, and his interactions with Padma, Naser or even Lau (a markedly better Lama here than the previous film) form the lifeline of the film. So much so that when the focus of the film shifts and deviates to more dramatic tracks of conspiring neighbors, or even a very critical duel between Padma and Naser, you begin to miss Ganesh and his sharp overarching presence. Kaushik also has the sharpest and the best written lines of the film (or across films in a long time) and the actor in him delivers them in his finest form here – subtle, sharp, humorous and grey at the same time. I would someday like to own a copy of the script just to revisit his writing for himself – the integration of occasional English words with super smooth Bangal and how effortlessly is it delivered is a delicious treat to the ears. The maturity and depth that Ganesh (along with Padma and Naser) plays out is amazing too, and I don’t think bengali cinema has seen such a grounded, intense and open interplay of love, trust and understanding in a long, long time. The honesty with which all of them profess their love and longing for the other, and yet respect where they have ended up in life, lifts the maturity quotient of this love story up by several notches – a rare feat!
The other good news is that the overpowering presence and performance of Kaushik Ganguly takes nothing away from Jaya Ahsan or her Padma. Like her screen name, Jaya’s performance flows like a naturally smooth stream of water yet again, and she is still the embodiment of grace, poise, passion and pathos as before, doesn’t matter if she is flowing across in Bangladesh or India, giving herself away to cure an ailing soul, be it Naser or Ganesh. Jaya’s Padma is still the Durga Pratima who had drowned her own self for her love in Bishorjon, and is again ready to face her destiny on her own without her love being impacted in any way. Over years, she has been deeply torn between her love and her respect & responsibilities, but has never let it distract her from the path of greater good. Time has gotten her more in control over her emotions, she knows how to fight her weak moments and the tough ongoing battles of life alike, and unlike societal expectations she is not ready to be driven by the men in her life, or so she thinks! My one gripe to the writer Kaushik Ganguly is that he could have restrained himself for being too explicit and long drawn in the climatic confrontation between Padma and Naser and should have left it for the audience interpretation on why they are taking the decisions they are taking. It somehow dilutes the impact of unsaid intensity that is nicely set up for the most part of rest of the film.
While Kaushik and Jaya are clearly the two major pillars of the film, they would not have stood so strong had Abir Chatterjee as Naser Ali not aptly played the catalyst to them. It is true that he is limited in his craft when compared to the other two and will always pale relatively, but it is also true that the character arc of Naser isn’t as sharp as Ganesh or Padma. He plays Naser with a lot of honesty for the part that is given to him and ensures that you do identify with Naser’s sense of loss and longing that life has dealt him with. For the most part Abir is earnestly restrained and believable in his small town vulnerable self too (quite unlike his typical suave image). But when you look at the film on the whole, you do somehow feel that the writing of Naser is intentionally shortchanged when compared to the other two, and Abir could have only gone so far with his passive presence unfortunately.
My other gripe on writing is what we typically call as the curse of the second half. While Bijoya easily has one of the best written and performed first halves of any film in a long time (special shout out for how beautifully Bishorjon has been recapped in a capsule and very aesthetically blended to the narrative) that almost keeps you constantly choked, it does get derailed for a bit post interval. There is some unnecessary drama introduced by the typical and high pitched character arcs of certain neighbours, that somehow tampers with the depth of central storyline and breaks its intense melancholic rhythm. So much so that it even starts to take toll on the critical sequences between Ganesh, Padma and Naser; or Padma and Naser to an extent. The narrative starts to feel chaotic and compromised for some time and it takes a sharply written (though to an extent predictable) climax to find back its rhythm and reunite us with our known character motivations, leaving us with very similar crossroads (and images) of where Padma, Naser and Ganesh had left us previously. It is an excellent place to take a pause and set up the film for the third part of the franchise and keep the excitement going.
Other than the excellent writing and performances, what also stands out is the terrific soundtrack by Indraadip Das Gupta and how beautifully it has been integrated with the fabric of the film. The theme music of Bishorjon is retained and helps to build up the familiarity of the atmosphere, as do we see ‘Bandhu tor laiga re‘ resurfacing to tie back the two films and nostalgically paying a tribute to Kalika Prasad Bhattacharya again. Along side, ‘Tomar pasher desh‘ and ‘Ekul bhange okul gawre‘ are also blended in seamlessly and have been beautifully rendered by Arijit Singh and Arko Mukherjee respectively. Dohar accompany them to aptly amplify the earthy rusticity of both the songs and their situations. The same isn’t so true about the cinematography or editing of this film though, and both relatively pale in comparison with what we have earlier seen with Bishorjon. You especially wonder why the film is shot so much indoors, completely ignoring the atmospherics that the surroundings could build.
In spite of some of these inconsistencies and the occasional disruption of its melancholic rhythm, Bijoya is still a choking immersive experience on the whole, that leaves a lingering aftertaste. The house may be divided on its verdict given that it is an intentional slow burner that wants to go deeper in the psyche of its characters than the breadth and pace of their actions, but it hits the right notes by underplaying it all. I wish the film had kept itself even more understated in its storytelling and had stayed away from an occasional manipulative emotion or dialog exchange in places. That would have further accentuated the sanctity of intense and unsaid emotions of Padma, Ganesh and Naser and would have elevated it to a classic. May be that is the peak that Kaushik Ganguly would like to aim for as he settles down to work on the next part of this story. We will wait… wait to be emotionally drenched and wowed again!
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