Dear Srijit Mukherji,
Many years back, when I had first read Shankar‘s Chowringhee, I could not come out of a trance for days. The deft writing, the complex relationships, the interconnected lives, and the heartbreaks did not leave me for very long. Shankar had very skillfully captured the intricacies of the era in which he had based his story, but the characters that he created and the stories of their lives were timeless and ever relevant. It is hence natural why you would have felt the urge to adapt the same. It was a tricky and dangerous thought though, after all Chowringhee the book or its first on screen adaptation have become a legend over years. I had my apprehensions too. The first sneak peak into your trailer had reduced some of that anxiety, the world of Shah Jahan Regency that you created was looking good in a capsule, and I desperately wanted to see a good full length film as immersive as the trailer.
I feel elated today that you adapted the classic so well to make it your own, and gifted us with one of your most aesthetically nuanced and honest films. You took us on a richly layered and emotionally engaging 156 minute journey into the intimate corridors of Shah Jahan Regency to experience life in its various shades of joy, pain, commitment, deceit, love and loss, making us laugh and choke along the way. Moving the story and its characters to the contemporary times was a smart move to find more relatable emotions without compromising on any aesthetics or the soul of the original story. You ensured through your engaging screenplay that the length of the film was not a huge problem too, and as the final credits rolled, I realized that just like the first experience with the book, you have been successful in transporting me to a trance again, from which I did not want to come out.
Honestly speaking, the beginning of the film was bumpy. While it was good for you to contextualize the film to the modern times, the initial few scenes of the film did not work too well for me. In fact the entire character arc of Barun Raha (a rather unusual case of Rudranil Ghosh not making a mark) was somewhat on the verbose gimmicky side, and some of the outlandish dialogues given to him seemed unnecessary. But as the chapters of your film started to unfold, things gradually got into their groove. Must say that using the chapter format to compartmentalize your story telling was a very effective technique. It helped to focus on individual stories, segregate their emotional spaces, and yet keep them interconnected through the common anchors of your film.
And you created an extremely strong anchor through Rudra Mukherjee, the keen observer and the natural storyteller. Parambrata Chatterjee plays a terrific Rudra, he brings in an unassuming natural flair to his inherent simplicity, to the awe, and to the earnestness with which he picks up many lessons of life at his work place. Through the various experiences in the hotel, Rudra comes of age and finds his own niche. And by effortlessly living Rudra with no pretentions, Param easily becomes one of the two strongest pillars of your film. Along with Rudra, we see Samiran Bose or Sam guarding the darkest secrets of the hotel with astounding composure and anchoring the story forward. Sam was possibly the trickiest role of your film, as there is already an iconic precedent to the same in the earlier adapted film. Thanks to the changes that you brought in the screenplay, and to a very honest performance from Abir Chatterjee, Sam and his maturity appeals to us without any hangover in a fresh take, and he integrates Rudra and us to the inner circle of the hotel very efficiently.
As we gradually warm up to the various characters of the film with this duo, we get a detailed segway into Makaranda Pal and the personal issues he is grappling with. I understand your intent to create a character far more grounded here, so that it comes out of the shades of another great actor who had played it earlier, but honestly you could have avoided explicitly stating things like its okay for men to cry, or investing so much time on his backstory. It is the most sketchily written sub-track of the film and is drawn too long. Anjan Dutt, who has been very good in both your films last year, hence does not make the same impact here, and the tone of his story unnecessarily tends to go many pitches higher than the things happening around him. In fact, the entire build up around Pallavi Chatterjee or Ushashi Chakraborty could have been totally avoided or significantly shortened.
And it would have been much nicer to squeeze out some screen time from them and invest it on a back story of Gayatri Chakraborty, an intriguing character who stands out as the cultural conscience of the changing times (again explicitly stating that out in one of the scenes could have been avoided to maintain the aura around her). Rituparna Sengupta playing Gayatri is brilliantly nuanced in her short role, and with some of the best lines of the film with her, she captivates us with a surreal charm. I haven’t seen this Rituparna in ages. Along with Gayatri, Nitai ‘Nitty Gritty’ Banerjee (good casting and an endearing performance by Sujoy Prasad Chatterjee) is the other symbol of changing times in your story. I understand why you would have given him the specific arc to echo a relevant message around continued societal stigma, but you could have possibly communicated more by remaining more understated with him. Part of his conversations did come out very preachy.
As your film traversed to the interval point amidst all these ups and downs, I had mildly warmed up. Rudra and Sam had taken me along, I was inducted into the world you created, and had seen flashes of some interesting characters in the Sarkars (mother and son), a sharp outspoken hostess, and a host of other troublemakers around them. But I was still not wowed and a sense something amiss had started to bother me. You of course had your plan charted out, and had saved your best chapters to unravel only post interval to take us off on a very different emotional journey altogether. You were about to intimately introduce us to the second most important pillar of your film, the show stopper in her own right, Kamalini Guha.
The chapter that you write around her has to be the most delicately crafted and deeply poignant chapter of your film. You weave a beautiful story of passion and compassion around Kamalini and Arnab Sarkar. While Anirban Bhattacharya plays Arnab with an understated flair and is unassumingly charming, it is Swastika Mukhopadhyay who knocks the ball out of the park in possibly her career best performance to date. She internalizes Kamalini the temptress and Kamalini the loner with equal aplomb, and when Arnab asks her to grow old with him, I desperately wanted her to go grab the happiness with both hands, knowing very well what comes next. Through multiple versions of Kichhu Chaini Aami, her electrifying showdown scene with Arnab’s mother – the intriguing Mrs Sarkar (a sublime Mamata Shankar in possibly the first grey character of her career), and another terrific moment of truth with Rudra, Swastika becomes a deeply moving portrait of unflinching pain. In fact Param and Swastika brilliantly counterbalance the flashy and introverted sides of devastation throughout the film and hence become its brightest shining stars. My one gripe is on the closure of this track though – the moving on of Arnab seemed too quick and drastic and was unfair to the beautiful moments of tenderness you created thus far.
What you miss as the closure of Kamalini’s story, you make it up in the closure of Supreeta Mitra‘s story. Honestly though, casting Rittika Sen as Supreeta is possibly the only incorrect casting choice of your film. She is too much a work in progress actor amidst such a seasoned cast, and the youthful immaturity of the character was not good enough to cover up for her rough edges (I kept thinking if Parno or Mimi would have been better choices in her place). Thankfully, Abir covers up for most of her gaps gracefully, and does not allow Rittika to derail the beautiful final chapters of the film. And when Sam gets you to tear up at two different points of his story after you have already broken down for Kamalini earlier, you know that Abir has passed the litmus test of his very difficult character with distinction.
There are a host of other characters who check-in and check-out from your story as needed and they all do reasonably well, Rana Basu Thakur specifically stands out in a very small role. The brilliant cinematography by Gairik Sarkar deserves a special mention for the rich montage of emotions his camera evokes. Another key aspect that shines through and through along the length of your film is the terrific background score by Indradip Das Gupta, and the outstanding Kichhui Chaini Aami from Prasen, Dipangshu, Anirban and Madhubanti. Bolona Radhika Taake and Ghure Darao relatively pale in comparison, and fade away unfortunately. And yes, a big shout out for using an outstanding Rabindrasangeet to end the film, a brilliant fit to the context, and a perfect ode to the timeless life stories lost in the glittery lobbies and the dark alleys of Shah Jahan Regency!
It has been a few hours since I have checked out of your world. But it has honestly not left me. I am still in that poignant trance, reeling with that inexplicable sense of loss. But that is the thing about pain – it is pulling me to go back into your world to get drenched in its understated melancholy one more time. Probably I will check in soon again – to feel all the pain, to feel all the love, to feel the reverberating life left behind..
Bashte bashte bhalo, Tomari duhaathe gechhi more..
Abar eshechhi phire, Nebha nebha chhayapath dhore..
Khunjechhi tomar mukh, Somosto upokotha khule..
Rajkumarir maya, Prithibi jaaye ni aajo bhule..
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