Basu Paribar, just like the traditional grand mansion of the family, wants to encash nostalgia and grandeur to make up for the lack of soul and attachment in the overall narrative. Just like the family in question, in spite of all the materialism on the surface, the deep wide cracks appear all over the cinematic narrative, and inspite of all the drama built up around dark forbidden secrets of the past, it never comes together as a unit to leave a lasting impact.
The film is based on a familiar format where a large affluent family comes together for a celebration, but the get together gets marred by dark realities of life exposing hypocrisies of class, gender and moral divide. The event gets over, secrets get toppled, lives gets impacted, and then everyone leaves to continue with their transformed lives (just like how the film left me as well the moment I left the theatre, sans any cathartic transformation though). Here, the occasion is the 50th wedding anniversary of Pranab and Manjari Basu (Soumitro Chatterjee and Aparna Sen working together after eighteen years, last time being Sen’s Paromitar Ekdin), and they have all their relatives and friends coming together at their palatial mansion Kamolini for the grand occasion. Hence along with the senior Basus, we meet Rituparna Sengupta (elder daughter coming to attend alone), along with Jisshu Sengupta and Sreenanda Shankar (younger son and daughter-in-law, the later coming to the Rajbari for the first time), Lily Chakraborty & Shaswata Chattopadhyay (elder sister-in-law and her son who isn’t particularly pleased with the current patriarch), Kaushik Sen and Sudipta Chakraborty (sister’s son and daughter-in-law), family friend Paran Bandopadhyay, the mystery man Arun Mukhopadhyay, the family cook Arun Guhathakurata and long time family loyal Subhashish Mukherjee. It is a true casting coup of sorts. It is also the quintessential framework for nostalgia to poke in to the Bonedi Baari-r amej and remember good old days of togetherness. But of course, life is not the perfect happy frame, and as the day progresses, the superficial facades of spotless familial pride get ripped off and ugly forbidden truths are all out of the closet.
The problem is that most of the drama does not make an impact, because the film fails to establish any emotional connect with the characters or their interrationships. So the apparently candid brother-sister bonding moments with their mother, or of a struggling daughter finding the comfort of her mother’s arms all feel plastic instead of endearing. The tone of the film is set up as theatrical right up front, and it is painful watching Soumitro Chatterjee as most over the top and theatrical of the entire ensemble, and no his tipsiness does not explain the same. Following the Basu lineage, his on screen son Jisshu Sengupta complies in style too, and his occasional high pitch outbursts seem completely out of character for his current coordinates in life. Sreenanda Shankar is a beautiful woman (and looks a million bucks in the film especially in her traditional attire), but significantly lacks in craft for us to really buy in to her inquisitiveness or to empathize with her issues with the family (she looked far more promising in Ek Je Chhilo Raja in a shorter role). Rituparna Sengupta fits into her role, but has almost gotten typecast by now to play the same character arc in similar kind of stories earlier as well, plus we have seen an infinitely better performance from her in Shahjahan Regency earlier this year. Aparna Sen is elegant and graceful as the matriarch trying to balance issues out, and handles some of the scenes really well with her poised charm especially towards the final act, but doesn’t maintain a consistent graph throughout. More importantly her chemistry with Soumitro falls uniformly flat. In essence, it is the lightweight bonding of the heavyweight immediate Basu family that becomes a major problematic area of the family.
On the other side of them though is the rest of the family who provide some real legs to the film’s performances. Paran Bandopadhyay proves yet again that he doesn’t need too much screen space to steal the show, and Lily Chakraborty is super smooth in a perfectly cast role. Kaushik Sen tries to make the best of his character arc, but can only do so much with faulty writing. Sudipta Chakraborty shines like a star in contrast as the outsider trying to fit in with her sincerity. Hers is one of the most natural performances of the film. Subhasish Mukherjee delivers his second brilliant performance of the year, and is possibly the most restrained and grounded of the entire ensemble. Both Arun Mukhopadhyay and Arun Guhathakurata needed more screen time, but they still grab attention. Shaswata Chattopadhyay brings in the perfectly brooding gravitas of the rebellious one in the family, but it is the cop-out denouement that really doesn’t conclusively justify the bitterness of his otherwise breakout performance.
And that is what is the problem of the entire film. Suman Ghosh seems to have chewed far more than he could bite, and the results show in the haywire writing and overall filmmaking. The central conflict of the film appears rather weak and frivolous for all the buildup, the end monologue narrative does not make up for the lack of chemistry between the Basus. In the contemporary context, the reason isn’t simply good enough to justify the rebellious sub narrative of the film as well. It is also heartbreaking when standing in 2019, the writer director cannot rise above using the typical mannerism tropes to develop another important character arc, thereby significantly pulling down the sincere effort from the actor in his limited space. A non-existent back story of a tumbling marriage in another track defaults to attributing a regressive reason to the same, while intentionally keeping the children out of action on a happy occasion almost feels like an antithesis for a family that is aggressively pushing for yet another child. The poor writing gets amplified with an extremely loose editing of the entire film that makes it appear very flat and rushed. There isn’t enough time invested to develop most of the characters and the film seems to be in a constant hurry to wrap itself up, possibly because it is self aware that the drama isn’t gripping enough. A lot of scenes are left hanging midway by an abrupt cut just because Ghosh doesn’t want to spill the beans right there. Little does he realize that the audience already knows very well where it is going and is coldly handed with not just a jarring impact, but also an immediate loss of connect with the characters. Infact, the constant hops and skips impacts the gravitas of the very next scene as well in all those occasions, especially when the narrative cuts back to an enclosed space once again involving the same characters who were left hanging there in an earlier scene. Crude product placements amidst all this further adds to the viewer disappointment. As the drama wavers along heavily saddled with all these issues, one constantly goes back to the memories of Rituparno Ghosh’s Utsab or Satyajit Ray’s Shakha Proshakha of what such premises can potentially offer in the hands of good storytellers. Suddenly even Belaseshe begins to look good in comparison if we recall films on similar templates!
A couple of things do shine bright even as the rest of the film fades. Bickram Ghosh‘s background score as well as recreation of Bhromor is one of the major highlights of the film, and tries really hard to fill up the other gaping holes in the screenplay. Soumik Haldar‘s cinematography beautifully captures the grandeur of the Rajbari as well as the ruins of the disintegrating backyard. A couple of lowlight shots, as well as the gradual framing of the entire family at the dinner table remains particularly memorable. However, the best moments of Basu Paribar are captured in the opening title card, and the strikingly brilliant still monochrome shots of the legacy and pride of the family take your breath away. It is a brilliant idea to set up immediate nostalgia and grandeur, and it is only sad that the rest of the film does not match up to that mood in any way.
For a film that has been in making for so long and hence was hugely anticipated because of the stellar cast as well as some of the previous credible work of Suman Ghosh, Basu Paribar turns out to be a major disappointment. The film is as imperfect as most of its characters, and wobbles under the weight of its own grand premise and expectations.