When a film casts the biggest superstar and the best actor of Bengali cinema of our generation pitted against each other in life and in performing arts, and head on acknowledges who is the better actor of the two and how that is often not enough for success; it makes a bold and highly self-aware statement about hard facts of life without being worried about any repercussions. Also, when a film’s story-line builds on the everyday mundaneness of daily lives, and thrives on its organic but predictable conflicts without trying to force-fit anything just for the sake of drama; one has to again applaud the fearlessness and the sure-footed awareness of the story-teller about his ability to touch lives without an attempt to manipulate emotions. Kaushik Ganguly and his profound new film Jyeshthoputro are brilliant examples of such confident and restrained poignancy!
They say, death is a great leveler. They also say that it is in the moments of extreme grief that pent up emotions and hidden frustrations of our lives often find the courage to release themselves. Jyeshthoputro‘s narrative builds itself on this basic premise. So the film opens up in a situation when a sudden death of a father brings together a grieving family in a captive situation after a decade. They are as connected as they are apart, they are as similar as they are different, and how you interpret their morality or their response to grief depends on the perspective from which you are trying to judge them.
The elder son Indrajit (Prosenjit Chatterjee) or the jyeshthputro is a reigning superstar, who cannot escape his stardom and its consequences (or does he even want to?) even when he is in mourning. He is as much a visitor and an outsider to his family and to some personal relationships he has left behind, as to the general starstruck stranger crowd. Time has instilled a sort of maturity, poise and magnanimity in him to deal with the chaos he is constantly being chased with. His hard earned unreachable image has become larger than him and he has paid a heavy price to get there by becoming distant to some of the closest people in his life. Today, he is possibly at a point where every situation in life, even moments of deepest grief, have involuntarily become his PR platform, from where he would steal his share of fame and hysteria from the public, but fly away with his misunderstood self and deeply private sorrow to make peace with life.
The younger son Partho (Ritwick Chakraborty) or the kanishthoputro is practically the patriarch of the house standing in for the elder son, and has been sincerely fulfilling all the responsibilities life has involuntarily dumped on him – whether that was of his aging father who is no more now, or of his elder sister who has lost her normalcy in a tragic incident from the past, or of a crumbling large house whose cracks and crevices are reminiscent of the relationships within the family along with his dwindling financial condition. He is the one with the higher share of talent, both him and his star brother acknowledge that. But his world of theater as a playwright and an actor limits his fame and reach, and keeps adding on to his brewing anger. His father’s death brings him face to face with his estranged elder brother, their contrast of fortunes and what life has robbed out of him, and his intolerance towards his brother’s fame turning his private mourning to a glamour event begins to show. Beyond a point, he is not willing to compromise with grief, even if that would mean that he would have to scare away intruders to restore peace in his dominion.
And then are the women in the story. There is the sister Ila (Sudipta Chakraborty) who feels all the love for her brothers and sorrow for her father, but a tragic shock from the past has rendered her unstable and made her an outcast for others. It is her occasional streak of violence that has earned her a confinement within her own home. She desperately seeks acknowledgement to as much be a part of the family in their grief and in their decisions, but what she gets in return is more of compassionate affection rather than respect that she craves for. There is Ria (Shreya Bhattacharya) whose simplicity is perfectly in sync with her husband Partho, and whose poignant composure perfectly balances out his flaring irritation. She is the one trying to hold it all together in spite of her heavily pregnant condition. Parul (Daminee Basu) is the distant star struck cousin in the family who has her own motivations from the past to be near the grieving family. And then, there is the reserved headmistress of the local school Sudeshna (Gargee Roy Choudhury), who is extremely graceful even in her sorrow for the departed, both the father and the elder son, and oozes a world of understated chemistry with the later even in her dignified silence, or in her melancholic crooning. She is awkward in coming face to face with her past, but is not ashamed of it. There is utmost respect in that relationship, possibly a forgotten comfort too, as Sudeshna effortlessly slips in to become Reena for Indrajit in one of the most poignant situations of the film.
And it is these one-on-one profoundly personal interactions between characters that the film finds its best moments in. Along with a couple of scenes between Indrajit and Sudeshna, where they possibly fall back on the analogy of printing errors of a book to regret about the bigger permanent mistakes of life; the best pieces of the film happen when the two brothers face each other and speak out their broken hearts. Kudos to the filmmaker here that there is no additional lure to make these confrontations ‘over-dramatic’ or ‘cinematic’ by force. The walls of ego between the brothers naturally crumble in their vulnerability, the grey within both of them clouds the projected whites of traditionalism around, and this restrained poise of the conflict hits the audience much harder rather than an imposed over-pitched tonality would have. In fact, the consistent minimalism that Kaushik Ganguly is able to maintain throughout the film becomes its signature, well in sync with the poignant backdrop of the film.
A perfect casting for each of the characters becomes the other scoring highlight of the film. In his best performance since Jaatishwar, Prosenjit Chatterjee is perfectly cast as the superstar, and he embodies the charisma, poise and the implicit high handedness of Indrajit with an impressively restrained charm. He might be playing himself in a way, which apparently seems simple, but it is not easy for him to acknowledge verbally and otherwise the powerhouse of talent he is pitted against, and yet leave such a strong impact. Ritwick Chakraborty, yet again, delivers the finest performance of the film in spite of its very strong ensemble, somewhere vindicating the core conflict between the brothers on screen. There isn’t an iota of vanity or need to prove a point in his performance, and he is perfectly natural in all the varied shades of his character. 2019 could possibly become one of the brightest years of his career with such brilliant performances back to back.
Sudipta Chakraborty is equally brilliant too, in possibly the most complicated character of the film, and shines effortlessly in her careless sensitivity as well as a sudden ferocity equally. We need to see her more in films. Gargee Roy Choudhury is refreshingly nuanced in one of her most layered characters ever, and the subtlety with which she plays the same makes it all the more beautiful. The grace in her sorrow kills you. Daminee Basu in her natural overstated flare and Shreya Bhattacharya in her understated elegance are equally effective in their respective roles as well. Together, they form the perfect ensemble to bring each of the characters to life in alignment with the director’s vision.
Equally strong is the technical team’s work behind the scenes to bring the film together. Minimalism and symbolism forms the core guiding principle for them as well, and hence Sirsha Ray‘s camera or Prabuddha Banerjee‘s background music perfectly complement each other to build up the atmospherics of the brooding household about to erupt. Their in-sync collaboration together with the on point sound design, beautifully integrates additional layers to the narrative throughout the film. It could be a montage of life in motion represented by the repeating images and sounds of a train passing-by time and again, or could be a frame of life in solitary stagnation captured as the lone standing scarecrow to protect a turf left behind. The production design is very effective too, and seamlessly builds up the contrast between the confined enclosures of the sister’s room as opposed to the natural open expanse of the village, or that between the living spaces of the two brothers and their intricate detailing. It isn’t easy to lock the captive attention of the audience in a somewhat predictable and linear script, but Subhajit Singha‘s deft editing ensures just the same. His work in his last three films from Nagarkirtan to Tarikh to Jyeshthoputro now just shows his brilliant range in adapting to the different kind of narrative styles of his filmmakers and excelling in all of them. Thank you Surinder Films and NIdeas Creations for standing behind this important film.
I just wish that Kaushik Ganguly had resisted the lure of getting Indrajit to join a duet in one scene, it kind of broke the emotional rhythm of the moment. He also did not need to add the unnecessary dynamics between Indrajit and his distant relative, which honestly didn’t add anything more to an already complex character. Also, a script this strong could have possibly done without the word play on a bunch of single screen names to force in a chuckle.
Other than some of these minor glitches here and there, Jyeshthoputro as a film holds pretty strong. And am glad it does. A film that was originally conceptualized by the legendary Rituparno Ghosh after being inspired by a real life incident from the life of Prosenjit Chatterjee, finds a rather nuanced and perceptive interpretation from Kaushik Ganguly. His cinematic dramatization of Ghosh’s concept is simple in its presentation, restrained in its tone, and rich in its layers, just like cinema, that mirrors life, should be. Here’s hoping that Ganguly is able to sustain this excellent form he is in this year from here on, and continue telling such widely different but emotionally engaging stories, even if that means slowing down for his next film and stay away from the commercial lure. Success will automatically find its way in its genuine appreciation for his craft and uncompromising art.