Shantilal o Projapoti Rohoshyo uses the butterfly in its name to seek metamorphosis into an end goal that isn’t what you expect it to be. The film’s name and the way it has been marketed throughout will build expectations of a taut and intense thriller for most viewers, which it is not. In fact, it never wanted to be one of that. Just like its protagonist Shantilal who is stuck in a line of journalism where he does not belong and always dreams of something bigger and more intense, the film also tries to fit into a genre that doesn’t do justice to its thought. Pratim D Gupta sets his aim to make a film about emotional and behavioral study of complex characters on much broader themes of dreams, marginalization and survival, with a constant subtext of hypocrisies rampant in the entertainment and journalism industries; but chooses a treatment garb of a thriller that somehow dilutes the overall impact significantly. It is one of those tricked cases of mismatched intent, expectations and execution.
Ink, which is what the film / script was called earlier, might have worked much better to set the tone of the film. It is dark, volatile, and delicate enough to be botched up if misused or misdirected. And that is exactly what both the protagonists of the film – Shantilal and Nandita are. They are seemingly as dissimilar as possible, but their struggles, their dreams, their vision to seek success, and their redemption arcs to find solace are as similar as they can be. At the end of the day, life is all about the choices you make, how you make peace with them, and what part of your core do you retain while transforming the rest with external influences. Shantilal’s and Nandita’s lives are no different.
It is an interesting and universally appealing theme, and to build that up against the backdrop of an adult entertainment industry is novel. Ritwick Chakraborty, who is on a roll this year with a lot of great performances, is again well cast here as the most taken for granted weather reporter, who definitely wants the stagnant season of his life to change for good. Same can be said about Paoli Dam as well who is the cine actress under focus with a promiscuous history. The best part of the film is when they come face to face and dive in deep to resolve the central conflict of their haunting past lives and the film. But they are not able to completely spread their wings and fly with the brightest colours because the script does not allow them to do so consistently across the film. It does not delve deep enough to explore their complex psyche and doesn’t explore more of the finer human emotions, that could have otherwise become a strength for this story. It is unfortunate that for a film that is told from the perspective of a journalist, writing becomes its biggest issue, and overshadows some of the good work done in other technical departments like cinematography or background score.
One major issue with the film is how it opens up with an introductory note to set up a timeline of the story. It wants to talk about a time of DVDs, intense print journalism and what not, and we immediately map it to timeline of late 90s or early 2000s in our minds. But then, film clippings of Ahare Mon are used (including its end credits song in the background) to explore Nandita’s filmography, we often see Macbooks being used within the Sentinel office premises and so on, and it almost feels like poor detailing of the period, or an afterthought foreword in the beginning.
The other challenge with the flow of the story is that it is too conveniently told. Things just fall in place like a miracle, whether it is about the help that Shantilal receives in Chennai from a complete stranger whose intent is never made clear, or how easily he travels to Singapore and gets access to the root of his investigation to crack down on a rather inaccessible industry, or his ultimate showdown with an out of bounds cine diva to conclude things in a hurry.
While much of the comic humor of the film works, there are some caricature tropes used (whether it is of Lakshmi Gopalan, or of random bouncers beating up people on streets, or of the over theatrical Madame Roshni and her team) that appear very forced and instantly dilute the overall intensity. Also, other than Alokananda Roy, who plays Ritwick’s mother (the subplot that comes across as most authentic and endearing with a beautiful subtle reference to Machher Jhol), none of the other supporting characters are developed well. Even strong actors like Gautam Ghose or Chitrangada Chakraborty deliver very typical performances cliched for their characters. While it is understood that Pratim wants to pull a spoof like trick on the industry with the intent to load it with dark humour, it doesn’t execute smoothly because the thought does not get translated well in its writing and presentation.
And that is a big disappointment. Because we understand what the film set out to achieve and where the execution and genre subversion falters. For a filmmaker, who has the outstanding Ahare Mon, and endearing Machher Jhol as part of his solid credentials, and who chooses to make a mainstream film on a rather unexplored topic, the expectations were and are always high. Unfortunately this time, the final transmutation of his vision on screen is to a rather messy end product!
Titli baag se ud gaya re…