In one of the memorable sequences of Ahaa Re, expert chef from Dhaka and the protagonist of the film, Farhaz Choudhury, demonstrates how chocolate cake becomes a flavorful delicacy only when the senses of taste and smell work together in perfect conjunction. The specific finding is a new learning for the master home-cook Basundhara Ganguly. However, both of them know that the magic of food, just like love, works only when it finds its roots in the authentic ingredients; when the passion and imagination to create something delectable is in full play; and when all the senses of taste, smell, touch and sight feel it in right proportions. Filmmaker Ranjan Ghosh is merely using this suggested expertise of the chefs to reiterate how a story when told with the right proportions of empathy, warmth, respect and soulful goodness, blended in a generous bout of subtle compassion, can become a beautiful love letter to life.
Let loose the subtlety to change the proportions and introduce some high pitch drama, and the ethereal charm of the story suddenly takes a beating right there. Take the case where a Farhaz suddenly shows temper to his friend at work, or where a Basundhara shouts on the younger brother Bappa in an abruptly cut scene, or where there is an attempt to forcefully add some humour to the flow through a caricaturish character like Kamaljeet, and we suddenly feel the love letter going out of tune. Thankfully such instances are few and far in between to majorly take away from the poetic atmospherics of the film. But you just can’t help wonder how consistent the overall experience of the film could have been without these unwanted spicy spikes. Afterall, Ahaa Re has a self sustaining soul that doesn’t need any unnatural garnishing to enhance its appeal.
Simply put, with Ahaa Re, Ranjan Ghosh wants to tell a warm and universally appealing humane story about the power of love reigning supreme; overcoming all societal obstructions of nationality, religion, age, gender or other baggages of past. Along with Basundhara and Farhaz, he is in search of that magical emotion that will find its destination only when there is a true calling of hearts, free of guilt, inhibitions, or obligations. Atanu Ganguly, the father, hence becomes the embodiment of what Ghosh wants to leave behind as the rich and flavorful message of the film – believe in the surreal power of love to alter lives, and let it be the global emotion to unite the human race in the true spirit of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam.
The impact of this message becomes even stronger because Ghosh doesn’t just restrict this to romantic forms of love. The beauty with which Basundhara’s loving world is developed around Atanu or Bappa, in which Raja gains a gradual entry (more by gaining their trust first than her’s); or the eventual progression of Raja to accept the reality of his own folks; gives it a much more well rounded notion of belonging and inclusion. We meet fathers on both ends of the border who want to take care of their children irrespective of what the blood ties are, and hence some of the golden moments of the film are created when Basundhara or Raja have their uninhibited moments of truth with the dads completely acknowledging the sanctity of their individual bonds. Their specific equations of warmth and comfort with Bappa, or their individual moments of intimacy in their past relationships add to the other flavors of unadulterated emotions to this well cooked film.
Of course, the genuinely earnest performances by the main cast lends a lot of support and credibility to Ghosh’s vision. Kudos to Rituparna Sengupta for completely shedding off her star aura and vanity, and making Basundhara as grounded, warm and real as her screen name. Her confidence on her craft shines through her simplicity and no makeup look, and her remarkable subtlety infuses Basundhara with a delectable poise, charm and gracefulness. The only time she slips is when her pitch suddenly changes gear on a couple of occasions, but that’s not a major diversion. A special shoutout to Sengupta, the producer of the film as well, and hopefully we are going to see her lending wind to the wings of such beautiful stories soon again.
This was the first time I was watching Arifin Shuvoo on screen, and I was happy to note that his Farhaz matched Rituparna note by note on the charm quotient of a well restrained act. His rich baritone adds to the charisma; and that the film’s dialogues also typically follow the pattern of a lyrical poem, further adds to his performance. Yes, there are occasions where he does come across a tad stiff or awkward to match up to the warmth of the moment, but the overall good writing of his part helps cover some of those gaps.
But of course, it is Paran Bandopadhyay who stands out above every one else in the film, and it is a masterstroke to cast him as the voice of conscience of the film. His is a terrific act as Atanu, who speaks only when he wants to and always has the most important things to say; who can listen to everything but consumes only what is needed; and who understands and appreciates everything with a much broader outlook than what one would typically associate with his character template. Just like the skill that he aspires for, Bandopadhyay works like magic for the film. Newcomer Shubhro Sankha Das lends a perfect support to him and to the family as Bappa, and is a delight to watch. Dipankar De is effectively smooth in his short but solid cameo. Relatively, Amrita Chattopadhyay fails to create an equivalent impact even when she gets a couple of well written scenes. Shakuntala Barua doesn’t add much from her side as well. The weakest link of the film however is Anuvab Pal, whose portrayal as Kamaljeet stands sore as very novice. One possibly didn’t need that character in this poignant film at all.
There are no such hiccups in the technical departments of the film though. Music is especially a big strength of the film, and both the lovely background score as well as the aptly placed songs add their own characteristic charm to the film. The film also gets a lot of its lyrical tonality from the way it is shot. Food hasn’t been captured with so much love on screen in a long time now, and add to it some brilliant night time shots either of the Kolkata skyline or the calm Padma waters, and the overall romanticism quotient gets automatically accentuated. The production design shines in how distinctly it creates the strikingly different worlds of Basundhara and Raja, and both these worlds feel thoroughly lived in. In fact, minor detailing like clothes repeating for both the leads in different scenes further adds to the lived in authenticity.
Similar subtle detailing exists in the writing as well. Dhaka is presented as a city with a very modern outlook; with a young aspiring designer searching for her dreams in Paris, or a mother instead of a father occupying the head of the table seat at Raja’s home acting as a bridge – little things particularly refreshing. The dialogues exploring the history of multiple dishes or the food riddles, further season the storytelling with good sprinkles of cultural infusions. That special care was taken to keep the product placements as understated as possible almost camouflaging it within the script flow needs a special mention. As it does for the editing work done. I am aware that the theatrical version of the film was nearly at the 150 minutes range, and hence the film had attracted criticism for its length and sluggish pace. It is good to note that the makers have taken off 30 minutes from the film in the version they released for festival runs, and this pace and length just about feels right for the mood of the film. Maybe there was a further scope to shave off another 10 minutes of high pitch drama or forced humour from the film, and then it would have been the perfectly simmering love poem that it basically aims to be.
But of course, some of this is aspirational cribbing to seek perfection, that doen’t rob off much from the atmospheric beauty of the film. Just like its name, Ahaa Re is still a delectable experience, in which Ranjan Ghosh‘s realized vision leaves behind a rich and charming aftertaste of warmth and compassion. After all, love, like food, has the magical quality to connect and heal, and remain a pristinely cherishable emotion for a lifetime! Ahaa Re!
Note: After its successful theatrical run in spring 2019, Ahaa Re has since been screened and awarded across multiple film festivals in India, Asia and Europe. It was recently screened at the 3rd Singapore South Asian International Film Festival, 2019 and was received positively again. It has further been selected at the Dhaka International Film Festival, 2020.
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