It is often said that the most memorable cinematic experiences are often about how much we buy in and immerse ourselves into its make believe world. And when magical realism is the unifying driving theme of most films of the filmmaker in focus, you somewhat know that the make believe aspects of his latest film will be its key strength. You know that he will make the story breathe and will let you the space to interpret it in your own unique way without feeding it all in a platter.
It is also said that inspirations or adaptations can become more interesting, when the filmmaker infuses his own imagination and narration style to the source material, allowing for significant deviations to integrally sync up with the storytelling. Gulzar’s Ijaazat became such a classic because of the way he treated the original story idea of Jatugriha and brought in his own complexities. Quentin Tarantino is a master of altering the facts of history to create his own immersive cinematic world across films, be it The Inglourious Basterds or the very recent Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. The same can be said about national award winning filmmaker Pradipta Bhattacharya’s latest film Rajlokkhi o Srikanto, where he does take Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s classic source material for the base, but takes the film to a completely different space because of the deviations he takes and the narration style he chooses. The only thing that he possibly demands is your flexibility and patience to stay with him while he lays the foundation, so that the wings of magical realism can be built for us to take off on a flight of an immersive surreal experience.
Honestly, the film has a rather weak initial build up, and the portions where Bhattacharya lifts and shifts the whole episode of a vagabond Srikanto (Ritwick Chakraborty) ditching his mundane job to go out on a hunting expedition for Hukum (Rahul Banerjee) and eventually meeting his erstwhile sweetheart Rajlokkhi and now an escort Pyari (Jyotika Jyoti), doesn’t work very well, and feels rather out of place for the times it is shifted to. It feels forced and stretched, especially since it is interspersed with a much better mounted earlier act of Srikanto’s life (Soham Maitra playing the younger Srikanto) and his chapter with his friend cum mentor Indranath (Sayan Ghosh), Annada’didi (Aparajita Ghosh Das) and their world in the remote village of Nischindipur.
All we need to do is stay with the filmmaker and his vision. While it takes a little bit of time to adjust to the sharp cuts that Bhattacharya uses to move to and fro between the two timelines, it helps us to slip into Srikanto’s mind space to understand why he is the person of today. The life and times of Nischindipur is beautifully recreated and the camaraderie between Srikanto and his Indra’da and their entire equation with Annada’didi is the kind of observation of life that we don’t see on screen these days. The same extends well into Srikanto’s youthful courtship with the young Rajlokkhi (Gargi Majhi) as well. Gradually the lines between the past and present start blurring, and with Bhattacharya’s deft storytelling, somewhere Srikanto and Indra’da, or Rajlokkhi and Annada’didi, or Hukum or Sahoo’ji become one and the same.
Life is all about the choices that you make or don’t make, it is all about your guiding principles of courage and fearlessness, it is all about the accountability that you take for all the mishaps, and it is all about how you stay afloat amidst all the regrets of the past. That is what differently shapes up a Srikanto from a Indranath, and that is what makes them reflections of each other at crucial moments of life. One can try to go back to the past to relive the bygone precious moments, but it will never be the same again. The golden yesterday is lost forever. Life is far more horrific in its brutal reality, and it is only in an alternate world where your nostalgic past can come and stay with you in a newly found home or with the lost family.
Kudos to Pradipta Bhattacharya for letting the film fly to such profound and unchartered territories in the second half of his film and entrusting the audience to interpret it to their sensibilities. He is not bothered if his interpretation of the classic will find a mass appeal (chances are that it will not), but he doesn’t want to compromise on his storytelling to meet those expectations. And that is where his film soars post interval and especially in the third act, and leaves you awed as the final impression of the film in spite of it’s rather clunky start. Not many films and stories completely rediscover themselves along the way by just asking us to hang in there with them.
Bhattacharya achieves this feat since he has an excellent team through and through. Ritwick Chakraborty delivers yet another stunning performance of the year, the man can emote so much without words, especially as he keeps recounting images from his past in his bleak present, or lives the surreal dreamy life of the future that he always missed. He elevates all moments of heartbreak as well as bliss with Jyotika to feel very intimate, in spite of an earnest attempt from Jyotika Jyoti not matching up to him in most frames. Her’s and Rahul Banerjee‘s performances feel rather ordinary, not only in company of Ritwick, but also how brilliant Soham Maitra and Sayan Ghosh are in their parts. Together these two young men brighten up some of the most lived in moments of the film. I wish there was more Aparajita Ghosh Das on screen, she is terrific in the limited space she gets, and reminds us how poorly she has been used in the industry all throughout.
It must be mentioned though that as much as the film is about some of these fine performances, it also becomes it’s sort of experience because of some excellent technical work. Subhadip Dey‘s camera moves like a fly on the wallflower observing life as it happens, and in the process sucks in your perspective to be a co-observer. His camera helps you to often elevate that perspective from a rooted ground focus to a much wider ariel purview at one go to understand the overall macro context of the film at that juncture. That he does some terrific work with every frame involving water bodies, further adds the lucidity of Bhattacharya’s free flow storytelling. Then there is Satyaki Banerjee‘s minimalist background score that soars just because it doesn’t intentionally try to manipulate you. Add to it the fact that the film gives us one of the finest musical albums of this year heavily inspired by folk with multiple songs becoming characters and stories by themselves in the film – Bablu Das and Tonmoy Sarkar create magic with Ki ba tomar ange rakhi, while Anirban Das and Timir Biswas encapsulate Srikanto and his mental map brilliantly in Amar etuk shudhu chaoa. It is impossible not to feel the goosebumps as a part of the song is brilliantly used towards a stunning moment of the climax. Yes, the songs may not be part of the pujo playlist of the parar pandal, but for some like me, it will be for keeps for years in its full immersive glory. Aami doobi doobi…
Thank you Pradipta Bhattacharya for reassuring the faith that good cinema is timeless – built on the pillars of profound emotions, and an uncompromising vision. It doesn’t need to be gimmicky, and yet it can afford to honestly non confirm. It doesn’t need to restrict thoughts within the realms of the finite and the ordinary, and yet it can leave you with endless possibilities of what life is as such, or of what life could be when it becomes aspirationally surreal; and leave you stumped with the profound impact of each of those eventualities. More than anything else, Rajlokkhi o Srikanto and their entire world wants to set romanticism free & soar, and takes us along to soak ourselves completely in it – in life, death and beyond…
Aami ekta bechhe nebo.. Na haye tumi o khanek bhebo..
Seshe astamito kabar khana e shorir rekhe debo…