Saturday, December 31, 2016

Bengali Cinema in 2016: The emperor is naked; but ppl cheer his misery


Let me put out the disclaimers first.
1)     I am no film critic
2)     I know nothing about film intellectualisms
3)    What I speak and write here is complete from logic and try to support that with articles in newspapers reports I come across.

Now that I have taken the weights off my chest, time to go ahead with the knife and scalpels.

I do not know what the value of Bengali cinema is. But, that 2016 has NOT been a good year for the industry is quite obvious. I do not need to be a rocket scientist to see it.

The problems that I see is quite obvious and I do not know why people (film-makers) are ignoring the elephant in the room. Perhaps they are blind.

Let me borrow a line from an online article in The Wire (I am modifying it as per my liking here) : “Good (Bengali) films are few and far between especially in 2016. There are some exceptions in previous years like like Nirbashito, Phoring, Cinemawalla, Byomkesh Pawrbo, Bhooter Bhobissyot  to name a few. But it is otherwise a uniformly bleak scenario. 

Frankly speaking, except Shiboprasad Mukherjee's Praktan and Srijit Mukherjee's Zulfikar; there are no success stories. (I'm ignoring the detective flicks.) Commercial ventures like Love Express, Prem Ki Ta Age Bujhi Ni; and the likes fell face first. 

Coming to the pain points: 

Content, content and content

The one thing that I am most dejected about in Begali cinema is total and absolute lack to content. For once most of the commercial movies being dished out nowadays are southern re-makes. Blatant, frame-by-frame copy-paste of southern hits and flops.

Now, the Hindi movie channels mostly air southern hits/ flops and so on half the time; albeit dubbed. And these are said to be the top grossers for the channels. So quite obviously, will the audience not already have seen a Bengali remake of a southern hit?

I mean, lets assume by the time a Rowdy Rathore is re-made and shown across a Bengali cinema hall, it will be aired, re-aired and would have become stale on say a Max. Why would I even spend, Rs 100 to see this movie then when I know what it is all about?

Bengali movie producers still feel southern re-makes to be a hit formula. But trust me, it will be a short path to success. In the long run, the audience will be more discerning and will be vociferously rejecting these films.

On content, if original one fails to interest movie-makers, then, there is an entire clutch of Bengali novels that can be successfully replicated. There are a host of authors who would more than gladly script a movie for a director / producer, if they are paid handsomely. Stop taking the short cut.  

Here are two links supporting my arguments: 

But, star power you say will help you sail through? Well this brings me to the second point.

Absence of Faces

The biggest problem that Bengali cinema faces nowadays is absence of faces. Heros / actors are type-cast, type-cast and type-cast till the point they end their carreers. 

Take a cue from John Travolta guys. He did “Saturday Night Fever”. And after that have you even see him play a dancer or a similar character? I do not recall. Please correct me, if I am wrong. He played  the unsympathetic villain / negative character in Broken Arrow; and a perfect character artist in the Nicolas Cage co-starred Face-Off. Look at the variety he brought to the audiences. 

But here, well we all know a Dev or Jeet will keep playing the same role of dancing around trees and making “villains” fly in the air. An Abir or a Parambrata will continue to be a “thinking man’s hero” (whatever that means nowadays). A Kanchan or Subhasis regaled to play comedians; and absolutely no scripts for mature actors like Saswata or Kaushik Sen or for veterans like Paran Bandopadhyay.

Thanks so much dear producers and directors for treating us to the same Abir or Parambrata in every second “urban genre” movie; or a mumbling-bumbling Dev or Jeet or Ankush or someone else in “mainstream movies”.


This brings me to the third point : switch-overs.

Directors, producers and every one claim that they make films for the “urban genre” or for the “mainstream”. And, pray, tell me what are the two categories? No one knows. 

But the so called definition seems to be multiplex audiences and those going to single screen movies theatres. Automatically, the nature of movie making changes.

One makes movies for Mr Sophisticated (filled with intellectual references which even Mr Sophisticated does not understand) and the other is for “Montu Chaiwala” (who also does not understand what is pushed down his throat except objectifying the heroine and glorifying the hero).

But, is it not possible for directors and story-tellers (which brings me back to the first point) to make a movie that appeals to Sophisticated and Montu both?

“Stop talking nonsense. It cannot be done.” Seems like a logical escapist argument. But, doesn’t Bollywood do this almost all the time? 

The lines between a Manthan and Sholay are slowly being blurred with movies like Gangs of Wasseypur or Badlapur appealing to both urban and single screen audiences?

Regular definition of a hero is routinely being challenged and broken down in Bollywood.  Or else why would an Irrfan Khan, Manoj Vajpayee and Nawaazuddin Siddiqui make the switch and find acceptance? Actors like Naseeruddin and Om Puri and even Amrish Puri have done this in yesteryears.

And Hollywood has simply blurred these lines ages ago. Or else how does and Argo find commercial success with a “commercial movie actor” like Ben Affleck?

Closer home, in Bengali cinema, detective flicks are always finding an audience irrespective of directors and movie making hitches. But that isn’t a long term solution.

 Here is another link to support my point:

It is high time for Bengali cinema to script is own standalone success story.

Script goes haywire

So what is that actually ails Bengali movie makers? This brings me back to the first point of content and linking it with scripts.

Let me be frank, almost all Bengali cinema has been heavily relying on ‘sex’ as a theme. Here is another case in point -

But does ‘sex’ work without a good script and in complete absence of content? Take a look at some of the recent films which are named in this article and ask yourself how many you have seen. My intelligent guess (most guesses are mostly lucky) is a majority is not on your watch list and a large number of names are unheard of.

Either we are in serious dearth of good scriptwriters or we simply take audiences as idiots. No wonder that most movies fail. There will be no major producers taking risks in a failing industry and the power will be centred in the hands of a few or Ponzi scheme drivers running the show in the coming days.

Of course, these few producers will keep telling you that film has made money. You never have a trade source to tell you whether the film actually made money or not.

(PS- Just like no reporter says that he has done a bad story or claims that all major breaks are by him.) So best answer is to ask yourself whether you have seen the movie and what is your reaction to it.

Poor Time Slots at Multiplexes

Apart from politicising the film industry, there is one point no one seems to talk about. The poor time slots that Bengali films get in a multiplex.

Chances are; if you have not caught hold of a Bengali cinema in the first two-to-three days, preferably the first weekend, then you have to file a missing complaint to locate it. Or walk down Chandni to get hold of a pirated copy.

God knows what stops Bengali cinema producers from taking to alternate mediums in case of screening movies – through channels, D2H options, CDs and DVDs, netflixes, Amazon Prime Video, YouTube.

However, in case of multiplexes, the best slots are allotted to Hindi movies (and not even Hollywood). Unless it is a big banner producer from Bengal (he / they who cannot be named here) then obviously they are given some better slots. But otherwise, “Bhagwan bharose” (God help us).

For example, I am still struggling to find a good slot for Chiranjeet starrer “Kiriti Roy”. Preferably, one after office. Most slots are afternoon ones. Really who will go to watch that movie on a weekday then?

Sometimes, I feel, there should be some contract with multiplexes to ensure better slots for regional cinema. Preferably prime time slots. Or these multiplexes are simply fined exorbitantly. (I know it sounds ludicrous. But, sometimes you need to use a stick to tame the arrogant mule.)

I don’t know whether you have read this long list of criticisms and shortcomings. But, for Bengali cinema to survive, it has to introspect; realise what is wrong and take a truthful call on the course to rectification.

The sad state in Bengali cinema today is (borrowing yet again from the previous Quint article) :  “No one wants to call the emperor’s naked bluff and instead cheers to his misery.”

(Views are personal and CAN be DEBATED.) 

Thursday, December 29, 2016

DANGAL – Wrestling’s ‘Chak de India’ moment.

by -- Abhishek Law

“Woo hoo…. What a movie!”
“My head’s still reeling from the content….”
“Great movie. Aamir’s best.”
“You felt every thud on the mat…. That’s how Dangal was.’

Well these were some of the comments I heard when I came out of the hall after watching Dangal. And anyways social media is filled with praises. But, I’m willing to disappoint you all by saying that I do not share the same opinion and I pretty much disagree on some of these. However, the movie is wrestling’s “Chak De India” moment.


The story revolves around a Jat father and wrestler, Mahavir Singh Phogat, taking on society and social stigma associated with wrestling (by women). He ensures that his daughters make it big in the male-dominated world of wrestling. Of course, there are hiccups and these are overcome during the nearly 3 hr running time of the movie.


First, coming to the content.
It is a silver screen replication of a true story. So actually, I’m willing to discount the dramatization; and then take a look at the movie.
But, I am also a bit confused. Why are we going ga-ga over this content? 
It is a “real-life story” and I do not think there was much addition required to be made in the story-line; except dramatizing the sequences of course. 
(For example the Commonwealth fight of Geeta Phogat is available on YouTube and there you see that she won in straight sets virtually bulldozing her opponent. Nothing of the to-and-fro sway that we were made to see in the movie. And she had long hair, since that is a major issue in the movie.) 
We Indians are good at hyperbole. And filming an otherwise interesting story should then come easy to many of us.
And, I’m paying my hard earned money expecting content in the first place. I mean, it is like praising the police for stopping a petty theft. (Isn’t that what is supposed to happen in the first place? Please correct me if I sound illogical.)
But may be, since Bollywood is so good at pushing tasteless food (read movies) down our palates; I believe we are over-awed by anything logical coming our way.
Of course, you can argue – someone had to pick-up a story and make a sensible movie in the first place. In cricketing terms: “There’s a full toss (ball). But you still had to put it away.”
Agreed. But, then there is a counter logic: “At this level, you are expected to do that.”
Anyways throwing aside these arguments, I'm ready to grant director Nitish Tiwari an extra point for taking that pain. (Not that he should really bother about my points.) 
However, Dangal has many things going for it, to be very fair.

Movie Making
In terms of movie-making this is one of the best sports movie that Bollywood has dished out in recent times. No this is not a biopic on the Phogats, let me be clear on this. 
Look wrestling and mixed martial arts movies are starting to gain ground. Brothers, Sultan and now Dangal are, I feel,  a part of that larger trend.
We Indians, know nothing beyond cricket and football. And in football too, most of us are concerned about phoren (foreign) clubs. Keeping that at the back of our minds,  Dangal does a great job in talking about the sport of wrestling, tearing it down to the basic level of explaining even how points are scored or what happens in case of a tie. 
What really works for the movie, is the detailed creation of the right awareness on how exactly the game should be looked at from the eyes of a first time viewer (of wrestling of course). Especially, considering the multitudes (moviegoers) who have zero idea about the game. 
Sultan – the only other movie on wrestling in recent times – did not bother to get into these nuances. When a Mithun Chakraborty (Boxer) or an Ajay Devgn (Jigar) did sports-themed movies, the basic idea continued to be triumph of good over evil through revenge dramas. Sport was just a prop.
So my full marks to Dangal for breaking down the sport in an easy to understand language; and this is exactly why you feel the impact of every thud on the mat; every tear of the lead characters; and every joy that comes on their faces. That is why you subconsciously stand when the national anthem is played as a part of the movie. You feel that sense of pride rushing through your veins too.


This brings me to the third issue – that of acting and actors. 
First, when Aamir Khan is the principal protagonist in a movie, expect no other major name / superstar in it; preferably only the heroines have some reputation. That has been the trend. Otherwise, why will it be an “Aamir Khan movie” in the first place.  (PS- Perhaps "Three Idiots” is an aberration - if you want to call others stars.) 
But for once, there are actors in Dangal who match step-by-step with the Khan, Sakshi Tanwar as Aamir’s screen wife; Fatima Shaikh as Geeta; Zaira Wasim as the younger Geeta; Sanya Malhotra as Babita and Suhani Bhatnagar as the younger Babita are really good. Even the guy playing Geeta and Babita’s cousin is indeed a delight to watch.
I'm not going in the hardships that actors had to go through to prepare for the role. That is their job in the first place, especially, when they are in show-biz and a movie-script demands it. No extra points for being professional. 
In short, Dangal compliments the viewer’s interest in the movie with good actors and histrionics. 
However, I am not willing to call this Aamir Khan’s best. Perhaps, this was his best at playing the lead in any sort of “biopic” - which again is the flavor of Bollywood now. (Although, I believe Dangal to be a sports movie, rather than a biopic.)
But there is one line in the movie that will make you want to hear it again and again - "Examples are given. Not forgotten." 
Dangal, I believe will be an example, to the sport of wrestling - that has also given us Sakshi Mallik. May be it will also help prevent female foeticide. 
(Because there was someone like Mahavir Singh Phogat who preferred to take on society and ensured that his daughters are worth more than our fascination for sons.) 

Summing it up, I am willing to be liberal with my ratings on Dangal.

Rating – 4 / 5

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Double Feluda : It's the end that matters.


Double Feluda = Feluda + Feluda. 'Dugga Dugga'.
First things first - Dugga Dugga is used by Bongs as an expression to bring on good luck during a journey.
 In this context, I hope it brings on some luck to a well made average Feluda movie.
I have pretty much summed up my thoughts in the last few words of the previous paragraph. So lets bring out the knives / scalpel and start the dissection.

The Disappointment

As a kid you grow up learning that Feluda is a 30-something "fit-as-a-fiddle" Bong dude standing tall. You have instantly drawn a picture of what he looks like.
So be double disappointed in seeing the "pot-bellied" and nearing 60 Sabyasachi Chakraborty reprise his most successful role ever in what is Bengal's most loved teen hero.
Frankly speaking, a physically unfit looking Sabyasachi is nothing short of a disappointment for someone like me who has gobbled Feluda's adventures in Bengali and later English. (Penguin has translated most of Satyajit Ray's fiction including Feluda in English.) Age shows.
I am a big Pradosh C.Mitter (Feluda's real name) fan.
But despite his acting prowess Sabyasachi doesn't convince me anymore to reprise the sleuth's role. Apologies.
I know criticising a Feluda or a Ray is sacrilege here. But, I'm just speaking out my mind.
And Saheb Chatterjee as Topshe is plain average. I'm more inclined to call him "bad". Another misfit.

Lets Bring the Cheer

In case you haven't closed the window I will move ahead with the banter. 
Since you've borne with the criticism, let me treat you all to some good news.Feluda made his debut (through Feluda r Goendagiri) in 1965. 
So he has completed half a decade in enthralling  scores of youth. So getting treated to two Feluda stories is indeed a windfall. 
Oh yes!Wait till the end credits appear on screen and be delightfully led through a mini journey of Feluda during these five decades. 
His silver screen debut with Sonar Kella (The Golden Fortress) to his last outing. 
There are several anecdotes / snippets relating to 'Satyajit jethu' and his movie-making that actually make you feel good.Now coming to the two stories.


The first is "Sammadarer Chabi" (The Key of Samaddar). It has more to do with Feluda unravelling clues to a riddle rather than an edge of the seat whodunnit.
The second is "Golokdham Rahashya" (A Mysterious Tenant) which is more of a murder mystery.


In terms of movie-making Ray Jr ( Sandip Ray) has opted for a linear format.
 No unnecessary addition or change to or linkages between the stories. 
The two stories aren't inter-mingled and are kept as separate offerings. 
They are distinctly divided in the first half and the second.
Simplistic beauty in movie making is something that Ray Jr is increasingly becoming good at.
Interestingly small modernisation like the mention of computers, internet and so on have been incorporated. So that's quite a welcome move.
Small issues like use of graphics or effects could definitely have been worked upon.
Of course, there will be not much to say about one of Bengal's much loved sleuth specially becoz of the fear of revealing storylines.

Crying for Modernisation

But I would like to go back to the point I began this discussion with.  
There is a need to have a younger Feluda and Topshe. Of course Jatayu too.
And perhaps Sandip Ray should seriously look at starting afresh with the first story - Feluda r Goendagiri (Feluda's Investigation) - or some of the earlier books. This might help him build the character of Feluda, ensure that there is greater acceptability for the characters in the long. 
And, yes, please do not repeat main characters from other detective movies. 
It becomes even more difficult to accept one actor as both Feluda and Byomkesh. I personally  feel it is difficult to accept such an experiment.
Interestingly, it is the onus of  the director to ensure acceptability and adaptability of such characters.
 I'm also of the opinion that Feluda stories should be modernised and re-told in the current context.
Times have changed. Crime and mysteries needs to be solved using modern methods - say use of a smart-phone or opting for internet in case of quick reference. 
Of course, for that to happen, the film adaptation of such retold stories need to be worked upon in great detail. Not at all an easy task. But you always have BBC's "Sherlock" (with Benedict Cumberbatch) series as a modern day inspiration.
As of now, yeah Double Feluda has not left me immensely impressed. But, anyways, you should watch it as it is a Feluda movie after all.

Rating - 2.75 or 3 / 5. 

(Video link from YouTube) 

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Byomkesh Pawrbo - A Bengali superhero - no wait super sleuth - to the rescue


Hollywood has a clutch of superheroes. And, Bollywood managed a successful outing with Krishh. (I'm not mentioning Shaktimaan.) But, Bengali cinema has none.

The closest that we have to a superhero is say a Professor Sankhu.

 But, then, the tussle over the Saradindu Bandopadhyay character, Byomkesh Bakshi - by at least two Bengali directors - Anjan Dutt and Arindam Sil - in recent times; a successful yesteryear representation by Uttam Kumar in Satyajit Ray's Chiriyakhana; three not so successful forays - one by Dhritiman Chatterjee, Rituparno Ghosh's out of tune swansong 'Satwyaneshi' based on Chorabali, and a silver screen adaptation of 'Maghno Mainak' which hardly anyone remembers having made it to the halls;  at least three small screen portrayals - Basu Chatterjee's Hindi version and another in Bengali - has given the sleuth somewhat of a superhero status (or so I feel).

In this context, let's talk about the latest outing of Arindam Sil's Byomkesh Pawrbo - based on the story 'Amrit-r Mrityu' (Death of Amrit).

Uttam Kumar in Chiriakhana

Subhrajit Dutta as Byomkesh in Maghno Mainak

Dhritimaan Chatterjee in Sajarur Kanta (The Porcupine's Quill)

Storyline --

The iconic sleuth is asked to investigate rising incidents of arms smuggling in a north Bengal area. There are two murders in a nearby village, that include death of a young mentally challenged boy - Amrit and the dicey villager Sadanand. To top it all, there's a headless ghost on a black horse roaming around the jungles, or so say the villagers. Are all three incidents - smuggling, murders and ghost sightings - linked? How will Byomkesh solve the mystery?

Look and Feel --

For starters, the movie is set in 1948 and this immediately makes it somewhat of a difficult time to replicate. But, I will give some credit to director Arindam Sil for looking into most of the details. However, there are errors, which I'll conveniently overlook.

The next important part, is getting the right setting to ensure that the gap between viewers and readers is narrowed. This, according to me has been a major drawback in case of celluloid representation of major tales. For example, the book talks of a hut located right on the edge of the jungle as the area of conflict. And, I must admit, this is a very difficult part to replicate today.

Anyways, with the story being set in North Bengal, the director of photography should have had no problems in representing the beauty of the place on-screen. That is exactly what he does.

Director Sil also keeps the story crisp except towards the end where he tends to 'lecture' viewers. The little bit of tampering done with the story can be overlooked as it is a cinematic re-look. And most importantly, Byomkesh stories follow a tight start-to-finish flow and established directors like Rituparno Ghosh have faltered when they tried to re-do or alter such sequences.

Sujoy Ghosh in Rituparno Ghosh's Satyanweshi (The Inquisitor)

Now let's come to the acting part. I will start with "other characters" first. Ritwick as Ajit - the sleuth's sidekick biographer; Sohini as Byomkesh's better half; Rajatava, Kaushik Sen, Rudraneel and Subhasis as the other important / pivotal characters play their parts well. Frankly, they are good actors, who do justice to their screen presence. There should be a special mention of Kaushik Sen. He is too good an actor.

Time for the central character - Byomkesh portrayed by Abir Chatterjee.

An Abir-show --

Previously, (Anjan) Dutt, and, now Arindam Sil all have tried to give a human touch to Byomkesh. For example, Dutt is his interpretation of the sleuth shows his marital discord. Sil too accords a similar human touch to the man.In terms of acting or representing the sleuth's mannerisms on screen, Abir does a very good job. I feel, he has brought some amount of acceptability for the character.

Without taking away any credit from any other actor, I must admit that Abir has lent a certain amount of uniqueness to this Bong sleuth, that may be difficult for others to overcome in days ahead.

Abir anyways had the first-mover advantage in essaying the character. Hence, people would tend to identify a character through him, his mannerisms and drawing comparisons giving his reference. Now after the fifth movie (3 movies of Dutt and 2 of Sil) it is safe to say that he will be remembered for being the iconic sleuth. And, I have this feeling because he has worked on himself to suit the character, tried to imagine and essay how a reader would like to view him, and so on. In short, done his homework. (I speak as though I'm the jury member of the Academy Awards.)

Kudos to director Arindam Sil too for not thrusting upon too incomprehensible a character of Byomkesh on the viewer.

Absence of a Background Score --

But there is one thing that I sorely miss. A background score or a linking theme music. Would a Feluda be such iconic without its haunting background score? Remember, how Basu Chatterjee's Byomkesh had an opening and ending music which we still identify with the serial?

In fact, the genius of Ray can be seen where he replaced the need for a theme music / background score (and also in scenes that require the sleuth deep in thought) by showing Byomkesh (Uttam Kumar) playing with his pet python.

Overall, Byomkesh Pawrbo seems to be a pretty well made venture considering modern day limitations and advantages.

There's no point comparing this with previous ventures by the same director or his competition.

Beyond a doubt, Satyajit Ray and Basu Chatterjee's representation of Byomkesh will be etched in long term memory.

  • Rating -- 4 / 5
(All image source - the internet; Byomkesh's theme music and trailer video - from YouTube)

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Kahaani 2: Durga Rani Singh -- Lost in the 'Kahaani' of expectations

Abhishek Law

The poster of Kahaani 2

Sequels do have this dis-repute of not living up to the expectations of their first film. And in India or Bollywood, there are no or very little of any sequels, to be very frank. 

 The second story of the series does not start from where the first one left. There are a host of new characters and all that remains the same are the names of producers and directors; may be lead actors.  
Well that is exactly what Kahaani 2 is. 

Please note, it is not a continuation of the first film. Just an extension of a brand.

 And in terms of characters and story line, they are as different as chalk and cheese. 

 Having put out this long disclaimer first, lets get on with my two annas of opinion. 

 Vidya Sinha (played
Vidya Balan) having a teenage daughter, lives in Chandannagor. She is more concerned about providing medical treatment to her child by taking her abroad.  But then one day, the kid gets kidnapped. On her way to rescue her daughter Balan meets with an accident. At the local police station, she is identified as Durga Rani Singh - a kidnapper, obsessed child lifter and a murderer. So what is her true identity and what is her story is what Kahaani 2 seeks to explore. 

 In fact, Sujoy Ghosh's Kahaani 2 has every thing going for it in the first half. Solid build and a perfect mix of suspense. In fact, the back and forth storyline - between the past and present - of Vidya Sinha or Durga Rani Singh is juxtaposed with the appropriate setting.Cold, melancholy shots of Kalimpong. Sudden jerk-backs to the present. 

And  there is just about the right mix of suspense through-out the first 60/70 minutes of the film. But, it is the second half which follows the trodden path. 

As the story unfolds, the suspense or shock element starts to wane. The "regular" - although it is a bit harsh to use this term, I insist on using the same since it is a Sujoy Ghosh film where expectations run high - starts to surface. 

Talking or writing much in length has the flip side of revealing the story of a thriller. So lets not play spoilsport. Those who see the movie, will realise that there is a wonderful message that the film could have been delivered. 

It actually is a very original and bold script with the right modern day message to have been inter-woven as a thriller. Kudos to these modern day film-makers for thinking out of the box to mix 'parallel' and 'commercial' movie-making for the urban audiences.

However, in Kahaani 2, the message which otherwise would have been evident, is swallowed by the expectations of the "Kahaani" brand name. 

Yes, Ghosh's Kahaani (the first movie) is a landmark in modern day Bollywood (in fact his failed venture Alladin too was a fantasy thriller coming way ahead of its time). And, the name - Kahaani - is a brand. But, when there is a brand, expectations rise, and, the margin of error reduces. 

Each and every actor is brilliant. Vidya Balan is as good as ever. Arjun Rampal seems to have found the right expressions finally. Jugal Hansraj and other characters like Tota Roy Chowdhury do justice to their roles. 

Sujoy Ghosh delivers a neat movie. But, I repeat, it is the "Kahaani" brand that seems to be the biggest draw-back for an otherwise very well-made film. 

And accordingly, Kahaani 2 falls into that trap of sequels not living up to the mark of the first outing / film. 

Rating - 4 out of 5.