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Bengali Cinema in 2020: A Year of Disappointing Films Amid a Few Hidden Gems

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2020 has not been a kind year for the film industry. With cinema halls remaining shut and film shoots coming to a grinding halt for almost seven months due to the raging Covid-19 pandemic and the consequent nationwide lockdown, the Bengali film industry has been counting losses since March. When the lockdown was imposed, Brahma Janen Gopon Kommoti and The Parcel were running across cinema halls and multiplexes in West Bengal. Overnight, all shows were cancelled for an indefinite period.

The state, however, saw a window of opportunity to reopen and recover some of the damages when the Centre permitted theatres to reopen in October. In West Bengal, it was the ideal time to welcome movie goers as Bengali’s most eagerly awaited festival, Durga Puja, was around the corner. Puja releases are a big deal for the Bengali film industry, with producers and actors lining up their best works for the festive season. In a bid to woo audiences and premiere pending releases, producers lined up 10 new films to be released on October 21, just a day before Durga Puja festivities were to begin. But the picture in all the halls across the state was the same- empty, desolate halls with barely any audiences.

The low turnout of audiences has naturally upset producers. Abir Chatterjee and Rukmini Maitra-starrer Switzerland was the only film to release between October and December.

Apart from the far and few releases, this year has been a tragic one for Bengali cinema, with the death of veteran actor Soumitra Chatterjee. The year began with the release of his film Borunbabur Bondhu (directed by Anik Dutta) in January. Movie goers were eagerly awaiting the release of Bela Shuru, the sequel to the hit film Belaseshe (2015) this year. It was scheduled to release this summer but film makers are yet to announce a new release date.

Owing to the prolonged lockdown, not many films have been able to greet audiences at the theatres. Among the crop of films to have been released this year, most have been disappointing. Here’s a list of the films that left movie goers disappointed:

Warning: Spoilers ahead

  1. Love Aaj Kal Porshu

Starring Arjun Chakrabarty and Madhumita Sarkar, this Pratim D Gupta directorial promised audiences a love story spanning several time periods. The lead pair seemed destined to fall in love, even as they meet across several days, in different situations and as completely different individuals. The strange twist of watching the lead pair being unwitting amnesiac participants of an absurd reality television show, for which they are hypnotised overnight and made to get under the skin of their make-believe characters was a tad bit unrealistic.

 

  1. Asur

This film, directed by Pavel, held a lot of promise. The film is based on the true incident of a stampede at at the tallest (88ft long) Durga Pandal in Kolkata in 2015, which injured 11 persons and forced the police to close the pandal in the middle of the festivities. The film, starring Jeet, Abir Chatterjee and Nusrat Jahan, revolves around eccentric genius artist Kigan Mandi (Jeet), who designs and constructs the tallest ever Durga idol with the help and encouragement of his college friend Aditi (Nusrat), much to the chagrin of her estranged, industrialist husband Bodhi (Abir). The film blames corporate rivalries and personal revenge as the reason for the unique pandal to be closed for viewers.

 

  1. Dwitiyo Purush

This film was touted to be a much-awaited sequel to Srijit Mukherji’s Baishe Srabon (2011), the slick crime thriller which saw renowned actor Prosenjit Chatterjee play a convincing role of a disgraced cop, who turns killer to restore his reputation as an able police officer after he was dismissed from service. Coupled with the faultless performances of Parambrata Chatterjee as Abhijit Pakrashi, the investigating officer probing a string of cold-blooded murders across Kolkata, Raima Sen as his on-and-off journalist girlfriend and Abir Chatterjee as the friendzoned colleague of Pakrashi’s girlfriend, the film was immensely successful and saw both critical and popular acclaim. Dwitiyo Purush, however, has a very weak link to its predecessor and could well be a standalone film. In the sequel, Kolkata’s China Town suddenly sees murders coinciding with the release of a dreaded criminal and former gang lord Khoka (played by Anirban Bhattacharya). The film is mostly a case of mistaken identities. The angle of Khoka and Pakrashi as gay lovers who reunite after 25 years also looked forced and unnecessary.

 

  1. Brahma Janen Gopon Kommoti

This film was perhaps the biggest let down this year. Said to be based on well-known Bengali priestess Nandini Bhowmik, the film revolves around Shabari (played by Ritabhari Chatterjee), a young college professor who challenges patriarchal and social taboos and becomes a priestess. She gets married into a traditional, conservative family who has no idea about her second profession. All hell breaks loose when her MLA mother-in-law discovers Shabari officiating a wedding. The film had great potential to shed light on the conservative and patriarchal world of Hindu priests and how women are shattering the glass ceiling by carving a niche of their own in that field. What the film ends up doing is stereotyping women as another woman’s worst enemy, stereotyping men as either benevolent characters who want women to be empowered or vicious beings who want to trample on Shabari’s knowledge of Hindu religious texts and pull her down. Filled with loud, hammy performances and silly jokes, the film was a sad reminder of how not to make pretentious films on strong female characters.

 

  1. Dracula Sir

Painfully slow and boring, Dracula Sir had a stellar cast of Anirban Bhattacharya and Mimi Chakraborty and an interesting plot. School teacher Raktim (Anirban Bhattacharya) believes he is the reincarnation of martyred Naxalite Amol Shom and is haunted by Amol’s girlfriend Manjari (played by Mimi Chakraborty). Raktim is ridiculed by all for his sharp, protruding pair of teeth that resemble fangs and lets himself be bullied as ‘Dracula Sir’ by everyone. Heavily drawing inspiration from Todd Philip’s Joker (2019), down to some of the scenes, the film brings in a story of 1970s Naxalite movement in Bengal, only to add confusion. Director Debaloy Bhattacharya leaves the climax open ended, inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980), but it probably adds more confusion to the already messy plot.

(Read Silverscreen India’s review of Dracula Sir here)

Promising few

The year wasn’t entirely bad, though, as some films stood out for their commendable performances and engaging plots.

1. Borunbabur Bondhu

Anik Dutta’s directorial Borunbabur Bondhu (starring Soumitra Chatterjee in the lead), had a stellar cast and was a telling tale of relationships and how they unfurl when a family discovers that their lonesome, idealist head of the family was once a childhood friend of the country’s president.

2. Saheber Cutlet

Anjan Dutt‘s Saheber Cutlet, one of the many Durga Puja releases, was a breezy entertainer that saw flavours of a musical and a delightful performance by Arjun Chakrabarty– as the hot-headed chef resolved to leave to Paris but has a change of heart when he tries to throw out the illegal occupants of his ancestral home- and others.

(Read the Silverscreen India review of Saheber Cutlet here)

3. Shironam

Indranil Ghosh’s Shironam gave an insight into the world of television journalism and how news is made and reported. Backed by commendable performances by Anjan Dutt, Saswata Chatterjee, Jisshu U Sengupta, and Swastika Mukherjee; the film sheds light on the blind chase for TRPs, sensationalising news and compromised ethics.

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