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Sasurbari Zindabad

Bumbada-Ritudi Zindabad!
During the decade of the 90's, Bengali mainstream cinema had hit abysmal depths in virtually all fields of film-making. From script, acting, picture quality, production values, locales to cinematography every aspect bore testimony to the dark age Tollywood was passing through. And about music, their lyrics and picturisation, the less said the better! But even at this stage if there was one thing that arrested the attention of the harshest of critics, it was the divine chemistry between the reigning superstars of the decade: Prosenjit & Rituparna! The duo single-handedly carried Tollywood upon their shoulders by notching up countless triumphs at the box-office that ensured the necessary oxygen supply for the gasping industry.

But by the turn of the century, virtually nothing could pull the audiences into the theatres any longer. Fed up by a string of losses, the largest production house in Tollywood Shree Venkatesh Films had decided to drop shutters. But before that they opted to go for one last throw of the dice. With a nothing to loose attitude they decided to give it their all; and for this final do-or-die gamble they could settle for who else but the ever-bankable Bumbada and Ritudi? The biggest hero, heroine and producer joined forces to rescue Tollywood at its greatest moment of crisis; and the rest, as they say, is... History!

The result of this historic collaboration was 'Sasurbari Zindabad' which re-wrote every single record in the record-books. The film netted an unthinkable INR 2.50 crore at the box-office that sparked a turnaround for the entire industry, eventually leading to a glorious revival for Bengali cinema by the end of the next decade.

There were novelties galore ranging from a fresh comic angle in the story-line to a lavish canvas of 70 lakhs that could have accounted for this landmark success. But honestly, it's still the electrifying chemistry between Prosenjit & Rituparna which is easily the USP of the film. They have always looked more beautiful than what they already are, whenever they have come opposite each other even in the most mundane sequences on-screen. But in this film, the makers have completely repackaged their chemistry in a never-seen-before cocktail. From designer costumes, glamorous makeup to colourful sets and a picturesque setting of Siliguri, the team added a touch of style hitherto unseen to the legion of fans of this iconic pair. Rituparna is at her beautiful-best in every scene while Prosenjit pulls off his macho-romantic image with aplomb. In fact, their chemistry in the songs 'Chuk Chuk Chuk Railgari' and 'Sona Mona' simply sets the screen on FIRE!

But no review of this film would be complete without a mention of the biggest highlight of the film:.... The KISS! One had to rub their eyes in disbelief when they saw Prosenjit & Rituparna actually pecking each other on the lips! Although they had locked lips (and much more naturally at that) previously in Rituparno Ghosh's 'Utsab' (2000); but doing so in a mainstream film was simply unthinkable! Yet, inspite of its amateurishness, for thousands of Bumbada-Ritudi fans this was a moment of dream-come-true and we just can't express our gratitude from any greater depth of our heart...

Frankly speaking, barring the lead-pair there's very little in the film that works. The 1st half which is loosely inspired from the Aamir Khan-Karishma Kapoor blockbuster 'Raja Hindustani' (1996) is clearly superior to the 2nd half where the focus shifts away from the leads' chemistry. The camera-work is shoddy although the cinematographer manages to capture Siliguri in a refreshingly all- new light. The production-values and cinemascope picture-quality are above-par; but still falls well short of a film like 'Sudhu Ekbar Bolo' (1999). The film has childish continuity errors while the acting is extremely loud, especially by Subhasish. Although the seven songs are quite forgettable with unforgettably horrible lyrics, it's testimony to the Bumba-Ritu sensation which made the song 'Chokh Tule Dekhona' a chartbuster even in the dead film-music scenario of those days!

16 years down the line there's no doubt about the fact that 'Sasurbari Zindabad' is a very dated film in today's time and age, although it was a trend-setter back then. But still, a legion of Prosenjit- Rituparna fans like me shall keep on revisiting this film for ages to come in order to get a taste of the classic Bumbada-Ritudi romance at its very best...!

Kari Diye Kinlam

Worth Every Penny!
What happens when a literary classic gets adapted by a leading mainstream film-maker? Well, it results in a cinematic classic as well!

I have always been a big fan of Biresh Chatterjee. Unlike his contemporaries in the 80's, he never shied away from trying his hand at adapting various literary works on the big-screen. But unlike his predecessors in the Black-&-White era, he never hesitated in adding a generous dose of 'spice' in order to reach out to a wider section of the public. After successful celluloid adaptations of Prafulla Ray's works in 'Mohonar Dike' (1984) and 'Ekanto Apon' (1987), he lays his hand on Bimal Mitra's masterpiece 'Kori Diye Kinlam' and packages it in his own signature style.

The biggest challenge that laid in front of the director was recreating the ambiance of pre-independent Calcutta; and that is something which Chatterjee has crafted masterfully. Very few scenes are shot on real locations which is quite understandable. But the artificial sets possess a wonderful old-world feel which keeps the audiences enchanted. In fact, the sequences featuring Sati's in- laws' residence appears to have been shot in a real North Kolkata mansion belonging to the zamindari-age. Backed by good production values and suitable costumes the film brings to life vintage old Kolkata. Clearly made on a large-scale, the film even incorporates some visuals of New Delhi which is something extremely rare for those days!

Having recreated the period-feel with aplomb, the rest of the job is done by the script which is a complete tear-jerker. Barring his initial couple of films, Chatterjee has always had a penchant for extremely fast-paced narratives. Here too he produces a tight, exhilarating screenplay which is minutely detailed with incredible twists and turns. The novel itself is a masterpiece and the adaptation also succeeds in packing a solid emotional punch.

In order to portray the varied characters of the novella, the film required an ensemble cast with strong performers; and that's exactly what Chatterjee got at his disposal. The film essentially revolves around Aparna Sen, Tapas Pal and Moushumi Chatterjee and Sen as always, leads the way with a top-class performance. Although Tapas Pal plays the main lead Dipu, his character is merely a witness to all the surrounding action and never plays an active part. This is akin to other Bimal Mitra protagonists as in 'Saheb Bibi Aar Golam' and 'Pati Param Guru'. Die-hard Tapas fans might be disappointed with the reduced influence of his character; but this was a time when Pal was still good-looking and he puts in a measured performance in one of the most memorable roles of his career. Moushumi also looks good and her chemistry with Tapas is quite sweet, unlike some of the later films they have done together. But the true revelations of the film are Haradhan Banerjee and Supriya Devi who surprise in their never-seen-before negative avatars. The remaining cast comprising of Arjun Chakraborty, Madhabi Mukherjee, Utpal Dutt, etc do full justice to their roles with only Kali Banerjee sticking out with his over-the-top histrionics. One of the biggest flaws in the film involves his character who is shown to be almost visually impaired initially, but is shown later on reading the palm lines of Aparna Sen!

There are quite a few other flaws as well; but no director barring Tarun Majumder could claim to be a sound technician in that decade. Judging by his own standards, Biresh Chatterjee delivers his finest piece of cinema overtaking 'Ekanto Apon' and 'Surer Akashe' (1988). After a mediocre 'Toofan' (1988) which was inspired from Yash Chopra's 'Waqt' (1965), Chatterjee reverts to Bengali literature and bounces back in style.

The other high-point of the film has to be its music. Sapan Chakraborty always reserved his best for Chatterjee as seen earlier in 'Mohonar Dike', 'Surer Akashe' and 'Toofan' and this time too its no different. 'Oi Bujhi Banshi Baje' and 'Keno Gelo Chole' are beautiful renditions by Haimanti Shukla while 'Phuteche Go Ekti Golap' is also an extremely hummable tune. Background music has always been a strong-point in every Biresh Chatterjee movie and here too the tunes form a heady concoction with the narrative.

The viewers are left with a heavy heart and nagging tinge of sadness long after the film ends which is exactly the effect that was desired. The story, characters, music and above all, the old-world charm creates a solid hangover which refuses to die down. To sum it up, 'Kori Diye Kinlam' is a film which is sure to immortalise Biresh Chatterjee in the pantheons of great film-makers of Bengali cinema...

Game: He Plays to Win

Tragic Defeat!
It was a 'game' between the Hindi and Bengali remakes of Tamil blockbuster 'Thupakki'. Both produced by Reliance Entertainment, Tollywood's 'Game' released just a week ahead of the A.R.Murugadoss directorial 'Holiday'. While the Bengali version was a non-starter from day one, the Akshay Kumar starrer raced away to the 100 crore club at the box-office. But did Tollywood really deserve such an abominable defeat?

On the contrary it has to be said that 'Game' is one of the most smartly executed mainstream films of recent times. In spite of being a remake the film is still Bengali to the core. Unlike other mainstream films which are mostly shot inside film-cities, here the camera spans across all the nooks and corners of Kolkata. From the wholesale market of Burrabazar to South City to Metro Stations to Trams and the Ferry Ghats, the whole City of Joy is captured in a pristine avatar (which is especially delightful for non-resident Bengalis like me!). And all these coming from a director who can't even speak Bengali! Baba Yadav has already proved his directorial skills with his debut venture 'Boss' (2013) where he brilliantly captured the 'Aamchi Mumbai' feel of his home-town. But doing so for a city which he isn't much familiar with requires talent of a different level. Other Bengali directors like Rajib, Raja Chanda and Sujit Mondol can take a lesson or two from this film regarding how to capture the essence of Bengal.

But the biggest USP of the film is its gripping story-line. A.R.Murugadoss has already developed a reputation of becoming the 'Christopher Nolan of India' and here too he lives up to the hype by delivering a highly intellectual script. Supported by some good dialogues (including Hindi) by N.K.Salil the film forces the viewers to concentrate on every bit of word and action and keeps them hooked till the end. Although the suicide-mission undertaken by the hero seemed drastic and required better handling, still this much can certainly be overlooked. By the time the rolling credits come up, one just can't help but marvel at the incredible sacrifices made by the brave Jawans of our army!

In terms of performances Jeet is wonderful as the dutiful armyman Abhimanyu. He has improved big time as an actor and delivers a much better performance than his rowdy acts in 'Awara' or 'Bachchan'. The effort he has put in to get in shape for the character of an army officer shows in his lean and mean physique. Subhashree is bubbly and looks good; but her chemistry with Jeet falls flat as their age difference is a great eye-sore. But the biggest surprise package of the film is its villain Saurav Chakraborty who puts in a cold and menacing performance as the head of the terrorist outfit. Similarly impressive is the actor as Jeet's sub-inspector friend who is quite funny. A special mention must also be made of Shankar Chakraborty who puts in a restrained comic performance. But Biswajit Chakraborty and Arindam Sil are wasted in their insubstantial roles.

The biggest weak-point of the film if any, has to be its music. After the phenomenal success of the 'Boss'-soundtrack, Jeet Gannguli is clearly out of form over here. None of the four songs manages to create any lasting impression on the audiences. But otherwise the film boasts of some excellent editing and top-notch cinematography. The background music is good but more is expected from a stalwart like S.P.Venkatesh. The action-sequences by Rocky Rajesh are NOT over-the-top. Still the hero's introductory sequence was needless while the climactic fight left a lot to be desired and failed to deliver the final flourish that the film so richly merited. The VFX special effects of the blasts were also quite below the mark.

But all the good work got undone by the foolish release timing by the producers. Pitting 'Game' against the much-bigger 'Holiday' was always going to hit the viewer-base hard, resulting in a lukewarm response at the box-office. Mainstream cinema which has been suffering from same-old repetitive brainless dramas desperately needed a 'game'-changer, and 'Game' was exactly what the doctor had ordered. But alas... that was not to be. Instead of ushering in a trend of intellectual story-lines, Tollywood and especially Jeet has gone back to doing brainless action-dramas like 'Bachchan' and 'Besh Korechi Prem Korechi'; both of which have inexplicably done better business than 'Game'! And the worst part is that in spite of showing so much promise, a director like Baba Yadav currently has no offers in his hand which is such a shame... Tollywood Needs You Baba...!

In spite of winning my heart, the heavy defeat at the box-office was certainly not deserved in this 'game'. But it's not just a defeat for Reliance & Co, but for the entire industry which is going to cost Tollywood dear at some point in the future...

Jamai 420

Son-in-Laws Save Tollywood!
2014 was an 'annus horribilis' for mainstream Bengali cinema. All the big superstars had bit the dust and the critics wasted no time in writing the epitaph for this genre of films. 2015 had started off on a bad note as well with big-budget ventures like 'Herogiri', 'Amanush 2' and 'Romeo v/s Juliet' sinking without a trace. But just when all hopes were extinguished, 'Jamai Sasthi' arrived with a change of fortunes at the Tolly scenario. Three son-in-laws lit up the screen with their exploits and set the empty cash-registers jingling once again!

There are some films which are so bad that it's good! A case in point is 'Jamai 420' which is incredibly silly but still doesn't fall short in delivering wholesome entertainment to its viewers. In fact there's a sort of guilty pleasure to be had in overlooking its cons and feasting on the fun. Otherwise the film has to be termed a huge disappointment in terms of its script and execution. Vaguely similar to the 2011 blockbuster 'Bye Bye Bangkok' (including the same locations of Bangkok!), the plot is half-baked and performances intentionally loud. Although the proceedings improve somewhat in the 2nd half, it's more courtesy the breath-taking locales of Bangkok than any credit of the script.

Yet what really works for 'Jamai 420' is its novelty. Inspite of being crass and slapstick, the film is still a proper 'comedy'. Unlike the other light-hearted action-dramas, laughter here is not served in a cock-tail of blood and gore. Such unadulterated comedies have been rare in the recent mainstream scenario and hence the audiences appreciated this for a change.

The film's biggest attraction has to be its star-cast. When was the last time Tollywood saw an assembly of three heroes: Sohom, Ankush and Hiran and three heroines: Mimi, Nusrat and Payel; and each one of them a bonafide star! Although none of them can be tagged as 'A- listers' unlike a Dev-Jeet-Prosenjit or Koel-Srabonti-Subhashree, their combined appeal proved to be superior compared to any of the A-listers appearing in a solo-starrer.

Although on face it's a multi-starrer, but honestly its Ankush, Mimi and Nusrat who steal all the limelight. The chemistry between Ankush & Nusrat is simply electrifying and is easily the biggest positive for the film. After giving the much-hyped 'Rangbaaz' a run for its money with their shimmering chemistry in 'Khiladi' (2013), the duo display enough potential to become the next Prosenjit- Rituparna, Jeet-Koel or Dev-Subhashree of Tollywood! It's extremely sad to see talented performers like Sohom and Payel getting relegated to the kind of roles they have done in this film which is only going to push their career backwards. As for Hiran, he has done justice to the limited scope entrusted to him by the director.

But no comedy can ever be successful without an ensemble supporting cast. And here too veterans like Kharaj Mukherjee, Biswajit Chakraborty, Shankar Chakraborty, Manasi, Shantilal, Supriyo Dutta, etc have played their part in generating the laughs. Still Biswanath Basu sticks out like a sore-thumb with his 'jatra'-istic performance that is too hard to digest. And a special word of mention must be made about our beloved Raj'da who delivers the most 'sensible' performance of the film in a pivotal cameo at the end!

As for director Ravi Kinnagi, the man once again proves his ability to adapt to the changing tastes of the audiences. With 9 consecutive hits being followed by three back-to-back flops, he has tried his hand at a comedy and succeeds in coming up with something fresh and new. Although he's clearly out of his comfort zone, he still ensures a colourful ambiance with glitzy sets and lush foreign locales which is just perfect for a comedy flick. In fact he's even credited with the original story, which means he actually deserves more credit for this film than most of his other better-executed 'remakes'!

In the end, the film can be best summed up by its music: Enjoyable as long as it lasts; but forgotten the moment it ends. Still, one shouldn't forget a very important lesson that the 'jamais' have taught us here: In the current scenario, a film need not be good; but it must have some sort of novelty in order to pull the mass audiences! The producers better take note...

Shudhu Tomari Jonyo

For All Lovers of Bengali Cinema
(Reviewed after watching in theatre in the 1st week of release)

South Indian remakes which were once the staple diet for Tollywood, have gradually lost their appeal. But if presented in the right way, then even now a remake can draw the audiences; be it Kolkata or beyond, multiplex or single-screen. That's what STJ has proved this Puja!

Fed up with the same old brainless action-dramas, the viewers were thirsting for something new. And novelty was something which they got in abundance from this film. First of all the star-cast. Getting to see Dev and Sohom together was definitely a big attraction which ensured an excellent opening for the film. And that the audiences don't return disappointed was ensured by the intensely emotional story-line. Indeed, it's emotional quotient is the biggest asset for the movie as it connects with the audiences and ensures that it lingers on in our mind; unlike other contemporary 'hits' which hardly create any impression.

The other big factor which helped the film connect all over Bengal was its distinct 'Bangaliana'. Kudos to director Birsa Dasgupta for draining out all the South Indian flavour from the script and instead masterfully weave in a wonderful montage of Bengal into various fragments of the film. For instance, the Sohom-Srabonti track is beautifully shot in the picturesque locales of Darjeeling while the Dev-Mimi part is placed in vintage North Kolkata along with Rajarhat. And the actual scene of all the narrative is a modern-luxurious housing colony in the posh area of Kasba, South Kolkata! It's also helped significantly that the film has been shot in real locations unlike most directors who prefer the artificial settings of the Ramoji Film City. It won't be an overstatement to say that after Raj Chakraborty Tollywood has finally found a mainstream director with genuine film- making skills.

Dev is initially unconvincing as the drunkard husband, but gradually gets into his groove. In fact he's at his 'ceeti-taali' best in his track with Mimi. Srabonti is good while Mimi is effervescent. Sohom gets limited screen-time but makes a bigger impression than his lead roles in 'Jamai 420' and 'Katmundu'. In fact, he even overshadows Dev in the film's only scene featuring the two stars together. Arindam Sil is a welcome change with his graceful portrayal while Supriyo Dutta reiterates his caliber as a powerhouse performer.

Most of the songs are refreshing barring 'Emotional Saiyyan' which has been used as just a promotional gimmick for all Dev-fans but cleverly excluded from the film keeping in mind the severe distaste of the multiplex audiences for such 'dream' sequences which frequently pop up to obstruct the flow of the narrative.

After 'Golpo Holeo Sotti' (2014) Birsa has once again succeeded in bridging the urban-rural divide which is the only way Bengali cinema can survive in the age of shrinking theatrical market. Under such a scenario STJ certainly lends out hope for a brighter future which ultimately, is the biggest Puja gift for all lovers of Bengali cinema...

Besh Korechi Prem Korechi

Only 2nd Half 'Besh Koreche'...
(Reviewed after watching in a theatre in the 3rd week of release)

Irrespective of the dwindling interest in mainstream Bengali remakes, this was a film which had managed to generate a fair bit of pre- release interest, mainly due to two factors: Jeet's new hairstyle; and the return of the lovable 'Je-Ko' pair after a gap of three- and-a- half years. And in the end, it was all left to the magical chemistry of the lead pair to salvage the film; which they do pull off somewhat...

The story is the same old run-of-the-mill light-hearted action romance, which had once been a solid draw at the box-office in films like 'Paglu' (2011) and 'Awara' (2012), but has been done to death since then. The 1st half is set in Varanasi, but director Raja Chanda fails completely in capturing the essence of the city. In fact barring the Dashaswamed Ghat sequences, one couldn't make out any difference with any other urban Indian metro. He could very well take a lesson or two from the later-released 'Har Har Byomkesh' regarding how to create a proper regional ambiance.

Still considering the director's past reputation, one couldn't really have expected anything great. But what made matters worse was the tearing hurry in which this film was made. Announced in end-May, the film was released by mid-July in order to cash-in on the Eid celebrations. And this has taken a huge toll on the film's 1st half where some sequences are amateurishly shot and 75 minutes pass off without creating much of an impact.

It's in the 2nd half where the fun begins. The focus shifts from unnecessary blood-&-gore to some hilarious mix-ups. More importantly the stage is set loose for the Jeet-Koel romance to blossom and the duo simply set the screen on fire! Kharaj Mukherjee delivers a powerhouse performance while Subhasish and Supriyo Dutta lend able support. Biswajit Chakraborty is a let-down though as he seems bored playing the same routine characters all the time. Ashish Vidyarthi is a complete misfit as Koel's brother while Puneet Issar, with his voice-dubbed, fails to recreate his 'Josh'-act. Barring the title-track Jeet Gannguli also scores with his music with 'Tor Oi Mayabi Chokh' reigning supreme.

All said and done, the film belongs to Jeet & Koel alone. Their scorching chemistry ensures 'paisa-wasool' entertainment irrespective of the countless flaws in the film. Although the producers would do well to pay heed to the reducing appeal of such genres, all 'Je-Ko' lovers like me should bow in gratitude to SVF for bringing back this magical pair, which had inexplicably stayed away since the delightful '100% Love' (2012).

We can only wish that the wait doesn't get that longer next time...!

Baba Keno Chakar

The Film that Symbolized an Entire Decade
The decade of the 90's is considered the darkest phase of Bengali cinema where films were rolled off like assembly-line products, many of them emerged hits, but hardly any managed to leave an imprint on the public memory. But there were 2 films which passed this acid-test and have forever since been considered the emblem of how childish Bengali films had become in that decade. One was 'Beder Meye Josna' (1991), the pioneer of this genre; the other being the eponymous 'Baba Keno Chakar'.

BMJ was the film which had sparked off this craze for Bangladeshi remakes in this part of Bengal. Not only did it lead to a barrage of quicky copy-pastes, but it also resulted in many hero, heroines, directors, composers, scriptwriters, etc flocking to this part of the border. But no one made it as big as the 'maestro' Swapan Saha. The man entered his name in the record-books of Tollywood history by churning out half-a-dozen films a year, most of them Bangladeshi copy-pastes made at measly shoe-string budgets of 10-15 lakh, but generating exponential returns to the producers.

In the old times Bengali films catered to a wide-range of public; and hence needed to be accentuated with strong performances and direction. But these Bangladeshi remakes catered strictly to the lowest common denominators, who hitherto were loyal followers of the rustic-theaters known as 'Jatra-pala's. As a result, even though the upper & middle class public fast drifted away from such stuff, the lower class lapped it up with both hands; leaving the Jatra-industry gasping for breath.

'Baba Keno Chakor' is a classic example of the Bangladeshi stranglehold in Tollywood back then. The film is a frame-to-frame remake of a BD film of the same name, featuring the same man Razzak in the lead-role and having the same music director with most of the songs being exact replicas as well! The very name is a clear throwaway of the film's 'Jatra'-istic content and its target audience. And the over-the-top performances, shoddy camera-work and action, and laughable choreography and make-ups ensure that the paying-public isn't disappointed. Most other directors of the 90's were caught in the dilemma of whether to appease the classes or the masses; but Saha always knew his forte. With an unapologetic aim on the Jatra-public and aided by his superhuman work-management skills, where he simultaneously shot for multiple films round-the-clock (perhaps copy-pasting made the job slightly easier!), the man emerged a veritable money-spinning machine. And BKC remains his biggest-ever success saga, becoming the biggest blockbuster of the decade. Legend has it that the paying public would wipe-off their tears with the tickets they had purchased!

Yet credit must also be given to lead-man Razzak who was also the scriptwriter and director of the original BD version. It's not easy for an unknown (in Tollywood) old man to sideline stars like Prosenjit, Rituparna and Abhishek and still be able to pull the masses. Perhaps the success of the National Award winning 'Lathi' (1996) made on a similar subject, enthused the crowds; but fact is the script of this one is simply a no-match.

Yet it's Razzak who delivers the most convincing performance in the cast. In the one particular scene where he gets termed his son's servant, the change of his facial expression from pleading to dejection strikes a strong chord. Pijush Ganguly, a rarity in such films, puts in the only other admirable performance.

Saha never bothered about aesthetics and that showed. The chemistry between Prosenjit & Rituparna was easily the best thing of the 90's; but the director as always fails to extract much from them. Abhishek is wasted (wonder why he opted for so many side-roles like this), while Subhasish with an awful moustache as 'Chintahoron Kachukheti' is a total disaster. The music is surprisingly OK.

The film has achieved cult-status, mostly for its title rather than box-office prowess. The elite classes associate it with a smirk of if-this-is-your-best-then-what-about-the-rest kind. And so it shall remain, a symbol of the nadir which Tollywood had reached in the 90's.

Badshahi Angti

Certainly Not 'Majestic'; But Still A Good One - 6.5/10
Sandip Ray's previous Feluda-venture 'Royal Bengal Rahasya' (2011) was no less than a masterpiece. And considering the book 'Badshahi Angti' is one of the best Feluda adventures ever, I was expecting this to become the best Feluda-movie of all-time. But the overall experience left me discontented.

The film was essentially a tale of two halves. The 1st half was almost a disaster. One of the hall-marks of the Ray-films are the adrenalin- pumping openings, aided with pulsating background music. But since RBR, Ray has inexplicably decided to do away with these 2 USPs of his films. While these were the only drawbacks in RBR, here it spoils the mood to such an extent that it never gets recovered until post-interval. It's not that there weren't any options. From Pierilal's death to the burglary in Dr. Srivastav's house, there were possibilities galore; but the director simply didn't show any interest!

The intro-scene of the new Feluda-&-Topshe is well-shot. But after that the entire episode involving Dr. Srivastav and the 'ring' is narrated through simple dialogues for 10-15 minutes, which is not just boring but also tough to follow! There should have been some use of flash-backs or graphic depiction of the history of the ring (as in 'Gorosthane Sabdhan') to add some element of interest. Even after that, the 'Bhool Bhulaiya' is another letdown. Some of the long-shots are digitally implanted which don't evade the eye. Things pick up from the visit to Banabihari Babu's residence; but that's not enough to salvage the 1st half.

Just when I had resigned to this being another disappointment from Ray after 'Jekhane Bhooter Bhoy' (2012), the man engineers a stunning comeback in the 2nd half! It becomes an altogether different film post- interval with the events picking up pace and the mystery thickening. The audiences are forced to apply their brains all through or else they run the risk of losing track... just as it should have been from the start. It seemed the director had finally rose from his slumber after snoozing all through the 1st half!

The cinematography is one of the high-points of the film as it captures all the myriad beauties of Lucknow and Haridwar in all its splendor (Although the detailed closeups of the Galouti Kebab and Biriyanis were comical!). The VFX of the animals are satisfactory by Tollywood standards.

Cast-wise, Abir Chatterjee's pre-built image as Byomkesh makes it all the more easy to accept him as Feluda. Sourav Das as Topshe could have been better, while Paran Bannerjee is a revelation in perhaps the strongest role of his career! It's only Tathagata who manages to stand out among the rest of the cast. Special mention must be made of Dwijen Bannerjee whose particular casting was a masterstroke!

The film is a clean-&-simple family entertainer; but not a proper suspense-thriller. Although the director continues with the whodunit format, the eventual disclosure of the culprit won't come as any surprise to anyone (unlike RBR). It's because just 2 of the wide-bevy of characters are properly cultivated and developed. Hence, the other characters don't arise any kind of suspicion, which is unlike the novel. This is one of the few stories featuring Topshe's father and I had hoped for his interactions with Feluda-&-Topshe to be explored a bit more.

This isn't Ray's best Feluda-film by any stretch (even 'Kailashe Kelenkari' and 'Tintoretor Jishu' were better films for their times); but it's far better than his non-Feluda flicks like JBB or 'Chaar'. What's worrying is that the man has turned an outstanding novel like BA into just a moderately good film. Hence, when he adapts a not-so-good 'Gangtoke Gondogol' up-next, one must really keep their fingers crossed for the end-result...!


Too Many Cooks Spoil the Broth!
I am an unapologetic aficionado of 80's Bengali cinema. The look-&-feel, star-cast, music and potboiler entertainment of that period mesmerises me no end. But here was a film that had all the ingredients of delivering an overwhelming experience;... but alas, it eventually falls far short of that.

The film has almost all the necessary ingredients that make an ideal potboiler: an ensemble star-cast, good picture quality, impressive production-values, sleek action-sequences and memorable music. But the only thing that the film lacks is a well-bound script! This is especially disappointing as it was the genius Anjan Chowdhury who had helmed this department. Having churned out solid action-dramas like 'Shatru' (1984), 'Aakrosh' (1989), 'Nabab' (1991), 'Indrajit' (1993), 'Protibaad' (2001), 'Tulkalam' (2007), etc one certainly expected better things from him; especially as the plot had serious potential.

The film is a flawed multi-starrer. The 1st 1 hour is good where Ranjit Mullick alone stands up against the wrong-doings of the baddie 'Yudhisthir' played by Dipankar Dey. But as Soumitra Chatterjee and Prosenjit step into the picture, the film begins to loose pace. The 3 of them move about together trying to cast the net around Yudhisthir. Till 1 point it's a treat to watch these 3 superstars moving shoulder-to-shoulder in one frame; but after a point one realises that the story is going nowhere. Interspersed with some song-&-dance sequences, the film bounces back to life in the last half-an-hour with a particularly well-executed climax.

The cast has a plethora of stars; but none of them manage to shine through. Ranjit Mullick is his usual self in the 1st half but gets overshadowed after the entry of Soumitra, who given his age does a fair job as the gun-trotting Colonel. But it's Prosenjit who is the biggest disappointment as he hardly has anything to do, except for a couple of song-&-dance sequences and a well-directed fight sequence near the end. Even Anup Kumar is portrayed as a hero (with the only Kishore Kumar number in the film going to his credit) and also supposedly having a romantic track with Papiya Adhikary that is mysteriously left unexplored. In fact Papiya's character is also more of a 'hero' who tries to avenge her mother's death; but hardly gets any screen-time after the 1st 30 minutes! Debashree Roy and Sumitra Mukherjee also engage only occasionally. With all the heroes getting lost in the crowd, it's Dipankar Dey as the lone villain who makes the biggest impression. He gets the meatiest role in the film and virtually hogs the entire limelight. And he sure does full justice to his bad man act.

The music by Bappi Lahiri is certainly a highlight with all the 5 songs (including a full Hindi number) being quite hummable. 'Main Hoon Payra' and 'Sohoje Jayna Chena' stand out among the lot. The background music is littered with the regular pulsating numbers; but they are so good that it never bothers anytime.

2nd-time director Shrikanta Guhathakurata does an admirable job; and so do the producers in not compromising on the budget. But it seems to be a case of casting the big names before and then forcefully fitting them into the script, as the story didn't need so many heroes. It would have been ideal if the characters of Prosenjit & Anup Kumar and Debashree Roy & Papiya Adhikary got merged. It would have opened up more space for their romantic track to blossom and also create room for another villain to make the battle (and the 2nd half) more intriguing!

But all in all, the film has a rich 80's flavour which kept me going even when the pace had dropped. Combining with the huge star-cast and enjoyable music, the film is certainly worth a one-time watch. It might not make you urge for a 2nd helping; but it can sure satiate your appetite!


Not Noorie; it's the Wonder Dog Khairu who made this a Super Hit!
Sometimes we come across certain films from which we just don't expect ANYTHING. But by the time it's flashed 'The End', we are simply left awestruck! Manmohan Krishna's sole directorial venture 'Noorie' is easily one such little gem.

Being totally unacquainted with this film in my lifetime, I showed the stupidity of judging it from the 30-sec trailer aired on Doordarshan last year. Besides lacking in star-quotient, the low-budget feel had also put me off. Having missed it twice in the last year, I finally happened to give it a chance this Sunday... and it was certainly a case of being better late than never!

The film has almost no element of the famous 'glamour quotient' that Bollywood came to be associated with in the 1970's. A shoestring budget (25 lakh!), below-par picture quality, inferior production values, lack of much scenic beauty inspite of being picturised in Kashmir and the poverty-stricken ambiance of the mountainous village was in stark contrast to the rich and glamorous setting of the big budget Bollywood flicks of those times. The star-cast wasn't big either. Barring 'Chashme Baddoor' I didn't have much memory of Farookh Shaikh; while Poonam Dhillon was best remembered for playing the 4th lead heroine in Yash Chopra's classic 'Trishul' (1978). The banner was big; but that made it all the more puzzling. What was YRF doing with a small budget film like this?

The music by Khayyam was good, especially 'Aaje Re'; but there were still a couple of songs too many for a short-duration film like this.

But the sole reason that made this film such a gripping watch was the wonder dog 'Khairu'. I have seen far too many Bolly-flicks to be caught off-guard with any routine plot-twists. But this one left me stumped; for until the final 5 minutes I had no idea that it's the dog who's gonna turn out to be the real 'hero' of the film!

A main reason for this surprise was the unconventional plot-structure. Unlike other animal-films like 'Haathi Mere Saathi' (1971) or the recent 'Entertainment' (2014) where the animals are in focus from the start, this film doesn't give the audiences any inkling of it being an animal-centric film at all. The dog is always portrayed as a supporting character with the humans hogging all the limelight. It's only in the last half-an-hour that it appears the dog is going to play a bigger role. But even then I had expected it to be Farookh Shaikh who would play the typical hero by vanquishing the villain. So imagine one's surprise when the hero gets killed by the villain; but it's the dog who avenges the death of his mistress and turns out to be the last 'man' standing at the end!

Although everyone in the cast deliver credible performances, the dog is easily the show-stealer. Be it in the scene where 'he' goes and lies in his master's graveyard or searches for some food in his forlorn hut, he touches the heart-strings of the viewers with such ease that no human actor can ever dream of. This is why animal-films are such arresting stuff!

But the script is flawed at the base. Films like this should essentially be targeted towards the children. But the content of the film is such that no conservative parent would ever dare to show it too his/her child. This alone has robbed the film of a huge viewership which could have made it a humongous grosser like 'Haathi Mere Saathi'. That an experienced campaigner like Yash Chopra also didn't intrude on this is hard to understand. Perhaps he wanted to lend unconditional support to the new breed of formula-breaking film-makers, just like he himself! That he was vindicated goes without saying as the film still became a 'super hit', which shows how much the film was loved by the adults themselves!

One feels if the script was focused more on 'Khairu' and his revenge, then it could have been a much more captivating experience. But in that case it would have robbed the film of its 'shock-value' which was easily the biggest takeaway of the movie.

Those were the times when superstars like Amitabh Bachchan, Dharmendra, Shashi Kapoor, Vinod Khanna, etc would join forces to set the cash-registers jingling. But here it was a 'wonder canine' who had alone set the box-office on fire!


80's At It's Best!
Many consider the 1980's to be the decade of decline of Bengali cinema. But for someone like me, who has never been a 'fan' of Bengali movies made before that period, 80's was the time when Bengali films became really entertaining! I agree that the scenario turned really bad in the 90's (particularly due to the advent of a certain Swapan Saha); but the 80's was truly the era of quality entertainers, studded with gems like 'Shatru', 'Gurudakshina', 'Amar Sangee',... and obviously 'Aakrosh'!

As if to reserve the best for the last, this action-drama released at the fag end of the decade in mid-1989. And what a treat it turned out to be! This is a film that has everything: a solid compact script, great music, good action (a rarity in those days!) and above all a huge star-cast, delivering some solid performances, which will leave you in a daze by the time the show is over.

Anjan Chowdhury is perhaps the single-most reason why the 80's is such a favourite of mine. According to me, he is undeniably the best script- writer of all-time in Bengali cinema, with perhaps only Prabhat Roy coming close. Chowdhury is simply at his best in 'Aakrosh'. He spins a heady cock-tail with a plot, which appears to be modeled on the Karna- Arjuna rivalry, packs a solid punch with adequate doses of romance, emotion, comedy and action, which will keep the viewers glued for around two and half hours. It's a shame that the current film-makers have to resort to South Indian remakes nowadays, as we have simply failed to produce another script-writer like him!

The cast is simply superb. It's one of the rare films featuring Victor Bannerjee and Prosenjit in their prime; and they simply create fireworks together on-screen in what appeared to be the modern-day Karna and Arjuna respectively. Victor as 'Samrat' puts up a stellar performance; and it's simply a pity that a hero of his caliber remained mostly under-utilised in the Tollywood scene. Prosenjit is as-usual as the tough-cop; but quite impressive as the younger brother who struggles to come to terms with his mother's tainted past. Ranjit Mullick appears in one of his earliest roles as a father (something he would go onto portray several times later on) and comes into his own in the later half of the film. Everyone else of this huge ensemble cast featuring Subhendu Chatterjee, Shakuntala Barua, Debashree Roy, Ruma Guhathakurata, Haradhan Bannerjee, Nirmal Kumar and Geeta Dey succeed in creating an impact; with only the newcomer heroine appearing somewhat unconvincing. But the man who clearly stole the show was none other than the great Utpal Dutta, who simply grabs your attention in each and every scene in a comical-villain act.

This is easily the best film of Sujit Guha. Balancing such a huge star- cast with such a dynamic script is no easy job; and he performs this task with aplomb. In fact, this was his 4th film of the year along with 'Asha O Bhalobasa', 'Amar Prem' and 'Bandini'. Considering that all of them were good films which became big hits, makes his achievement even greater! How come this man went onto make films like 'Kulangar', 'Nayok' and 'Mon Mane Naa' later on, is completely beyond me!

No review would be complete without a mention of the music, composed by the unquestionable genius R.D.Burman. This was supposedly a phase where he was struggling in Bollywood, something which is hard to believe if one hears the sound-track of this film. All the 5 songs are rich in melody with 'Baje Dhol Tak-Dhi-Na-Dhin' and 'Monete Swapno' being remembered till even today. The songs act as welcome reliefs amidst the high-drama that unfolds at a break-neck speed all through.

The film is a big-budget one for its time. From its star-cast to the Bollywood fight-masters, it's quite evident all-through. The only blot appears to be the artificial set created for the 'Kali-Temple', where a lot of the action unfolds. But by then, one gets so much engrossed in the film, that it hardly creates a bother.

Overall, this should rank as one of the best film of the 1980's, providing wholesome entertainment for all age-groups. The best part is that the charm remains intact even after several repeat viewings... a good reason for me to keep visiting this film again and again!

Uttar Falguni

Blows Away!
There are occasions when one sits down to watch a particular film without expecting much from it. But gradually, the film slowly starts to engage. And by the end of the running-time, the film turns around to pack such a punch, that one is simply left in a trance! This in short, describes my experience of viewing Asit Sen's 'Uttor Falguni'.

I always tend to avoid non-comedy Bengali films of old-times, as they often seem to be quite boring and monotonous; besides lacking the glamour of Bollywood. Even here when the film begins with an exhausting rendition of a classical track in a courtesan's courtyard (shot in dimly lit inferior picture quality); one is left bracing for the worst. But with the passage of time, one is irresistibly drawn towards the gripping narrative of the film!

The script is easily the king of the film. Different from the run-of-the-mill romantic dramas, the story captivates throughout. From the sober track of Pannabai and her story, to the light-hearted romance of Suparna and Indranil and finally to the court-hearings, the film is thoroughly engrossing. The film has a fast pace (quite uncharacteristic back then) which makes it all the more gripping.

Those were the times when Suchitra Sen had created her own brand of heroine-oriented films with back-to-back hits like 'Deep Jweley Jai', 'Smritituku Thak', 'Sandhyadeeper Sikha', etc. 'Uttor Falguni' was perhaps her biggest blockbuster in this genre and quite rightfully so. She is quite graceful in her portrayal of the courtesan, Pannabai and charming as her bubbly daughter, Suparna. Needless to say, she looks gorgeous as the later. But it's her performance which carries the film through.

Despite being the producer, Uttam Kumar shied away from playing the male-lead as he was wary of the audience-reaction when he would have to play the uncle to Suchitra! As a result, the role went to Bikash Roy and he puts in a stellar act as the selfless lover and a doting uncle. This has to be one of the best acts of his career! Dilip Mukherjee has a limited role; but his light-hearted romantic-track with Suparna offers a much needed relief in an otherwise grim tale.

Out of his handful of films that I have had the fortune of witnessing, this is clearly Asit Sen's best. The execution of the particular scene where Debjani's husband lets a stranger into her room, gives goosebumps! The narrative also never wanders off the main-plot. Even though the picture-quality could have been better, the production values were still good for those times. The cinematography was praiseworthy in the courtroom sequences which were easily the highlight of the film.

Asit Sen remade the film in Hindi as 'Mamta'(1966) with Mrs.Sen reprising her double-role in what became one of her most successful Bollywood ventures. Being a die-hard Bollywood-buff, I am thirsting to catch that one now!


Acidic Reaction!
1980's was the decade when Hindi cinema had touched an abysmal low. The severe menace of piracy had robbed the sheen out of the films of those times. Due to a shrinkage in market, producers indulged in cost-cutting techniques resulting in substandard productions. Poor picture quality, inferior production-values and cheap disco-numbers took away the glamour quotient of the films. Facing a budgetary constraint, film-makers started focusing more on kitchen-sink dramas to woo the lower middle-class audiences. Even when there was some action, they were way below the 70's standards.

But from time-to-time, there were the big-ticket ventures like 'Karma' (1986), 'Mr.India' (1987), 'Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak' (1988), 'Ram Lakkhan' (1989), 'Maine Pyar Kiya'(1989), 'Tridev' (1989), etc which offered some much needed respite from the constant nightmare of mediocrity. One of those films was N.N.Chandra's 'Tezaab'(1988).

When I saw the film 2 years back, I wasn't much impressed as I felt the script was quite wayward and overall not good enough. But after being exposed to some more regular 80's fare, I happened to watch this film recently again. And this time I was just blown away!

I have realised that I wasn't being fare to this film by judging it solely on the basis of it's script; as compared to the regular 80's fare, this film offered so much more! First of all, this was a big- budget film. From the picture quality, sets and locales to its hard- hitting action, the film was shot on a huge scale. The film has a sort of grandeur which is bound to be a breath of fresh air for cine-goers of those times.

But for me, the 3 assets of the film are its dialogues, editing and background music. The dialogues are extremely hard-hitting and create a severe impact. The editing is extremely fast-paced and makes a solid impact from the opening scene itself. In fact it could even compete with any film of the mid-2000 period. On this front, the film was clearly way ahead of its time! And Laxmikant-Pyarelal seem to have given their all in creating a high-voltage background score that turbo-charges the film non-stop for the entire duration. That's not to say, they fared any worse when it came to the songs. 'Kehdo Ki Tum'and 'So Gayi Yeh Zameen' deliver the goods with 'Ek Do Teen' remaining a timeless classic till now!

Performance is another strong point for the film. Almost the entire cast comprising of Anil Kapoor, Madhuri Dixit, Anupam Kher, Kiran Kumar, Annu Kapoor, etc deliver some power-packed performances. But it's Suresh Oberoi who stands out as the righteous and sympathetic cop, who ensures justice is finally delivered at the end. Even Chunky Pandey delivers a surprisingly heart-felt performance which is probably his best act till date. This was one of Johny Lever's earlier films and he is as usual wonderful; especially in the Telugu-mouthing Arabian act! Mandakini appears in a small cameo in what is probably the only poorly etched out character.

Many might consider the 'Ek Do Teen' number to be the highlight of the film; but for me the highlight was the demolition sequence of Lotiya Pathan's empire. With explosions, car-crashes, collapsing towers this was one of the most expensive action-sequences back then and clearly takes one's breath away! Even on the 1st occasion when I didn't like the film, I was still blown away by this particular sequence. In fact the sequence is so good, that I expected this to be the grand-climax for the film. But I was quite surprised to see that the film still went on for another half-an-hour. Still after watching a sequence like this, one expected the climactic battle to be even more stunning. But the final confrontation, filmed aboard a ship, simply drags on and falls way below expectations. This leaves a sour taste to an otherwise gripping drama.

The title (meaning 'acid') and the tag-line ('A Violent Love-Story') suit the film to the tee. The script might be a bit wayward; but the performances, dialogues, music, production quality, action and above all the editing make it a riveting experience for the viewers. This high-voltage concoction generates a heavy reaction on the viewer's psyche. Although it's nowhere near Anil Kapoor's best works, it's still one of the better films of the 1980's. Overall it's a spicy potboiler that is delicious for the regular Bollywood fans; but could give 'acidity' to those who aren't accustomed to stuffs like these!


Good in Bengali; Not in Hindi
Shakti Samanta films have always been a must-watch for me. Be it the romantic musicals of the 60's or the action-dramas of the 70's, the man always knew how to pack a punch. Even films like 'Mehbooba' (1976) and 'The Great Gambler' (1979), which had crashed at the BO back then, have left me impressed. But on some occasions he left me disappointed; like 'Pagla Kahin Ka', 'Ajnabee' ... and finally 'Amanush'.

Considering the yawning-gap in nature of Bengali and Hindi films back then, it was a welcome move when he decided to make this bilingual. One expected this film to introduce the brand of potboiler-entertainment of Bollywood in an otherwise monotonous Tolly-world. But instead this turned out to be a typical Tolly-venture: deglam and boring!

Being a Bangalee, this film presented the big attraction of getting to watch Uttam Kumar in a Hindi film. Besides hearing him speak in Hindi, I was also keen to check out his action and dancing skills, which were completely untested in Bengali films. Although he managed the dialogues (even though it was clear that he's a non-Bengali), the dancing and fights left a lot to be desired. Even though he didn't get any proper dance-number, the little jig he performed in a Holi-sequence was scary enough (it almost brought back the memories of the 'Chotisi Mulakat' title-track)! But credit must be given for even at 50 he maintained a physique that was much beyond his years.

The film has all the elements of a proper Bollywood venture; but not in the right quantity. The film is extensively shot in the Sunderbans, which creates an extremely deglam and unattractive ambiance for the film. Compared to the glamorous Mumbai or the colourful countryside we are habituated to see in Hindi films, the sight of Sunderbans is a total turn-off from the start! The sets are also quite substandard. The script lacks the regular doses of comedy, tragedy and romance making the film boring, compared to an average Hindi film of the 70's. Even the fight- sequences are a big let-down; especially the climax (which is shot in broad-daylight, even though it's supposed to be night-time)!

But when one compares this to the average Bengali fare of those days, then the film assumes a completely different avatar altogether. However unattractive Sundarbans might be for the Bollywood viewers, it offers a welcome relief for the Bengali cine-goers who were condemned to the same old sight of Kolkata and the rustic croplands of Bengal. The script with its limited doses of action and revenge is far more engaging than the routine romantic family dramas of those times. And above all it's a colour film; which was gold-dust back then!

The cast comprises entirely of Bangalee artistes; majority of them unfamiliar to the pan-India audiences. Performance-wise it's Utpal Dutt who steals the show as the archetypal baddie. But in terms of Hindi pronunciation, it's Anil Chatterjee who impresses the most.

Considering R.D.Burman's rapport with Samanta, it's baffling why he wasn't considered for this film as he could have handled both versions with aplomb. Shyamal Mitra did a commendable job for the Bengali version delivering hits like 'Ki Ashay Badhi Khelaghor' and 'Jodi Hoi Chorkata'. But in the Hindi version, it's only 'Dil Aisha Kisine Mera Tora' which manages to click. The other songs are too Tollywoodish; lacking the Bolly feel. The background score also impresses only sporadically.

It seems the film was consciously trying to obey the prevalent standards of Bengali cinema; instead of trying to challenge it as I had hoped. This was baffling considering Samanta's reputation for making mass-entertainers in Bollywood. Perhaps the costs of making a double- version forced him to curtail the overall budget; which compromised the film's grandeur and luster.

The aforementioned points ensured the Bengali-version became a monster hit in West Bengal. The low-costs ensured that even the Hindi version did well. This sparked off a trend of making bilinguals in Bollywood, with Samanta himself churning out 'Ananda Ashram' and 'Barsaat Ki Ek Raat'; which were far better than this. Overall, the film is a decent watch by Bengali standards; but a big let-down for the Shakti Samanta loyalists!

Surya Toran

Uttam Kumar: The Angry Young Man!
'The Angry Young Man' was a term that came into effect after the rise of 'Big B': Amitabh Bachchan in the mid 70's. His was a character which belonged to the deprived lower class of the society and fought against the injustice of the prevailing establishment. And all this with a constant grim look on his face.

But even during the simultaneous period, such 'angry young' heroes were hard to find in Tollywood. Bengali heroes have always been the traditional 'bhadrolok', far too gentle for such characters. Yet way back in 1958, the 'mahanayak' of Bengali cinema, Uttam Kumar had portrayed a character which exactly matched the definitions that would be set by 'Big B' two decades later!

From the opening scene we get a taste of his 'anger' when he refuses his engineering degree by alleging his professor of partiality. After his property is usurped by his uncle, he is left to dwell in a slum. Miffed by the establishment, he becomes a trainee under an architect who himself is cornered by the society for his unconventional thoughts. After his death, the hero takes up the challenge of proving a point to the society. With a deglam look, tattered clothes and a pointing glare, Uttam exudes iron-will determination in his portrayal of this 'angry young man' avatar. This is a very rare kind of appearance for the screen-icon, who would be seen in such a get-up only once more 17 years later in Shakti Samanta's 'Amanush'.

But not just Uttam, there is another aspect that connects this film to 'Big B'. The back-drop of Bikash Roy's character seems to be an absolute replica of 'Big B's 'angry-young hero' in 'Trishul' (1978)! After the death of his mother at the hands of Kamal Mitra, he decides to take revenge by usurping all his property to leave Mitra at his mercy; just what Bachchan had done to Sanjeev Kumar! In fact, one could term this film a 'sequel' to the Yash Chopra classic; only that it got made exactly 20 years before!

The film has a gripping 1st half which is extremely fast-paced with the screenplay shuffling across a whole bunch of characters. This is in stark contrast to the languid pace of films back then; and so was a welcome departure.

But post interval, it all falls apart! The film takes a dynamic shift in narration and all of a sudden becomes a routine monotonous 50's romantic affair. It was as if the directors were forced to devote adequate screen-space to the Uttam-Suchitra pair, not wanting to annoy their huge fan-following. Although, the film has a very nicely executed climax, the film could never regain the riveting feel of the 1st half.

The film has a wide array of reputed artistes (although most of them are barely to be seen post interval). From Bikash Roy, Asit Baran, Kamal Mitra, Chobi Biswas, Kali Bannerjee, Bhanu Bannerjee to Tulsi Chakraborty, all do justice to their roles. Still it's Uttam who is the show-stealer. But surprisingly it's Suchitra Sen who is the biggest weak-link. A member of the higher strata, she was intentionally motivated to think about the slum-dwellers. But through her behaviour she never seemed to be really sympathetic towards them (it seemed more like mercy) and particularly her treatment towards Uttam at the start seemed to express a sort of pride regarding her position. From there why did she ultimately start to think of Uttam as her saviour never really becomes clear till the end...

There are too many songs; especially in the 2nd half which makes the film quite boring at places. But even there a couple of them scored by Hemanta Mukherjee are hummable.

This was another superhit of the Uttam-Suchitra pair; and just like many films of old times, I am compelled to say quite 'undeservingly' so! Probably the concoction of the lead-pair's chemistry, Uttam's new 'angry young-man' look and a Salim-Javed kind 1st half did the trick. Agradoot had made some gripping thrillers like 'Sobar Upore' and 'Kokhono Megh' where they had dared to break away from the conventional standards. Here also they could have done the same... but instead what they ended up making, was just another typical Uttam-Suchitra romantic tale!


Work of Art!
I have never been a fan of old romantic family-dramas churned out by Tollywood; especially in the 1950's. It was with a lot of skepticism that I had sat to watch this film; as the scars of undergoing the torture of another Uttam-Suchitra starrer 'Shap Mochon' was still fresh in the mind. But incredibly, my mindset had taken a 180 degree turn by the time the film ended after some 150-odd minutes!

Apparently this film also had all the recipes for DISASTER: a poor-boy- rich-girl romance, an unrelenting father (who else but Kamal Mitra!), dollops of melodrama and some unimpressive songs. But on quite a few occasions when someone isn't expecting much from a film, it really tends to strike back and leave the viewer surprised. That's exactly what's happened with this film!

The story is mostly predictable; but it still engages due to the simplicity of execution and a fast pace. The film starts off on a feel-good note and blossoms into a sugary-romance. But after the predictable twist, it takes a tragic turn. In fact it almost becomes a thriller towards the end with a biting tension of whether the family would make it in time to save Dhiman. This aspect was a pleasing surprise compared to the sordid pace of films of those times. The film has a tragic end which is another novelty compared to all other Uttam-Suchitra films where they are bound to unite in the last scene.

The romance is the most beautiful part of the film. Right from the child-artistes (who are extremely good-looking), to the proved pair of Uttam and Suchitra, their chemistry is sublime. The beautiful ambiance of the film also helps their romance to blossom on the big-screen. Both of them look their best; but only till the 1st half. Post interval, both Uttam and Suchitra are reduced to bed-ridden patients; with Uttam sporting a tattered 'ganjee' which draws bouts of laughter even in the most tragic of sequences! Perhaps the director could have done away with this attempt to inject realisticness into his character!

The performance of the entire support cast is commendable; with Pahari Sanyal deserving some special praise. Asit Baran's character could have been given some more importance. It was also amusing to see Geeta Dey at such a young age, that she is barely recognisable!

The film still has its defects. From the beginning Dhiman has been shown to be just a painter. As a result, it's hard to digest that how he suddenly turns into a sculptor towards the end, especially under such physical stress. Also there seemed to be a story regarding the heroine's Aunt which was left untold. The music also could have been better.

Even though this film couldn't match the box-office records of Agragami's 'Sagarika' (1956); it's certainly miles better in terms of script and impact. When people speak of great romantic films of old times, then they inadvertently turn to 'Saptapadi', 'Harano Sur', 'Pothey Holo Deri' etc. But in my opinion, not only is it the best romantic film of the black-&-white era; but also where the legendary romance of Uttam-Suchitra is at its best (in spite of them not getting united in the end)!

Kabhie Kabhie

Sometimes Engaging, Sometimes Unengaging!
A year after the classic 'Deewaar' (1975), the Yash Chopra-Amitabh-Shashi combination joined forces once again. But unlike the hard-hitting action-drama, this time they teamed up for a simple, poetic romantic drama.

I am normally a big fan of multi-starrers and family dramas and this is a big reason for my liking this film. The film has about 9 central characters and all of them manage to leave a mark. Also a film starring Big B and Shashi Kapoor is always a must-watch for me. The crackling chemistry they shared between them was far superior to any of the leading heroines of those times. No wonder they did more films together than with any particular heroine!

But in most of these films there is a perennial complaint of Big B tending to overshadow Shashi. But 'Kabhi Kabhie' is a heart-warming exception. Not just compared to Bachchan; but out of the entire bouquet of characters, it's Shashi who creates the biggest impression. His ever- smiling charming persona with a big heart of gold, is a complete delight. My favourite scene was where he went under the table to snoop on his son's telephonic conversation. Also the confrontation scene between him and Bachchan towards the end was terrific. It's just for him, that one could see the film time and again!

The other attraction of the film is we get to see stars like Big B, Shashi, Rakhee and Waheeda Rehman, who were in their youth; being projected in older roles. If these characters were to be played by actors who matched the age, then the film would lose half the charm.

One expects a tight narration in multi-starrers; but here the tone was kept deliberately simple. It's obvious from the start that it's gonna be a very poetic film. But unfortunately this makes the film quite boring and monotonous at parts. In fact the original premise of the Amitabh- Rakhi romance ultimately turns out to be a mere subplot. One certainly expected something more here. But just on the verge of the climax where it appeared we were headed for a melodramatic finish, we are treated to a sudden chase-sequence which was a delightful surprise. The sequence is brilliantly shot with horses, jeeps and motorbikes embroiled in a trail with blasts going off on the picturesque Kashmir mountains behind. It's the ideal finish required for a film like this.

Music by Khayyam and lyrics by Sahir Ludhianvi are highlights of the film. But there are just too many songs in the 2nd half which obstructs the pace of the film.

This was a terrific example of the versatility of Chopra who could switch effortlessly between two diverse genres. Although, he is mostly remembered as a 'King of Romance', personally I find him more capable in the action-ventures like 'Deewaar', (1975) 'Trishul' (1978) and 'Kala Patthar' (1979). As a result, 'Kabhi Kabhie' fails to match up to those standards; but is still the best romantic film of Chopra after 'Chandni' (1989).

Many consider it to be a great romantic film or even a poetic film. But for me, this film is special just because of Shashi, the star-cast and for getting to see a whole bunch of actors playing characters far older than their real age!

Deep Jweley Jai

The Music will Burn Bright in Memory!
I have never been a fan of the typical romantic family dramas churned out by Tollywood in the old times. As a result, this film comes as a welcome change.

Based on Ashapurna Debi's 'Nurse Mitra', this story of a nurse endowed with the responsibility of curing people who have been rendered heart-broken in love, is a very fresh and novel concept. Suchitra Sen does full justice to the character and carries the entire film on her shoulders alone. But Basanta Chowdhury as the mentally disturbed patient is not fully convincing (Rajesh Khanna was far better in the Hindi remake 'Khamoshi'). In fact it's Pahari Sanyal who emerges as the main lead hero of the film. His descriptions of the psychological buildup of a mental patient were quite enlightening. Tulsi Chakraborty is hilarious in his cameo. But Anil Chatterjee is wasted in a minor appearance who inexplicably vanishes completely in the 2nd half.

The music by Hemanta Mukherjee is simply out of the world! Besides a haunting theme track, the film boasts of one of the most romantic songs ever filmed in Indian cinema: 'Ei Raat Tomar Aamar'. With the singer standing with his back to the camera and gazing at a moonlit star- filled sky; it creates one of the most charming cinematic impact ever experienced by me. Be it the tune, setting, instruments, voice, lyrics or expressions; the two and half minutes of the song are a cut above the rest of the film and is easily the highlight of the movie!

But the film tends to drag and get monotonous towards the end. The climax twist appears to be a bit too sudden. As I had seen the Hindi- version 'Khamoshi' before, it gave a sense of predictability to the plot. But still, this is certainly not at the level of Asit Sen's 'Uttor Falguni'. Although if one is simply a fan of acting, then Mrs. Sen won't give any chance for complaints. But unfortunately, a more eventful script was needed to prevent it from being just a one-time watch...

Sandhya Deeper Sikha

Will Stay Bright in Memory!
When people discuss about Suchitra Sen, the glamour queen; it's expected that not many would mention this film. But even when they talk about Sen, the performer; they still completely forget this one. And this is really unfair!

I have never been a fan of old serious Bengali films; because they were too serious to be palatable, devoid of any lighthearted entertainment. But this venture was a brilliant exception. The film is a tale of a widow struggling to come to terms with the death of her husband in the Indo-China war. As expected the film is very serious; but one is still thoroughly engaged from start-to-end. And the full credit for that must go to Mrs.Sen. It's her powerful portrayal as the woman who has lost all interest in life, that makes the viewer really 'feel' her pain. She completely carries this film on her broad shoulders.

Others like Bikash Roy, Dileep Mukherjee and Anil Chatterjee play the supporting role to the hilt. The 2nd half of the film moves away from a predictable path and really surprises in the end.

The other striking aspect of the film is its wide canvas. Compared to all other films till the 60's, which were either filmed in Kolkata or the suburbs; this film is extensively shot across Delhi, Agra and possibly Srinagar. This was a refreshing change from the monotony of locales in old Bengali films. Even the picture quality seems to be of the 70's standard.

The film was a box-office hit; which is a testimony to the star-power of the now-departed Mrs.Sen. But in spite of that why the film has been erased from the public consciousness, is a baffling mystery!

But as far I am concerned, the 'flame' will continue to burn brightly forever in my memory.


Sweet as Honey!
In the black-&-white era, Bengali films were of essentially 2 kinds. One would be the comedy genre which was riproarious fun; while the other would be the serious kind; devoid of any fun whatsoever! I for one, have never been a fan of the latter; but I make sure never to miss any of the former; even if it's the umpteenth rerun on TV!

The comedies churned out by Tollywood back then is undoubtedly of the finest quality around. They can simply never go wrong! So is this Arabinda Mukherjee flick. I had high expectations before sitting to watch this film; and must confess I have been satisfied to the brim!

It's amazing how the scriptwriters back then could come up with such hilarious plots almost regularly. The travesty of a good-looking young man getting 'attacked' by a host of aspiring father-in-laws, resembles a beehive attracting a swarm of bees. The film is filled with small-small hilarious sequences throughout and a dull moment is never to be found. The scenes and dialogues stay in mind long after and can generate bouts of laughter just from memory. Be it the scene of Tarun Kumar getting pelted by a stone; or a couple of kids inviting Ranjit Mullick to dance! They are simply LOL and ROWL moments!

This was the phase where Uttam Kumar was consciously passing on the baton to younger heroes. But even though a handsome looking Ranjit Mullick hogs most of the limelight, it's still 'UK' who creates the biggest impression. It's a lesson as to how one can make the audiences laugh even with simple realistic acting. This is one of the rare films featuring the comic trio of Robi-Anup-&-Chinmoy where Chinmoy manages to overshadow the other two. The others in the cast are also quite good. All the 4 songs composed by Nachiketa Ghosh were hits.

Arabinda Mukherjee, who had also delivered the other gem 'Dhanni Meye' (1971), proves his mastery over this genre. It also brings to the fore his versatility as a film-maker having delivered tearjerkers like 'Agnishwar' (1964) and 'Nishi Padma' (1970) before.

Ironically, it's classic comedies like these that expose the utter lack of entertainment in the serious films of those times. Unlike Asrani, Johny Lever, Subhashish Mukherjee or Kharaj Mukherjee, whose only job is to entertain no matter what the genre is; even comic-stars like Bhanu Bannerjee and Robi Ghosh would also do only serious roles in non-comedy films of those times. It's as if, they wanted to compensate for all the laughter they provided in comedies by making us sit with a sullen face all through in rest of those films.

Considering the comic-talent they possessed; it's simply a waste of creativity!


Predictable; But Engaging Film
Considering I don't expect anything more than good acting and direction from old Bengali movies, this film manages to fulfill all my limited expectations.

The plot is quite predictable from the start; but being fed on 70's Bollywood potboilers since childhood, repetitiveness is never a problem for me. After the mandatory 15-odd minutes that one must allow for the plot to set in, the film does manage to hold the viewers attention throughout. It has its moments of boredom (as always); but it gets back on track soon enough. The sequence of smuggling out statues from the museum was a nice twist at the end (and the only part that wasn't predictable!).

In the cast, it's Chabi Biswas who steals the show as a pious retired-man. Uttam, Suchitra and others are decent; nothing exceptional. The film has too many songs which can become irritating at times; but thankfully most of them don't last beyond the 'mukhra'. 'Bonmoyurir Naach Dekhte Jaabo' is the only hummable track from the film.

One can't deny that Agradoot has made better films than this. The film might not stay for long in memory; but compared to other Uttam-Suchitra flicks such as 'Annapurnar Mandir', 'Shap Mochon', etc this is certainly a 'watchable' film; which is surely good enough!

Shap Mochan

'Cursed' Piece of Cinema!
It's a well-known fact that all Bangalees are prejudiced towards any Bengali movie shot in 'black-&-white' (even if its made in the 90's!); and don't hesitate in declaring it a classic (even if it was a box- office disaster)! And if it happens to star Uttam-Suchitra, then it generates such delirium of nostalgia; that one's bound to wonder how come the films didn't bag a few Oscars by then!

I must confess, that unlike most Bongs I have never been a 'fan' of old B/W films of the so-called 'golden-era'. They seem to fall short in terms of mass entertainment when compared to their peers in Bollywood. But I have always made it a point to hold them in high esteem especially in terms of acting and direction; especially those starring the legendary Uttam-Suchitra pair. But the truth is: just like they have delivered some timeless classics like 'Sobar Upore' (1955), 'Harano Sur' (1957) and 'Saptapadi' (1961); they have also been part of some utterly 'unwatchable' flicks, one of which is Sudhir Mukherjee's 'Shap Mochon'!

One doesn't expect elements of mass entertainment like item-numbers, action-sequences, picturesque locations or glamorous production values in films back then. But what I certainly expected was a good script and fine performances. Instead this film turned out to be a complete torture!

Honestly, the opening sequence (depicting the 'curse') was quite good and the film promised to be a gripping emotional drama. But instead of building on this premise, the film shifts focus to the struggles of village lad Mahendra (Uttam) trying to adapt to the lifestyle in Kolkata. Instead of a solid-storyline, the film thrives on several subplots culminating into some terrible twists at the end. The film has some idiotic loopholes. Madhuri (Suchitra) recognises Mahendra's talent of singing after hearing him play a violin! (Do all violin players happen to be great singers?) The death-sequence of Debendra (Pahari Sanyal) was absolutely ridiculous. He sacrificed singing in order to be a role-model for his younger brother; but on hearing him sing on radio he came running and started singing on his tanpura in order to save Mahendra from the curse. (Was the curse applicable on just 1 brother and the other would be safe in case one of them died?) Much of my interest was surrounding the 'curse'; but that turned out to be the most baffling of them all! No one knows when it strikes. Mahendra became a renowned singer (for which he must have sung dozens of songs); but nothing happens. Yet, on hearing his brother's death he get's struck by some overnight ailment that makes him bed-ridden. It could be due to mental shock; but what's that got to do with the curse or music? But what's really childish was the mode of cracking the curse. Madhuri arrives (after a fair-share of melodrama) and smashes the cursed tanpura; ... and BINGO! The curse is destroyed! (Wonder why this simple technique didn't strike any one before?)

Even in terms of performances, this film creates no impression. Uttam is decent; but Suchitra appears totally confused as to whether she's sympathetic towards the poor or scornful. Bikash Roy though manages to show his class in a limited appearance. Music by Hemanta Mukherjee is the only reason why one can perhaps 'survive' through this film. 5 of the 6 songs are captivating; with 'Sono Bondhu Sono' taking the cake.

I waited patiently for the first 100-odd minutes; but after that it became really intolerable! (I had a serious head-ache when it finally got over) Incidentally, the film had run for 75-days and had become a super hit. So to think of this as probably one of the 'better' films made during those times, it's nightmarish to imagine the overall state of Bengali cinema back then!

Khoka 420

Khokababu'r Prottyaborton!
(Reviewed on the basis of watching in theatre)

Plot:Megha poses her boyfriend Krish as the boyfriend of her best friend Bhoomi in order to prevent her marriage to a local rowdy.But gradually Krish and Bhoomi start to develop feelings for each other and soon all three of them get entangled into their own web of deception.

Review: It's a hat-trick of sequels for Dev!The superstar returns once again, this time with 'Khoka 420' which is a follow-up to his 2012 super hit 'Khokababu'.But unlike the previous two attempts, this one seems fully equipped to fulfill all the tall expectations that the viewers must have from it.

The script (a remake of 'Brindavanam') is an ideal potboiler with equal doses of action, romance and comedy with generous offerings of emotion and melodrama towards the end which makes it palatable for all kinds of mass audiences.Rajib has always been known to posses the 'talent' of exactly recreating all sequences from the originals in his remakes.Hence, it's always a double-edged sword, for if the original is good then the remake's equally good (e.g. 'Amanush'); but if the original's flawed then he reproduces it with all the idiocies intact (e.g. 'Paglu')!There are a few hard-to-believe twists like how could a girl lend her boyfriend to another girl and how could the girls not know that they are cousins.Surely they should have identified each other from their father's name!But since even the hero expresses his shock and surprise over it, they become that much more acceptable.Rajib has always been a pro at building ambiences.So, he shoots the whole film under bright sunshine which lends itself beautifully to the light- hearted tone of the film.The colourful sets also raise the glamour quotient compared to its prequel.But one problem that Rajib and all other remake directors (except Raj Chakraborty) need to sort is the overbearing south Indian influences on the characters.The goons don't really look like Bengalis; but the main problem lies with the more simple things.For starters the director should note the difference between a Bengali moustache and a south Indian one!Moustaches are not that frequent among Bengalis, unlike as shown in the film.But even then they should have been trimmed by a few inches to give that 'Bengali' feel.Plus, do Bengali girls regularly wear ghagra-cholis, as we are shown in every other remake based in the suburbs?

Dev has certainly evolved into a much assured performer and playing a lover-boy has always been his forte. After looking a bit uncomfortable as the rough-&-tough cop in 'Challenge 2', he is much more confident here. Subhashree has also improved with experience and her beauty is blossoming with every outing. She looks gorgeous in every frame despite being clad in traditional costumes throughout; unlike Nusrat who is a complete contrast in her western attires. After making a rather unimpressive debut in 'Shatru', Nusrat polishes up on her acting skills despite her character being totally sidelined in the first half. There was a lot of buzz surrounding the new pair of Dev & Nusrat; and although they look quite good together, it's still the time-tested pair of Dev- Subhashree that blows us away. The chemistry is not at its best though, as it's only restrained love between them which marginally diminishes the magic. Yet, both of them look just too good opposite each other and they make for an immensely lovable pair! The heart just keeps longing for more! Tapas Pal as the family head puts in a stereotype performance in a very half-baked character. Tough outside and inexplicably weak inside, he wants to keep his daughter near him even if it means marrying her off to a goon! Again in the climax, after thrashing Krish blue & black, he commands him to rescue his daughter instead of making any efforts himself! Pal here is a far shot from his impressive portrayals in 'I Love You' and 'Sedin Dekha Hoyechilo'. Rajatava Dutta, Parthasarathi and Supriyo Dutta are in full- form though. Kunal Padhi is a revelation replacing Biswajit Chakraborty as Dev's dad for a change! We should be seeing him more often now. But the man whom we won't be seeing anymore is the real show-stealer. In his swan- song, the late Haradhan Bannerjee reprises his rocking grandpa avatar from 'Josh' and is a delight to watch (except for the odd moustache); especially during the reunion scene and the Janmashtami sequence! But full credit must also go to Kharaj Mukherjee for displaying his multi- faceted talent by impeccably dubbing the voice for Bannerjee.

The music for 'Khoka 420' is a good example of 'too many cooks spoiling the broth'.While Rishi Chanda alone delivered a brilliant sound-track for 'Khokababu', he along with three others can't recreate even a fraction of it this time.Only the title-track is catchy, with 'O Bandhu Amar', 'Govinda Gopal' and 'Bin Tere Bin' being pleasant to the ear but unlikely to remain in memory.But the hip-hop 'I Am Mad' and 'Solid Case Kheyechi' (sung by a totally misfit Bappi Lahiri) are sheer boring.But all the picturisations are superb with the Janmashtami song being one of the most splendid ever. And the Dev-Subhashree chemistry is just red hot in the scenic Macau. Wow!

Off late there have been allegations of mainstream films becoming too monotonous.But 'Khoka 420' certainly offers a few novelties.The combination of action, editing and camera-work has already reached dizzying heights in Tollywood, and here it's gone even higher.Tata Sumos jumping into the air and crashing down the cliff are simply jaw-dropping stuff!Special mention must also be made of one silent action sequence which was quite funny.But the climactic battle though left a lot to be desired.Still the viewers just don't see the action, they feel it.

Personally, this is Dev's best after 'Challenge', 'Dui Prithibi' and 'I Love You'.Although a 3rd film is also in the pipeline in the 'Khoka'-franchise, we would still love to revisit our beloved Khokababu's latest exploits a few more times again.


Horribly Good!
(Reviewed on the basis of watching on TV 42 years after release)

Plot: Two murders take place in a rich household of the distant town of Nijhumgarh, but the mystery remains unsolved. Seven years later a governess arrives in the same house and she soon stumbles across many mysterious developments surrounding the family. Will she be able to clear the mist of horror that surrounds this locality?

Review: A good suspense thriller is always rare to find; more so if we talk of the 'golden-era' of Bengali cinema. In a period dominated by emotional dramas and occasional comedies, we rarely came across proper thrillers. 'Jighangsa', 'Kokhono Megh', 'Chiriyakhana', 'Joy Baba Felunath', 'Lal Kuthi', etc. were some of the examples which satiated the suspense loving audiences of Bengal. But all of them were barely good without coming anywhere near the Hitchcock-ian standard set in international cinema. But if there is one film which could stand the test of any competition, then it has to be the 1971 classic 'Kuheli'.

Tarun Majumdar has always been known to be a director who makes feel- good family dramas set in the rural landscape. Hence, it was quite surprising when he decided to turn producer for a full-blown suspense thriller. Realising the different-necessities of this genre he handed over the directorial-baton to Abhimanyu, about whom I must accept I had been totally unaware of before this film. Either helped by Majumdar's guidance or justifying his skill of spotting talent, Abhimanyu went on to deliver such a masterpiece that I am now extremely curious to know more about his body of work.

The script is simply mind-blowing and easily a work of genius. We often see film adaptations of famous literary-thrillers failing to provide the same excitement. I don't know if 'Kuheli' is a literary-adaptation or is 'inspired' from any foreign flick (like 'Jighangsa'); but if it's not then double the kudos to the script-writers. More so, for choosing a female as the lead-explorer of the mystery. While watching the film, many times one would be tempted to believe as if we are reading a Byomkesh novel on-screen! From the very beginning to the end, the film maintains the ambiance of mystery and thrill which never gets diluted amidst any needless romantic-tracks or any lengthy excitement-less passage of time. The film gradually spins a complex web of mystery; thus raising the risk of creating loop-holes or leaving questions unanswered. But like a master tactician the film slowly goes about winding up its net as the climax approaches revealing facts that shocks us and prepares us for more. There is a distinct lull before the storm (climax) depicting incidents which apparently don't have much significance, but it's all a part of the build-up towards the climax as we see in the end. This particular aspect is typical of novels and rarely seen in films, which is what makes 'Kuheli' a cut above the rest. In fact many such trivial data is sprinkled throughout the film, but in the final analysis they all form pieces of a huge jigsaw-puzzle. Many viewers would be able to recall their significance only on repeat viewings; thus making this film a rare whodunit which lends itself brilliantly to such repeat screenings.

But the best is saved for the last. After a brilliant ride so far, the climax needed to be top-notch to prevent a feeling of let-down. But the unheralded Abhimanyu shows extreme maturity in conceiving a compact climax without a false step and succeeds in delivering the final surge of gasps and utmost shock. With a spine-chilling shot of a cob-web begins the haunting track of 'Asche se asche' which gels perfectly with the scenario of horror and sets the tone to a crescendo in anticipation of the final showdown with the 'unknown' which has remained hidden in the mists of the jungle. It is one of the most well-crafted climaxes one would ever get to see!

In the cast Biswajit looks typically charming in his romantic avatar, but it's as the bearded tormented husband that he delivers probably his best performance ever. Sandhya Roy enters the scene only after an hour and unfortunately doesn't have much to do even in a double-role. Sumita Sanyal as the lead investigator is quite convincing and why we didn't see much of her in such roles is itself a mystery that needs investigating. It's the casting of her and Satya Bannerjee (another not- so-regular face at that time) in such pivotal roles that keep the audiences guessing all the time and again proves Majumdar's eye for spotting talent. Chaya Debi, Ajitesh Bannerjee and 'baby' Debashree Roy, all do full justice to their characters. Only Subhendu Chatterjee is wasted in his limited and unimportant role which is quite inexplicable. Even Robi Ghosh gets a much more integral role to play which he does with aplomb.

Music-wise Hemanta Mukherjee, a Majumdar-regular, recreates the 'Bees Saal Baad' magic with the haunting melody 'Asche se asche' (enhanced by its awesome picturisation). Although the theme-track 'Eso eso' doesn't strike much fear. But the background score during the opening credits seemed funny rather than spooky.

In a script as excellent as this, loopholes are hard to find and even when found should be judged leniently. The scriptwriter relies on a lot of co-incidences to aid the baddie in his conspiracy. No explanation is given as to the reason behind the perceived death of Champa among her 'clients'. Again, shouldn't Seba have changed her name when she didn't want to reveal her true identity? Similarly, why couldn't the doctor recall such an uncommon name if he could remember her face after such a long time? But these doubts tend to occur only after prolonged retrospection long after the film has ended.

'Kuheli' is not just a film, but a lesson in film-making. Suspense- thrillers are seldom made better. It's truly a 'golden film' from the 'golden-era' of Bengali cinema.

Heerak Rajar Deshe

A Dazzling Sequel!
(Reviewed on the basis of watching on video 33 years after release)

Plot: The kingdom of Hirak is under the rule of a tyrant who suppresses all mutiny by applying 'magaj-dholai' on the rebels. One such insurgent, Udayan pundit becomes absconding by escaping the sentries. During this time he encounters Goopy and Bagha who promise to help him with their magical powers. But will they be able to combat the mighty king of Hirak who has all the wealth in the world courtesy his diamond mines, has the assistance of a genius scientist and even possesses a pet tiger which guards the treasury?

Review: 'Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne' (1969) directed by Satyajit Ray was one of his biggest commercial blockbusters. The characters of Goopy, the singer and Bagha, the drummer had achieved cult-status along with the kind-hearted 'Bhooter Raja'. It was eleven years after delivering this master-class; Ray decided to bring back once again the delightful singer-drummer pair of Goopy and Bagha in 'Hirak Rajar Deshe' (1980).

Sequels, besides ensuring a ready viewer base, also invite the burden of huge expectations. Many directors have faltered under this pressure. Ray himself had been quite a pro in creating film franchises. The 'Goopy- Bagha' series was his fourth after the famous 'Apu'-trilogy, 'Feluda' series and the 'Kolkata'-trilogy; besides 'Aranyer Din Ratri' and the 'Byomkesh' series which were taken forward by other directors. Yet it's safe to say; in all those instances Ray couldn't match the glory of the original with his sequels. But with 'HRD' it seemed the wait for the perfect sequel was finally over.

In order to match the heightened expectations, Ray undertook some necessary measures: a bigger star-cast, conversion from black & white to colour, specially created glossy sets in a Madras film-city and the return of the tiger in real instead of the superimposed special effect in 'GGBB'. But the unique feature which can be easily considered the USP of this sequel is its rhyming dialogues. Most of the characters converse through rhymes across long-wielding sequences comprising of simple words which convey the sinister policies and conspiracies of dictatorial politics. One of the few exceptions is the school-master Udayan, whose free speech represents his free thoughts unlike the rest whose ideas are restricted by the imposed policies of the dictatorship. It's notable, even Goopy and Bagha spoke in rhymes when they remained confined in their palace. But once they went out in the open and came in contact with Udayan, they also started speaking in a free-tongue! A couple of words are even in English ('income', 'bookey'); but that's understandable as the British are likely to have arrived in India by then. Even without considering the meanings the dialogues convey, one must doff their hats to Ray who once again reveals a mostly unknown skill of poetry by scripting a screenplay which could remind of other poetic texts like Kashiram Das' 'Mahabharata'. And not just the dialogues; who can forget the famous 'mantras' specifically created for the 'magaj-dholai'? Clearly, poetry's loss has been cinema's gain!

The new cast boasts of the addition of superstar Soumitra Chatterjee along with the veteran Utpal Dutta. Playing the righteous school-master is a cake-walk for Soumitra; but the character of Hirak Raja certainly presented one of the greatest challenges for Dutta. He brings all his thespian skills into play to 'recite' the lengthy-dialogues, many of them shot in a single scene. It's highly creditable as the margin for deviation was nil. He successfully portrays himself as an epitome of dictatorship. Tapen Chatterjee and Robi Ghosh reprise their respective avatars and their chemistry has only smoothened and blossomed with time. A particular mention must be made of Ghosh's courage during his encounter with the tiger; as unlike in the film the tiger was not hypnotized in reality! Like in 'GGBB' Santosh Dutta again plays a double role and his performance as the scientist is again a winner. In fact we get a peek into his real nature only near the end and it was quite surprising to see the diminutive fellow burst into such convulsions of fervor. It would have been nice to see this character explored a bit more.

Unlike 'GGBB' which was based on a book by his grand-father, Ray himself takes on the cudgels of flushing out a meaningful script this time. The treatment and the characterizations are not 'comical' like the prequel; but the rhyming dialogues and occasionally funny behaviors make it an equally entertaining experience. Yet, this film makes an obvious statement against the oppression of despotic misrule; where else the anti-war message was conveyed with much more subtlety in 'GGBB' without ever making the situation grave. The whole concept of 'magaj-dholai' brilliantly metaphors the mentality of modern-day politicians to confine the public into a false sense of prosperity by injecting fictitious bubbles of hope.

'HRD' once again reveals the musical genius of Ray which was first displayed in 'GGBB' and was that film's USP. This time expectations in terms of music were huge; and the songs needed to click for the film to be a success. And Ray delivers! From classical to fast-paced, Ray stamps his versatility on all genres. Backed by simple yet thoughtful lyrics, almost all the twelve songs bind the viewers in a spell. 'Aar Bilambo Noy', 'Aha Ki Anando', 'Eje Drishyo Dekhi Onnyo', 'Santrimashai' and 'Nohi Jantro' are some of the diamonds studded in this gem of a film. Even in terms of background music Ray excels himself and delivers some of his finest scores.

'Hirak Rajar Deshe' is one of those rare sequels which are almost as good as the original. Even though Goopy and Bagha would return for one last adventure with 'Goopy Bagha Phire Elo' (1991); this classic political documentary still deserves many repeat viewings; if nothing else then at least for the dialogues (which I had thoroughly memorized as a kid and still remember by heart)!

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