Abohoman- The Eternal…

by Avro

Abohoman : The Eternal

This is almost becoming a blog for shitty movie reviews now [as in shitty reviews of movies, not reviews of shitty movies]. But what the hell? The Internet is a democracy, and if real life people aren’t willing to hear me crib, why not use the awesomeness of the Web to show them all naysayers how patient servers can be? :P

This movie is, however, special.

First of all, this has been made by a very favourite director of mine, Rituparno Ghosh [I hope I have spelt that correctly], has, starring in a pivotal role, an art and culture personality, a very favourite of mine, Mamata Shankar [niece of Sitar virtuoso Pt. Ravi Shankar], the story has been [rumoured to be] based on the real life of another very favourite personality of mine, Satyajit Ray [gosh! I'm using the word "favourite" so many times!] and also has connections [somewhat subtle] with another great man I deeply admire, Rabindranath Tagore.

Secondly, this movie has been exceptionally well made with a couple of National Awards to show for it too. [I don't mean to gloat (okay, maybe a little :P), but most great movies which win National Awards [in major, genuine categories- the Dabangg/3 Idiots  fame "Popular Movie for Wholesome Entertainment” is bogus doesn't count] seem to come from this part of the country. This, and the South, especially Malayalam movies (just look at the stats). Somehow, the Hindi movie industry, and related ones, is languishing, especially as far as quality is concerned- time to wake up?]

Aniket Majumdar (Dipankar De), a veteran director of acclaimed “art house” movies, has just died. Supposed well wishers has gathered for paying their last respects to this great man who is awaiting the Chief Minister’s arrival before he can get out of all the unnecessary and definitely unwelcome ceremony and get his cremation. His son, Apratim (Jisshu Sengupta) and wife Deepti (Mamata Shankar) are maintaining a very stoic demeanour throughout all this, but the cacophony is slowly becoming too much for Deepti to bear. She comes close to a breakdown in all this mess, and in her frustration, lashes out at her pregnant daughter-in-law’s mother, while Apratim tries to calm her down.

Amidst all this chaos, arrives the actress Srimati Sarkar or Shikha as she was known before she changed her name to Srimati [a synonym of Radha] on Deepti’s advice [a stunning Ananya Chatterjee with an equally stunning debut(?) performance which won her the National Award for Best Actress]. She comes all decked up in heavy jewellery and thick shimmering make-up, straight from the stage where she was probably playing a bride. As soon as she enters the house, a cold gust of hostility laced with subdued tension suddenly flows through the whole household, as skeletons of the past threaten to come out of the closet. Everyone, however, maintains their composure and in stiff voices, welcomes her inside, though all appearance of courtesy is forced.

Flashback to the past. Shikha is an anonymous stage actress hailing from a village- mostly uneducated and highly unsophisticated, but with an arrogance to match a Thakuraien- who has been called to audition for the part of the lead character in Aniket’s dream production, “Binodini” based on celebrated playwright Girish Ghosh’s relationship with his muse Nati Binodini. A delay of five minutes, and she is forced to wait for an hour by the adamant director, while his wife pleads with him to be more kind and accommodating. Shikha enters, and the offended arrogance with which she addresses Aniket impresses both Deepti and Aniket, and on Deepti’s insistence, she bags the role.

Aniket is not entirely convinced, but Deepti sees in Shikha a large part of her own self, though much less sophisticated, and becomes something of a mentor to her, advising her, consoling her, encouraging her on in spite of Aniket’s insults, and training her to fit into the body of the character she is playing, which, incidentally was supposed to be played by Deepti herself long ago when Aniket was first intent on making the film [they got married soon after the film got indefinitely postponed].

Deepti moulds Shikha to fit her image, and Shikha comes to resemble her more and more, and even gains Aniket’s respect through a single scene where she gives a fleeting but outrageously audacious and insolent wink, possibly aimed at the director, or the audience, no one knows, with the camera still rolling. This grooming by Deepti backfires when Aniket starts a subtle affair with the fiery Shikha- they spend time together, he reads to her from great classics in Bengali literature and becomes obsessed with her (and her character Binodini)- to the obvious but controlled anger of the scorned Deepti. The daily phone calls at the dinner table, his getting up with the meal still half finished to go and talk in the privacy [secrecy?] of the bathroom- the atmosphere of muted rage and offence Deepti feels is palpable. Her sense of dignity prevents her from walking out and she keeps the affair under wraps, even when he gives no indication of stopping it after being discovered, but her distrust and deep feeling of insult comes to closure only after Aniket’s death.

Flawless characterization is something Rituparno is supremely capable of, and he doesn’t disappoint- from the aged and oblivious mother to the caring son to the confused and immature daughter-in-law [a bit role by Riya Sen, probably as a test for the much more meatier part she got in his next, Noukadubi], every character is sketched out to perfection. The lack of sentimentality is very noticeable in every scene [compare that to the inter-spousal screeching-competitions most extramarital affairs in movies are reduced to, and the slightly better but deeply glamorised portrayal of infidelity in Karan Johar's KANK, and read the last couple of lines of the third paragraph again- you will see my point]. There is no outright emotional outburst from Deepti- she stuffs it all inside, every insult, ever feeling of hurt, also from her adult son- and in time, even begins to take a much more objective view of the whole affair.

The affair itself feels more psychological than physical [she is almost his own son's age], somewhat like the affair Oscar Wilde claimed he had with his young men- the relationship of an experienced mentor and his young protégée [though Wilde's use of this metaphor was not strictly metaphorical], and there is even a consummate sequence in the movie-within-the-movie “Binodini” where the mildly intoxicated theatre-director asks the young and sultry Binodini, part-prostitute part-theatre performer, as to what his relationship actually was with her- she keeps the question hanging in the air, and it remains so for most part of the movie.

The subtlety of the affair is highlighted when the son conveys his intention on making a movie on his father’s private life. When his mother indicates her apprehension at the scandal that the movie might create, he claims that after watching his movie, “people will not consider it a scandal anymore”.

The nearly perfect and chameleon-like Ananya Chatterjee brings her character of Shikha to life- changing personality and demeanour alike, fluidly changing between the unsophisticated theatre performer to the sultry seductress to the scorned prostitute Binodini to the more-wronged-against-than-wronging “other woman” in Aniket’s life, her acting is flawless. So much so that when she audaciously suggests to the son Apratim that he might want to have an affair with her, Apratim declines- not because he has any worries about the reactions of his mother or his wife or even of society, but he doesn’t believe that Shikha is capable of loving him- but she is so fine an actress that she may very well convince him, in spite of all his distrust, that she actually loves him.

Relationships between all the characters is very maturely handled [this is another area where Rituparno is very skilled at, cases in point being the mother-daughter relationships in “Titli” and “Unishe April”]- in fact the most important relationship in this movie is between Deepti and Shikha, shifting from mentor-protégée to rivals, with a sense of mutual respect at every step. Two cases in point- When Shikha is released from the hospital, Deepti is the only one to call her up asking her how she is. In another sequence, she describes how she watched “Binodini” countless times, desperately wanting to hate Shikha in her performance, but invariably ending up envying her talent.

The movie has been shot in the “Shob Choritro Kalponik” mould, with real-life, flashbacks and sequences from the movie “Binodini” seamlessly blending in, all taking the story forward. Each shot starts at one particular time period, maybe present day, but is completed by a similar sequence from the past, creating a deep sense of déjà vu at each step. Characters are developed through scenes from the movie “Binodini”- this is all executed very well, though on certain occasions, very few in number to be sure, it gets a bit contrived. Even the final scenes, which uses multiple screen blackouts, with the movie fading in and out amongst the recurring appearances of the most poignant moments in the story which appear for fleeting seconds, like hallucinations stemming from faded memories, in an almost photographically slow stop-motion sequence, not unlike a montage, where time seems to stand still – this stands out as a fitting finale, with a dying Aniket reciting the lines from his favourite poem, all over again, and the movie, and also the story, coming full circle, ending where it began.

One of the most compelling reasons I could find that might convince you about watching this movie is a spectacular dance sequence, where Mamata Shankar trains Ananya for a portion of Binodini set to the tune of the “Radha-Krishna” Tagore-composed Vrindavani-inspired song  “Gahana Kusuma Kunja Majhe”  for the part of Binodini. Her mesmerizingly graceful movements and mudras rendered with unmatchable skill remind you of who she really is – Uday Shankar would have been so proud!

One of the recurring lines in the movie- and there are many such- appears in the most tender moments of the movie between Mamata Shankar and Dipankar De [you forget they are characters for the moment], when he asks her on his deathbed how she feels about working with him [she was one of his original muses] and she reassures him “Apurbo! Chamatkar!” And then, on his insistence, she asks him how he feels about working with her.

And he reminisces lovingly, and you also know from his answer how they came to name their son.

Today, when someone asks me how I felt after watching this movie, the most apt reply would have to borrow from this very favourite sentiment they often shared in better times.  I would also have to reply thus-

“Apratim! Beyond comparison!”