It seems Bengal’s nouvelle cinema is the final destination for Hindi film actresses when their film offers dry up in Bollywood. They obviously hope for a fresh lease of life and where better than in arty Bengali cinema? But things don’t always go as planned.
One of my most traumatic film experiences while growing up was watching the Anjan Dutt-Dimple Kapadia starrer, Antareen. Dimple Kapadia’s voice was dubbed by Moon Moon Sen. Even though Dimple looked beautiful and acted well in the few scenes she had the film was a never-ending lesson on how not to make cinema. There were ten minute-long sequences of tea being boiled, ambulances racing through the streets of Calcutta and telephones ringing. All of that was then repeated in ten minute gaps.
More recently, Monica Bedi shook her booty in an item number in the poignantly named Hridoye Lekho Naam (Write your name in my heart). That sank without a trace. For the last few months Calcutta’s newspapers have been tom-tomming the latest Bengali debut - the very talented Dia Mirza. Now you can’t blame Mirza for thinking that this might just be what she needed to finally be recognised as an actress, let alone a serious actress. After all, Aishwarya Rai acted in Rituparno Ghosh’s Chokher Bali and Raincoat to great acclaim.
The film is named Panch Adhyay (five chapters) and is directed by The Telegraph’s film critic, Pratim D Gupta. So of course he must know how to make a film. After all, in his column about turning filmmaker he writes “from James Bond’s black tuxedo in every film to Govinda’s yellow pants in every film, I chewed and chomped anything that spelt cinema”. That certainly ups the expectation meter. But much like Dia’s hopes at a new lease of life were shattered, so were mine.
The week before the film’s release, Calcutta was peppered with posters of the film featuring a very pretty though chinless Mirza, a serious looking Priyanshu Chatterjee who is Abhishek Bacchan’s doppelganger not just in looks but also in acting skills, and a strange girl with a geisha face. The poster should have been ample warning of what I was to be subjected to. As should have Pratim’s words: “By the time you are reading this, my baby has crawled out to a theatre near you”. That sounds a little ominous and Rosemary’s baby-like.
So onto the film. It’s split into 5 segments or chapters. Priyanshu Chatterjee plays the protagonist - a film director. He bumps into Dia Mirza who is a teacher, at a bar. He falls in love with her, woos her, marries her, cheats on her with the giesha-faced actress in his film and then finds out Mirza is dying just as he’s about to let her know he wants to leave her. Then he miraculously discovers that he never stopped loving Mirza and unceremoniously dumps his mistress instead. Perfect husband material obviously. Mirza looks pretty through the film and is dressed beautifully. Sadly, both she and Priyanshu are gifted with faces that betray no emotion.
The much-touted songs by Shantanu Moitra are unmemorable. Which is more the pity given his usual repertoire of music. There is no following the trajectory of Mirza and Priyanshu’s relationship, or his affair with his actress, because we are not shown how the relationships develop. One minute he’s singing a song to Miza, next minute she’s been married to him for ten years. There’s a scene in which Priyanshu smothers Mirza, but even that turns out to a dream. You keep hoping that something will happen. The mistress will smother Priyanshu, he will leave Mirza, Mirza will show a glimmer of emotion. But no, nothing. I felt like one of those pre-cogs from Minority Report, stuck in limbo - waiting for something to happen but knowing that nothing will save me from the horror of it all.
I do feel sorry for Mirza though. Delusion is a terrible disease. And I hope that she will concentrate on walking the ramp instead of performing more hapless turns on celluloid.
Maybe Pratim was being prescient when he wrote, “I slit my veins onto the script”. I know I almost felt like slitting mine after two hours of watching this film. Go South, Bollywood has-beens. Take a feather out of Sameera Reddy, Hansika Motwani and Ayesha Takia’s outfits. It’s safer and less people will judge you in Kollywood. The people of Bengal have enough trouble on their plates without being subjected to Bollywood actresses in bad cinema as well.