Dotara movie review: Amitabha Dasgupta's film has good intentions but evades cinematic merit
Director: Amitabha Dasgupta
Neglect leads to anger, anger leads to strife, which in turn leads to violence. And violence has never helped anyone. This is the central theme of Amitabha Dasgupta’s new film Dotara. The title of the film itself refers to the stringed instrument that is native to the northern or north-eastern part of Bengal. The local people of this region have since long been complaining about gross indifference and neglect by the government. They have tried — again and again — to draw the attention of the powers to be to the problems that afflict the region. When nothing has worked, the inevitable has happened — people have taken up arms in rebellion. The film takes a somewhat sympathetic stance to this rebellion and argues for the case of better governance. However, from a purely cinematic point of view, the film performs very, very poorly.
A brave young journalist has a conflicted relationship with her boyfriend, who introduces her to a friend of his. The girl meets this boy under the most innocent of circumstances but finds him interesting. A few days later, she is summoned to North Bengal on a reporting assignment, where he meets the boy again. The two develop a bond of friendship. Little does the girl know that the boy is a rebel militant and is wanted for several murders, including that of the murder of a cop who had followed him all the way to the city. Among the people she interviews is the chief of the rebels, who presents before her a clear rationale for their action. As the girl digs deeper for her story and tries to understand the psyche of the locals in the process, she begins to realize that no one is born a terrorist, and that hunger, sickness, unemployment and years of neglect force people to rise in armed rebellion.
Despite being a story whose basic format is something that we are no stranger to, it is an important story to tell. As in my review of III Smoking Barrels, which dealt with the problems of the people of the North Eastern states, here too, I maintain that it is an important film. As far as the message is concerned, I can say with conviction that it needs to ring high and clear to those who sit in the powerful chairs of our nation’s capital. Having said that, there is no escaping the fact that the same message could have been delivered in a more potent way. Let us not forget that if the filmmaker has chosen cinema as the medium to communicate his message, then the message needs to have some cinematic merit. Otherwise, it falls flat and remains as ineffective as it has been in the last several decades.
The problem with Dotara is plain and simple — it is just not good cinema. The writing is shoddy — with the main male lead breaking into a peppy, cheerful, feel-good song right after a passionate and tearful speech on his love for his motherland. The camerawork is very '80s and in most scenes, the actors have been given so little to work with and so precious little to do that all that they end up doing is stand on their chalk mark and sulk. The story uses all the familiar tropes, and there is way too much focus on the heroine and what she feels — rather than taking the story to the crux of the story: the conflict in the land. The film has very poor production value. Despite the verdant bounty of nature that the region promises to offer, it still ends up looking like a cheaply pulled off project. I do not mind a film not having the right ‘look’ if it has good content. But if there is neither, then there is a problem.
Among the actors, Subrat Dutta brings in some amount of honesty to his role, and is both convincing and apt in the role of a militant. But gosh, the things that he is forced to do — including holding a guitar and jiving to a song on the banks of the Teesta! I wish he would have read the script more carefully. Snigdha Pandey is sincere too as the young and principled scribe, but — for the lack of a better way to describe her performance — just does not ‘cut it’. She seems lost in a land that is alien, and I do not mean that in the context of the story. She plays a bit too much in the hands of the director, bringing very little of her own artistic sensibilities to her scenes. As a result, she ends up being too monotonous and one-note. Even such fine actors as 02 and (surprise, surprise!) Rajat Sharma look like they are speaking their lines from within a straitjacket. Never a good thing for a film.
The intentions of Dotara may have been noble, but the execution leaves a lot to be desired. I wish someday, someone would be able to marry these two — intention and execution — and make a powerful film about the plight of the people of this region. They deserve a better story than Dotara.
Updated Date: Jan 22, 2019 10:09:15 IST