Ek Je Chhilo Raja wins National Award: How the Bengali film modernised the intriguing tale of Bhawal Sanyasi
Srijit Mukherjee's Bengali film Ek Je Chhilo Raja takes on the highly intriguing real-life incident of the raja (king) of Bhawal Estate, a large zamindari in modern-day Bangladesh. Following its release, the film was widely appreciated by critics for its mature performances and breathtaking cinematography. Jisshu Sengupta, Jaya Ahsan, Anirban Bhattacharya, Barun Chanda, Anjan Dutta, Aparna Sen and the like joined Srijit's period drama, to showcase the fascinating life of the zamindars of Bhawal.
Having bagged the National Award for Best Bengali film in this year, Ek Je Chhilo Raja comfortably consolidates Srijit's position as an ace filmmaker, with it being his third National Award win. The film is arguably Srijit's most well-researched project, that required multiple scenes of back-and-forth with legal proceedings, gleaning off any unnecessary sensationalism. The filmmaker highlighted the moral dilemma which hounded Raja Mahendra Kumar Chowdhury (Jisshu) after his return to the material world.
Each court case was keenly dealt with. Mukherjee even introduced the juicy plot trope of the-battle-of-the-advocates with a feisty Aparna backing Mahendra's wronged wife Chandraboti Devi (Rajnandini Paul), and Anjan going the full nine yards to prove Mahendra's identity as Bhawal's rightful heir. In their heated discussions then, Aparna plays the mouthpiece for Chandraboti, meticulously pointing out each unfair move Jishu's character made as a negligent husband. Sen rallied for the thousands of women who strangled several of their hopes and desires, only to serve their men in a society that reveled in deifying the rich.
Srijit's camera even observes Jisshu's slow yet confident body language as the not-very-young Mahendra, and how it descended into slight hesitation once he marries his child-bride. Mahendra, known to extract comfort from the arms of his many courtesans, clearly declared that he can never love Chandraboti truly and would rather she go about living life her own way. Chandraboti hardly answered, only expressing her demure dejection. The filmmaker never underplayed her turmoils and did not shy away from depicting Mahendra's lasciviousness towards other women either. Known to be a notorious philanderer (even in real life), Jisshu's character had little going for him on moralistic grounds.
On viewing the film as a whole, one is almost compelled to compare it to Uttam Kumar's 1975 film Sanyasi Raja, which dealt with the same subject. With a time-lapse of almost 45 years, the difference in treatments of the two films shines through. Pijush Basu's lens captured the then-perfect contours of Bengal's most good looking actor in Sanyasi Raja; add to that his on-screen chemistry with audiences' favourite Supriya Choudhury, and producers had with them a sure-shot success. But except the duo's star appeal, the film successfully wrecked the facts, and was moulded to clearly bring in box office numbers.
Sanyasi Raja's screenplay (Pijush Basu and story by Asim Sarkar) was suited to its times ,and thus, was reductive in several ways. Neither did the film delve much into the protagonist's conundrum and hesitance to return to his sprawling zamindari, nor did it explore the inter-personal rifts between an illustrious family owing to such an odd return. In fact, certain junctures in the plot even depict Surya Kishore's (Kumar's character) desire to recover his lost estate.
That Srijit introduces a feminist reading to his film is not surprising, especially owing to the aware times that Ek Je Chhilo Raja released amidst. But where the filmmaker flourishes, is his character treatment. Jisshu's monologue while lying ill and whimpering in bed, is commendable. Mahendra implores his supposed well-wishers to let him die in peace. Instead, he is forced to ingest poisonous medicines.
Through meticulous scripting (Srijit) and cinematography (Gairik Sarkar), the filmmaker brings Mahendra's sufferings and feelings of betrayal to the surface. Not only is the narrative treated with the required nuances, but viewers are also presented with the gravitas of the-once majestic Chowdhury clan's downfall. One would think a riveting plot and well-crafted performances are a given in a Srijit Mukherjee film, but the director surprises in terms of the poise and opulence of Ek Je Chhilo Raja. Srijit almost basks in the patient pace, driving in the minds of audiences, that the story reflects the yesteryears of little-to-do-and-too-much-to-contemplate.
Period dramas have always been a huge draw for the Indian film industry, especially with the millions going after the Jodhaa Akbars and the Baahubalis. But the Bengali sector never really saw development in the genre, especially in the recent past (except for maybe Soumik Sen's appreciable attempt with his 2019 film Mahalaya). Ek Je Chhilo Raja then stands as a seminal work in many ways. The film not only cements the regional industry's deftness in such subjects, but also stands as a wonderful exception to Srijit's quirky, contemporary works, like Baishe Srabon and Hemlock Society.
Updated Date: Aug 14, 2019 13:41:47 IST