Manojder Adbhut Bari movie review: A poor, unpardonable adaptation of Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay’s classic novel

Bhaskar Chattopadhyay

Nov 24, 2018 18:21:25 IST

2/5

Those were the days, my friend. Blazing summer afternoons, harsh winter nights, a couple of precious hours stolen from truckloads of homework – all laden with dreams of the fantastic, of adventurous spirits and rib-tickling humour, of ghosts and shadows, of the roars of a tiger that is heard but never seen, of secret underground chambers and ancient submerged temples, of deep woods and haunted castles, of hidden treasures and the joys of doing what’s right. Anyone who has grown up reading children’s literature in Bengali has been awed by the stories written by veteran author Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay. His stories taught us that even the most ordinary looking man can accomplish the most extraordinary feats. And he taught us that the greatest treasure that we can ever go hunting for lies hidden right within our minds, in the form of good thoughts and the will to do good deeds – and all that we have to do is to reach out and grab them. We have grown up admiring the man who not only entertained us through his stories but taught us how to be good human beings as well. Which is why, the two best parts of Anindya Chatterjee’s adaptation of Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay’s famous children’s novel Manojder Adbhut Bari are its opening and closing scenes, in which Mukhopadhyay himself appears in a heartwarming cameo. Sadly, though, there is little else in the film which is good enough to hold your attention.

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A still from Manojder Adbhut Bari. YouTube screengrab

The film tells the story of a young boy named Manoj who lives is a joint family in a small suburban town. Manoj’s family is full of whimsical characters who live life on their own terms. The list of people living in the household is so long that it will take more words to jot it down here than this format can permit. Anyway, the central premise of the story is that for as long as he can remember, Manoj has been seeing the photograph of a boy in his house. No one knows who the boy is, or where the photograph came from. While no one else seems to care about the photograph, Manoj’s curious mind just can’t seem to rest easy, as long as he has discovered the true identity of the mysterious boy.

While there are several wonderful Shirshendu-isque moments in the film in which I found myself laughing out loud, for the most part, the film is an incoherent bore, simply because it fails to bring these brilliant moments together and stitch them into a single wholesome unit. In any case, working with so many characters is in itself a big challenge, and the film bungles it all up because it spends a disproportionately high amount of time establishing these characters. And it does so at the cost of advancing the story. As a result, the story stalls, stagnates, sputters, and almost dies, until some semblance of sense emerges in the minds of the makers, and they seem to take a tighter grip of control over the events. But by then, it is too late, and the audience has already lost interest.

Secondly, I did not like the approach director Anindya Chatterjee has taken with the performances. I wonder what his brief to his actors was. Why they had to exaggerate their mannerisms and appear like caricatures – I completely fail to understand. Worst of all, none of the characters have been made interesting. Everyone seems to be playing a track of his or her own, with the main story suffering in the process – almost taking a backseat throughout the film. This is a gross and unpardonable disservice to what is essentially a fascinating story, and – more importantly – to the very spirit of a Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay story, which, without exception, is a simple, unassuming one. Just because it is a children’s film does not mean it should be diluted to what we perceive to be their levels of intelligence. To put it in straightforward words, we need not dumb the film down.

The performances in the film are exaggerated beyond redemption. Loud histrionics are the highlights of the actors’ contributions – every single one of them. If I were to choose one actor who shines amidst this gang of performers, it has got to be Rajatava Dutta, as Bhajababu – the man who is a notoriously expert haggler at the market, and who earns everyone’s fearful respect overnight, when he stumbles upon a loaded gun. The rest of the cast – including such veteran actors as Soumitra Chatterjee and Sandhya Roy – come across as helplessly unable to do their best.

As far as the approach to the film’s treatment is concerned, it isn’t difficult to see that it is trying too hard to be like another Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay adaptation – Abhijit Chowdhury’s delightful 2003 film Patalghar. But it fails to do so, and miserably. While Patalghar was intelligently written, and beautifully executed, with great music, wonderful performances, excellent cinematography and top-notch editing, Manojder Adbhut Bari remains all but a poor wannabe. It is the perfect example of that saying that has almost become a cliché now – the book is way better than the movie.

Updated Date: Nov 24, 2018 18:21:25 IST