Paanch Phoron review: Hoichoi's new anthology series is a delicious, satisfying concoction
Directed by five leading filmmakers from India and Bangladesh – each with their distinctive flourish, Paanch Phoron offers a satisfying and palatable fare by the end of it all, leaving you asking for a second helping.
Rating: 3 (out of 5 stars)
Bengali digital entertainment platform Hoichoi’s new web series Paanch Phoron borrows its title from the concoction of five different spices that are often used to add flavour to certain Bengali dishes. Like each spice, each of the five episodes of this anthology adds a distinctive identity to the meaning of love. Directed by five leading filmmakers from India and Bangladesh – each with their distinctive flourish, Paanch Phoron offers a satisfying and palatable fare by the end of it all, leaving you asking for a second helping.
The first episode, directed by Arka Ganguly, is titled 'Phoringer Bou'. In a small suburban town, a shy and quiet little girl finds it difficult to make friends. When her playmates end up giving her in marriage to a dragonfly, the impressionable mind of the girl is deeply affected, and she begins to care for her new ‘husband’ just as she sees her mother care for her father. By far the best episode in the series, this is a segment which, despite its somewhat slow pace, is to be relished in a languid manner. You need to soak in the very atmosphere that the film manages to create. A small town, winter nights, a railway colony, a government quarter that has just been moved into (so much so that the previous inhabitants’ religious symbols have been left intact, out of respect) – these are things which will draw you into the story, keeping you invested throughout. The art direction is absolutely marvelous, the cinematography extremely commendable, and the performances are sincere and effective. The director clearly has a keen eye for detail, and is also fortunate enough to have a great crew that understands and works hard to make his vision come true. The story is also highly symbolic in nature, and is a scathing take on our education system. The performance of the school teacher is not only the episode's best, but of the entire series.
The second segment – titled ‘Gopone Prem Charan’ – alludes to the cheap ads that one often comes across, claiming to rid you of your alcoholism, keeping your identity confidential during the process. Only this time, the ailment to be treated is not alcoholism, but love. A young man, hailing from a family of means, has fallen hopelessly in love with a married woman, and is hell bent upon pursuing her. The woman, in turn, is conflicted in her feelings towards the young man, whom she finds kind and caring – a far cry from her cold, distant and money-minded husband. Suman Mukhopadhyay directs the segment based on a story by Arijit Biswas. A story of this kind needs a sensitive touch, because if mishandled, it can easily touch a raw nerve, at least in this day and age. But Mukhopadhyay’s deft touches and Jaya Ahsan’s subtle expressions and gestures prevents it from becoming the story of a stalker with little or no understanding of the notion of consent. The fine line between wooing the woman you love and pestering her is never crossed, and the entire thing leaves a delightful old-world aftertaste in the mouth, despite being perfectly relevant and contemporary.
The third episode – brilliantly titled ‘Lilith’ – is helmed by Bangladeshi director Dipankar Dipon. By far the bravest attempt in the series, the story is set in a not-so-distant future in the city of Dhaka, where a technological advancement called the ‘National Truth Rating’ has taken the country by storm. A bionic chip inserted in a citizen’s body tracks and monitors any instance of telling a lie. Each instance of lying adversely affects an individual’s Truth Rating, and as the rating keeps dropping, the individual is forced to pay disastrous penalties. Curiously though, there is a young man in the city who seems to be beating the system. The NTR’s chief designer sends a young investigating officer named Lilith to locate, engage and understand the young man, with the final objective of figuring out how he has been able to keep a constantly high rating. It’s a fascinating concept, and one always wonders why we don’t see more such stories of speculative fiction on the small and big screens. There are enough twists and turns in the story to keep you engaged, and the flow is rife with red herrings, breadcrumbs and the perfect twist ending. But despite all this, the episode could have been so much more than what it is. Fewer redundant scenes, sharper writing and more effective performances were required, and that tacky ‘foreign’ accent was extremely distracting. Having said that, the male lead Siam Ahmed’s performance was magnetic, and was good enough to hold my attention. All in all, a decent dish and full marks for the courage to tell an innovative story.
Another Bangladeshi endeavour, aptly titled ‘Biroho Uttoron’, and directed by Tauquir Ahmed, explores the city of Dhaka through some amazing drone photography. The waterscapes, the verdant suburbs, the serpentine and bustling lanes of the city – everything has been captured beautifully. But that’s the setting. Here’s the story. A soft-spoken, mild-mannered young man seems to be having a tough time keeping his job, his mind clearly distracted and his will weak. He is almost about to lose his job, when he unexpectedly bumps into an old lover – and it is a few precious moments of company of this woman that changes his life for the better. There is not much that ‘happensg’ in the story, so it can be a strenuous watch. But the overall visual and aural delights make this a decent offering, overall. Rownak Hasan is pitch-perfect as the shy, discontented (but never grumbling), weary and jilted young lover. I would love to watch more of him, because he has a remarkable screen presence, and carries the episode on his able shoulders.
The final episode directed by Abhishek Saha is titled ‘Ekti Paati Premer Golpo’. I’m afraid it is this episode that simply didn’t work for me in the series. It shows the blooming love between two childhood friends – now grown up – even as their romance is interspersed by tense scenes from a hospital’s emergency room. The denouement beat me completely, and if the film carried a message – which I’m sure it did, it was lost on me. The performances by Riddhi Sen and Rajnandini Paul were quite graceful and elegant, but that was about the only thing that I liked in this spice.
Paanch Phoron is currently streaming on Hoichoi!
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