Director Partho Chakraborty’s new film Samantaral may not be the best film you’ve seen in recent months, but there is not a shred of doubt that it is an honest effort. The title of the film means ‘parallel’, and alludes to the detached life that the film’s central character Sujan lives in his North Kolkata home, even as he is surrounded by his own family. The story begins when Sujan’s nephew, a teenager who was orphaned at the age of two, returns to his mother’s home in Kolkata after finishing school in Darjeeling.
As his romance with a girl he met on social network begins to flourish, he slowly begins to find his place in the household – where several characters live under the same roof.
There’s the patriarch of the family – a retired teacher, who is now both voiceless and hapless, thanks to his old age. There’s the eldest brother who is a reserved but well-meaning gentleman. There’s his wife who showers motherly love on the young boy and holds the family together. There’s the youngest brother, who is an aggressive, foul-mouthed, beastly wretch who doesn’t shy away from threatening his kin when they protest at his wayward behaviour. He is aptly supported by his equally wretched wife, who finds her life in the household stifling.
And finally, there’s Sujan – the middle brother. Soft spoken, mild mannered, often breaking into poetry and songs, and playing the violin, his is a parallel world — a world in which he can erase everything that’s vile by simply shutting his eyes and imagining those miserable things never ever happened. Mysteriously enough though, the family keeps Sujan confined to his room in the terrace, although most of them are nice to him.
The young boy naturally finds this very disturbing and with the help of his girlfriend, sets out to solve the mystery behind his favourite uncle’s strange behaviour, and the even stranger reaction of the rest of the family to his antics.
Clocking at just under two hours, Samantaral is a good one-time watch, although it does have its faults. The film’s biggest flaw is in its pacing and flow. While some messages and scenes are stretched too long for comfort, others are not given their due. Some side-tracks are quite unnecessary, and perhaps the writer, the director and the editor ought to have, in that order, focused a bit more on filling the several plot holes that exist in the storyline. The makers try to grapple with too many themes and, as a result, the film almost goes downhill under all that load. The fact that it doesn’t is only because of some terrific performances by the actors.
Riddhi Sen plays the unsuspecting teenager who fights to get his uncle the life of dignity that he deserves. Although he has a long way to go, the young actor shows commendable promise. Aparajita Adhya is superb as the elder aunt, and she puts her heart and soul into her role. Kushal Chakraborty’s reticent presence in the film comes across as flawed in the beginning, but the film’s denouement offers a perfectly plausible justification for his behaviour. Anindya Banerjee and Tanushree Chakraborty both play their parts with great sincerity, and the fact that I loathed them without even realizing that they were simply playing their parts speaks volumes of their merit. Veteran actor Soumitra Chatterjee is always a treat to watch, and does his best in the rather small role that he is given. Surangana Bandopadhyay has precious little to do, but she gives her role a hundred percent. I would certainly like to see her in more substantial roles in the future, because she does exude a calm confidence that is frightfully lacking in several other actors of her age.
But right from the moment that he appears on screen, and all the way to the final scene, the film entirely belongs to its protagonist, played with great maturity by Parambrata Chatterjee, who smiles, weeps, grins, sings and tugs at your heartstrings with equal ease. In most of the scenes, Parambrata fills the frame with a bright cheer — a stark contrast to the life he is forced to live. At other times, he is incorrigibly naughty, much like a child who doesn’t know the ways of the world – in the more adult sense of the term. And yet in other scenes, his pent up melancholy spills over, turning him into a miserable wretch – a raving lunatic locked up in the loon bin. The sparks of genius that he shows, in his philosophy or in his music for instance, only leads to a series of embarrassments moments later, when his family has to cover for him. And in the film’s climax, when we learn the truth about him, there’s no way we cannot feel for him, and for the utterly miserable life he has lead all these years, thanks merely to some preconceived and prejudiced notions held by the members of his family.
Samantaral is one of those rare films where flaws in both the story and its execution are forgotten and forgiven, and all travesties are more than compensated for, thanks solely to the beautiful performance of its leading actor. Despite all its technical defects, it is an important film with an important message and everyone should watch it — if only to ensure that we give all the Sujans of the world their fair share of dignity.
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