Shahjahan Regency movie review: Srijit Mukherji faithfully, spiritually adapts Mani Shankar's Chowringhee
It is not easy to make a film like Shahjhan Regency, to handle so many characters and their motivations with such sensitivity.
castAbir Chatterjee, Sujoy Prasad Chatterjee, Rituparna Sengupta, Anjan Dutta, Swastika Mukherjee, Rittika Sen, Kanchan Mullick, Rudranil Ghosh, Babul Supriyo, Mamata Shankar, Anirban Bhattacharya And Parambrata Chattopadhyay
To tell you the truth, I had never quite liked Chowringhee – Pinaki Bhushan Mukherji’s adaptation of popular Bengali writer Mani Shankar Mukherjee’s novel of the same name. I had always found the treatment of the 1968 film quite dull, and repeated viewings over the years had reaffirmed what I had felt the first time I had watched it – that the film had not been able to capture the essence of the novel, and that it had ridden high on the popularity of one of its central character, ably assayed by Bengal’s matinee idol of that time – Uttam Kumar. Which is why, when I learnt that director Srijit Mukherji was going to attempt a retelling of Chowringhee and mount it in contemporary times, I was quite apprehensive about the entire project. I was wrong. I will try to avoid comparisons in my review, but I can say this much – I came away knowing that Mukherji’s Shahjahan Regency is a faithful adaptation of Shankar’s novel – faithful not perhaps in every element of storytelling, but faithful in understanding and capturing the very spirit of the story.
Shahjahan Regency is a hotel in the business district of Kolkata. Our protagonist, a young man named Rudra, after having had the experience of working in a wide range of jobs, finds himself without one, when an old acquaintance takes him to said hotel and recommends him highly to the owner. Rudra is employed as an intern in the hotel, and soon, the property’s charming and charismatic duty manager Sameeran takes him under his wings. Under the tutelage of Sameeran, Rudra begins to learn the ropes and understand the tricky business of hospitality. He is introduced to a myriad of characters, who can be roughly divided into two categories – those who work at the Shahjahan Regency, and those who come to stay, dine or party at the Shahjahan Regency. Rudra starts off as a wide-eyed greenhorn, but thanks to Sameeran’s patient mentorship, becomes a thorough professional fairly quickly. But with deeper knowledge of the ins and outs of the hotel, comes a deeper insight into the lives of its staff and its guests, and Rudra soon realizes that behind the apparent glitz and glamour of its plush interiors, there are many sad faces staring out of the many windows of the Shahjahan Regency at any given point of time. Amidst a crowd of strangers, as he sees the ever-so-familiar faces come and go, rise and fall, appear and disappear with the passage of time, somewhere and somehow, he evolves into a more matured version of himself.
The biggest strength of the film is the way it has handled its characters – all so different from each other. It is through these portraits that the director has painted a true picture of the city. Among the staff, we see the impeccably efficient duty manager (Abir Chatterjee), the incorrigibly finicky head of housekeeping (Sujoy Prasad Chatterjee), the graceful and dignified lobby entertainer (Rituparna Sengupta) and the owner of the hotel (Anjan Dutta), who is failing miserably at nursing a broken heart, thanks to an unfaithful wife. Among the guests, there is a mysterious hostess (Swastika Mukherjee) – a permanent resident of the hotel, a bubbly air-hostess (Rittika Sen), a scheming middleman (Kanchan Mullick), a street-smart sleuth (Rudranil Ghosh), a shrewd business magnate (Babul Supriyo), the lonely wife of an industrialist (Mamata Shankar) and her dreamy-eyed son (Anirban Bhattacharya), who finds the life of power and pelf stifling to the core. The film invests a significant amount of time – the better part of an hour, in fact – in establishing these characters, and comes out on the other side with flying colours. Each character has a marked identity of his or her own, making them utterly believable.
Another asset of the film is its sharply written dialogue, although it has to be said that the same dialogues also come across as problematic at times, but more of that later. Mukherji is a master of wordplay and deft at making historical and mythological references. Which is why, quoting Rumi while discussing the possibility of taking in a 'roomie', or explaining the genesis of etymology of a raga’s name, is not uncommon in the film. In as much as the entire film is heavily dialogue dependent, the focus on making conversations sharp has gone a long way on keeping viewers engaged.
There are quite a few brilliant moments in the film. In particular, the conversations between Rudra and Gayatri, the hotel’s lobby entertainer, are beautifully evocative of the solemn and respectful bond between a musician and her audience. Similarly, the sweet flirtations between Sameeran and one of his regular guests – an airline stewardess – are also immensely enjoyable. As for the performances, Parambrata Chattopadhyay won my heart with his absolutely flawless performance as the rookie Rudra. Abir Chatterjee is pitch perfect as Sameeran Bose, and Anirban Bhattacharya is surely going to send some hearts aflutter with his innocence. Swastika Mukherjee does a fantastic job of portraying a fragile heart that is used by many but nurtured by none. The scenes right before she descends into hopelessness are beautifully done – more so because she has realized that she had been running after the mirage of a verdant oasis in a barren desert all the while. In a not so different role, Anjan Dutta is beautifully cast as the lamenting hotelier whose better half has left him for better prospects. Even Rittika Sen does a commendable job in a short but important role.
However, the film is not without its problems. While the same dialogues that I praised heavily a paragraph ago make the film stand out, there is an overabundance of it, almost to the point of becoming a distraction. Think of it this way – a cleverly written line becomes almost like a riddle, challenging us to solve it, taking our minds off what is most important – the film itself. If you have solved the riddle, you have lost the film. And if you’ve not been able to see the cleverness of the lines, then of what use were they? Cinema is not only a transient medium – because it exists in time – it is also a visual medium, unlike a book. If something can be said in one line, why use two to say it? If something can be expressed without saying anything at all, well – why not?
The first half of the film is more cohesive than the second, and post-interval, the plot began to meander a bit too much for my comfort. Transitions from one storyline to another are always welcome, and are an integral part of a film with an ensemble cast, but on at least two occasions, I felt such transitions were not smooth enough. But credit has to be given where it is due – the film’s music and cinematography are both top-notch. Both ably capture the soft, lingering pace of the film, highlighting the tragedy wafting through the corridors of the Shahjahan Regency. It is not easy to make a film like Shahjahan Regency, to handle so many characters and their motivations with such sensitivity. I thoroughly enjoyed the film and came away a satisfied guest.
All images from YouTube.
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