Narration in cinema is largely about the timing, economy and hence the precision of revealing information. Irrespective of the narrative structure which can be conventional and linear or completely non-linear, successful narration inevitably involves the aforementioned facets. Kaushik Ganguly’s Bastu Shaap is a classic instance when each of them goes wrong. It is probably unfair to launch a direct attack at Mr. Ganguly since it is something almost emblematic of Contemporary Bengali Cinema. However, talking about Bastu Shaap, the film where he has apparently decided to come out of closet as an auteur per se putting his signature on the poster, one has no other option but to begin at the beginning of things going wrong with the film.
The basic plot involves a pair of professionals played by Parambrata Chatterjee and Kaushik Ganguly, who specialize in Vastu Shastra. They are sent on a secret mission to a household in the outskirts of Darjeeling where they are supposed to figure out the root of the problem and provide a solution for them. Apparently something ominous and sinister is happening there. The family consists of an ex serviceman who injured his leg in an accident, and his wife; played by Abir Chatterjee and Raima Sen respectively. His widowed sister played by Churni Ganguly, who lost her son and husband in the same accident, is the third member of the household. Apparently the wife and sister might object to what is termed within the film as ‘mumbo jumbo’; hence the idea of the professionals working under cover. But there is a back-story to it all where Parambrata and Raima knew each other when their respective spouses were in hospital. Back in the days, he used to be a rationalist and he passed on a crystal ball to Raima, the believer, which brought her husband back to life while Parambrata’s wife passed away. And after all these years, when he comes walking through the door, Parambrata’s cover goes for a toss in front of Raima and they rekindle their old relationship (for the lack of a better word) as she has been going through a loveless marriage all these years.
One of the most obvious questions would be regarding the validity of the setting and the framing device itself. Why Darjeeling? What was wrong with any other place or any neighborhood in the city or a seaside or simply any indoor location for this story, involving an extra marital affair and alleged impotence, to unfold? In fact, other than some images of fog and tea gardens and winding roads which are found even in the Facebook albums of every other individual who can afford a DSLR, the drama unfolds within the bungalow interiors only. And then there is Vastu (or not!). Parambrata patronizingly explains in elaborate and vague terms, the science of architecture; a speech delivered simultaneously in English and Bengali for purposes unknown, probably even to the writer director. And following this 3 minute speech that runs for 6 minutes due to translation efforts, there is a lot of shifting of furniture. Only the elder sister, who is deemed mentally imbalanced, provides the voice of reason and refuses to be party to this nonsense. That alone says a lot about the film! And finally after all the hue and cry, Parambrata merely states that there is no point to any of these! For a household to be happy, the members have to sort their issues and take charge of their lives! Lo and behold! So Parambrata the rationalist turned into a believer and somehow unnoticed by everyone had turned back into a rationalist, talking about action and consequence! Not just an insipid dénouement, but this is akin to zero narrative movement for more than two hours! And if this is the sole point about the film, he could’ve been an electrician or a tax consultant or anything instead of parading in as expert of ancient science and mysteries with all the fanfare and everything!
Another curious aspect in the film was a separate credit for subplot, besides idea/concept/writing. And the subplot comes in the form of a shady past life of the character played by Kaushik Ganguly. Apparently this man, lovable and bumbling, has a dark past when he used to be an expert of firearms as well as a sharpshooter. He got involved with the underworld and was prosecuted under the Terrorism Act. The point of it all? He is asked by the character played by Abir Chatterjee to “take a look at his gun which is not functioning properly and he is having trouble shooting them”. If one considers gun to be a phallic symbol and takes another look at the sentence above, it sheds some real light on the crisis in the film!
Otherwise, it’s still a mystery why the professionals were contacted in the first place, given their line of expertise.
Arup Ratan Samajdar