Beyond love and hate, resides fear, perhaps the strongest of all emotions. What makes it so strong is probably the fact that it acts as a counterpoint to the base survival instinct of humankind. And while one can be mortally terrified of a specific object or being, it is the fear of the unknown that drives a soul farthest. The grip of fear is strongest and most damaging as it keeps one tied to the past, worried about the future and thus making the present unbearable.
And fear comes palpably alive in Utsav Mukherjee’s Bheetu.
Bheetu unfolds as a dark melodrama that slowly shifts into the domain of a psychological thriller. The plot involves a waiter called Rony (Ritwik Chakraborty) and his dark sexual conquests and perversions ranging from stalking to assault, rape and murder. He has his eyes set on Sohini (Parno Mitra) who is the girlfriend of the restaurant owner’s son Andy (Saheb Bhattacharjee). Incidentally, Sohini has to continuously battle with her own demons of a traumatic past. As a little girl, she was repeatedly subjected to molestation by her maternal uncle and right from childhood, she holds her elder sister Rohini’s lack of courage (played as an adult by Sudipta Chakraborty) responsible for her suffering.
With this setting of a perfect melodrama, the film shifts its gear for the first time when Rohini, now a cripple and separated from her husband, comes to stay with her sister along with her little daughter. And therein lay the primary triumph of Bheetu. The film achieves its first success on the level of writing. Unlike every other film of the thriller genre/crime drama, the pace is unhurried and relaxed at the onset letting the audience ease into the rhythm of narrative. Although there is a sense of repetition resulting in monotony arising as the film approaches the middle act, it is evident that the writers are extremely focused and clear about the aim and thus moving with a defined end in sight, dealing out the generic elements one or two at a time leaving ample breathing space. Consequently, when the film reaches its climax, the audience had already been pushed to the tethered end of nerves and the claustrophobia that rests heavy for more than 20 minutes justifies the overall pace of the narrative. Even the references to other films are smartly done with a sense of economy and no attempt to emulate the earlier films. The Bernard Herrmann theme of Twisted Nerve, a British psycho-drama on similar lines, acts as Sohini’s ringtone that is heard at very poignant narrative points. And there is also a tongue-in-the-cheek reference to the shower sequence in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho that’ll delight cinephilles.
Of course, the film is not without flaws. Among them, the most glaring is the cinematography which fails to add even an iota to the film. While the film continuously strives to push itself on the level of content, it would have been more exciting to see a similar effort with the images, which sadly remain somewhat ineffective often indicating towards a weakness in the overall visual conception of the film. A parallel argument can also be made about the music and its use which again didn’t really add to the intense atmosphere, barring the Rabindrasangeet. But there are quite a few significant points that seek more attention than weighing out these technicalities. The film has a gritty, visceral attitude without striving to be a Korean flick or something from the house of Quentin Tarantino. It is a film that is very much of/for Kolkata. It is contemporary in terms of content and relevant to our everyday existence. The film pulls out the idea of paranoia and fear psychosis from the domain of exotic locations or shady joints, right into our neighborhoods or even the balconies and bedrooms.
And one must speak about the performances by the actors in this regard. To begin with, Ritwik Chakraborty brings to life the most irredeemable character encountered on Bengali screen in a long long time. More than the fact that the character rapes and murders and stalks and is a pervert of the first degree, Ritwik’s quiet and understated portrayal makes it even more brutal. He is not a freak of nature but an otherwise ordinary fellow from neighborhood who is indifferent about women being objectified or subjected to violence. That makes him a magnified manifestation of every other man and hence potentially terrifying. Among the rest of the cast, Sudipta Chakraborty’s sensitive portrayal of the crippled Rohini, battling out her own conflicts definitely deserves a special mention.
On a concluding note, Bheetu is a significant film if not a great one. And in spite of its drawbacks, the crests in this case demand more attention than the troughs. In the current context, it is important to make and watch films like this which stays away from being preachy, deals with the issues head on. It takes place in a female universe. The men become the object of a range of feminine emotions, none of them positive, ranging from fear to hatred to plain indifference.
Arup Ratan Samajdar