Does anything that can be called a ‘Kolkata film’ exist, as a special sub-genre of Bengali films? It seems so. There is a category of Bengali films, developed in last 20-25 years, most notably by Rituparno Ghosh, that is still being added to by many filmmakers, which can lay legitimately be called Kolkata films. The newest such film is by another Ghosh, Atanu, who with all his writing skills and a very Kolkata centric imagination has come up with the film ‘Mayurakshi’, which is despite it’s name, a full-fledged Kolkata film. This winter festive season seems the perfect time for watching it. It is not surprising that Kolkata middle class Bengalis are filling up multiplexes and popular stand-alone theatres celebrating the film, emotionally and cerebrally. Almost certainly they are rounding off their movie-watching experience with Chinese delicacies or at least a chicken roll followed by a cup of laal cha.
As the story goes, Sushovan, 84 years old now and a dynamic, eminent professor of History of yesteryears, is suffering from neurological problems including dementia and cognitive dysfunction. The reason of this illness is a bit undefined, though his emotional crisis stems from loneliness. Sushovon’s son Aryanil (Prasenjit Chattopadhyay) is settled in Chicago, USA and he is a middle-aged, sensitive man deeply attached to his father. He visits his father with a lot of anxiety though he himself is quite unsettled in his personal life. Sushovan lives under the care of a dedicated servant and a young lady housekeeper, Mallika (Sudipta Chakraborty) who handles everything from the bank to the doctor. Aryanil visits the doctor treating his father and takes charge of the whole thing. A new chapter in the father-son relationship begins, with both responding to it. It is a five-day-span story that moves quite fast, with different layers of the past built into its matrix. Finally it leads to quite an intriguing situation beyond any tangible solution. One fine morning Aryanil flees from the whole parable out of some compulsions to follow his own path of destiny.
As we move deeper into the film, the character of Sushovan, brilliantly performed by Soumitra Chattopadhyay, begins to emerge almost as a metaphor of the city of Kolkata. Sushovan’s depression, loneliness, melancholia signify the character of the city Kolkata quite poignantly. This is a Kolkata that is depressed and not-happening, and yet responsive to the idea of European modernism. The city cannot remember its immediate past but lives in its own old glorious times. Mayurakshi is an ardent Kolkata film, confined within Kolkata. But which Kolkata is it? It is the elite Kolkata of the Chattopadhyay’s, which sells and has purchasing power and can represent for the aspirations of the middle classes. This Kolkata looks beautiful, nostalgic, frozen in the 60s and 70s.
Aryanil, who represents consumerist globalisation with his iPhone and his Mac Book Pro does not live in this city and actually cannot afford to do so in Kolkata’s frozen space-time, is competently portrayed by Prasenjit Chattopadhyay. Indrani Halder (Sahana) and Sudipta Chakraborty (Mallika) do justice to their respective characters. Bengali beauty Gargee Roychowdhury is de-glamorized in her character Paromita who represents the Mayurakshi, the poetry in the film.
Dialogue has been the most prominently used tool in recent Bengali films and this film also does not break the rule. As a result the film does not require much moving around the city, and is mostly confined inside rooms, cafeterias and, at the most, rooftop restaurants where one sees an open sky above the buildings. The sky is also seen through the window from the cabin of an airplane.
The special ‘close-up’ craft of Bengali cinema that avoids the outdoors is followed in this film with obvious measure. Does the grooming of the directors in television matter here or is it the economics of Bengali cinema that drives the makers towards this? The emotional value of the film is so analog that digital imaging could not accommodate the spectrum fully. Cinematography really missed the celluloid, however funny this might sound today. Contextual usage of music perfectly captured the feel and pulse of the film. In fact there was hardly any sound of Kolkata as such, as if music is the sound of city.
Mayurakshi had great resemblances to stories published in popular Bengali magazines in the recent past with all its ethos and style. But the writer-director Atanu Ghosh must get a special praise for his storytelling skill, which pulled the audience beyond the limitations of all those contemporary Bengali literature. One might criticize the film as being incomplete or not viable enough, but the success of this film lies in keeping some space for the audiences, without any voice over, to imagine for themselves along with the painting that dementiac Sushovan brushes for his small son.