There is a perverse crimson joy, almost sadomasochistic in proportion, in experiencing one’s worst expectations being fulfilled, bit by bit and even beat by beat. Projapoti Biskut unleashes its chamber of horrors and a relentless assault on sense and sensibilities, with a group of people at the helm, from whom one’d expect nothing less. On the producer’s chair, we have Shibu-Nandita who’d been the self-proclaimed moral vanguard and conscience keepers of Bengali middle class for films after films. They have been anti-separation, anti-divorce, anti-privacy and anti-independent women in general. And wearing the director’s hat, we have Anindyo Chattopadhyay who has been a has-been frontman of a has-been band which apparently catered to the thinking urban youth. Considering the fact that their breakout hits were about the probable threats by a ‘smart’ woman wearing mini skirt and acting her will, that says a lot about the band and their target audience.
— kaahon (@kaahonwall) September 21, 2017
Coming back to their collaborative output, the film follows a young married couple, Antar and Shaon who belong to the Sen family of Bhowanipore, an orthodox, well-to-do, upper class household. The rest of it is a big mystery and difficult to express in words. Shaon is sweet, Antar is a moron, the father is a glutton, the mother is secular and there’s Antar’s elder brother and his family who are always roaming in the periphery acting like paying guests. And then without a trigger or without a warning, comes a desire for motherhood. Shaon wants a child, like Arsenal wants the league. Or maybe it’s the other way around. No one’s really sure of anything anymore. Because it’s hardly a narrative. It’s a joyride across props and locations. This film replaces the name-dropping practice of Bengali films with prop dropping or location dropping. You have Howrah Bridge, both the old and new, which brings you to the river bank, then there’s Kumartuli and also the customary bar/pub/nightclub to emphasize its urban attitude. After all, how can you be modern without drinking beer?
On the prop front, you get the whole show of ‘Bonedi Bangaliyana’ version of commodity fetish. There’s antique radio, gramophone, Burma teak furniture and the camera sways alongside everything. It’s a strange…movement, for the lack of a better word. It’s not a pan, track, dolly, tilt or anything as defined as that. But it’s not even static. In fact, this can very well be a highly meta thing which has been devised keeping in mind the content. Maybe this indecisive camera is a formal articulation of the indecisive plot or the indecisive male protagonist. Can’t write off everything!
In other words, the craft of the film is annoying to say the least. Besides the camera work mentioned above, the screenwriting is hardly focussed on narration and clearly more interested in cracking jokes, making puns and playing word games. For instance, there is the character called Neogi Da at Antar’s office with almost half an hour of screen time, whose only purpose in the film is to speak in sexual innuendos and puns. Transgender characters appear from time to time serving no purpose other than providing comic relief. There are cameos by Ratnabali Ghosh, Arghykamal Mitra and Abhijit Guha in various roles who just appear to tell or play out a joke. These things wreak havoc on the film as the pace almost drags to a crawl with scenes merely following one another undoing any sense of narrative movement. The one glaring thing amongst it all is how the sheer texture of film looks like an ad, right from props, costumes, character stereotypes, location, composition, framing, etc held together by a soft and shimmering glow evenly throughput the film. Irrespective of the content or the moment within the narration, there is this glossy effect from start to finish.
On a more serious note, the film essentially does a few things ideologically. It posits motherhood as the holy grail for women, reinforcing the gender role with everything they’ve got. The focused investment in patriarchal values become evident from a few scenes. There is a character called Parijat who’s foul mouth, carefree and promiscuous and she gets pregnant. Shaon accompanies her for abortion procedure but suddenly has some realization and tries to stop Parijat from aborting. Shaon’s rhetoric involves phrases like sin, divine right and duty, taking a life, etc. which are all rooted in the so-called pro-life agendas currently gaining strength all over the world. Furthermore, Parijat is redeemed in the film when she decides to keep the baby and marry the father, thus becoming a wife and a mother.
Besides being offensive, film has no clue about how to engage with an issue and consistently carry it all the way through. The only thing apparent is that Shaon knows the best and Shaon does the best. So, religious Shaon is good and secular mother-in-law is bad. But when Shaon is progressive, the mother-in-law turns regressive. Shaon’s in-laws are bad because they have good taste in art while Shaon’s parents are good because they have a rustic speech. It all becomes like the proverbial snake eating its own tail but all the while acting smart and showing off its shiny scales or something. The film is like Kalidasa reincarnate, sawing off the very branch on which he rests. All the crises and conflicts finally arrive at the moment when Shaon is bitterly against institutions like family, marriage, etc. The what does Shaon want now? She wants to be the woman who wears short tops and does her prayers and rituals. Great. That’s being right-wing and a consumer. Just what the doctor ordered for the country right now. So much for women’s rights!
The only thought this film provokes is the choice of title. If it is about what Shaon likes to eat, it could have been anything like cake, omelette, bati chocchori, etc. In fact, there are more scenes of Shaon having fish curry than her having the titular biscuit. So, they could’ve called the film something with fish! Oh wait, guess they already made a film called ‘Machher Jhol’. Damn!