In a dramatic moment in Srijit Mukherjee’s Yeti Obhijaan, members of Kakababu’s expedition group including Santu are terrified and attempt to turn back, after a getting a probable glimpse of a Yeti. Mingma, the Sherpa guide has already told Kakababu in an earlier scene how they are in awe of the powers possessed by the mythical beast, based on stories recounted by ancestors, all stemming out of their tribal faith. So naturally when they refuse to go ahead, Kakababu calls them coward, thus abusing their tribal faith, picking their tribal names one by one and ascertaining a power position where the Bengali enlightened-self reigns supreme over the ‘backward-superstitious-uneducated’ clan/profession. However, with his nephew Santu, he goes one step further. Kakababu chooses to call him a Facebook intellectual who “hide-behind-their-profiles like cowards, without-achieving-anything”.
— kaahon (@kaahonwall) September 21, 2017
Before getting into a discussion of the film per se and its technicalities, etc. one needs to address this steadily germinating online phenomenon surrounding Srijit Mukherjee’s films. Following his National Award and a campaign by a leading vernacular publication where he was hailed as the successor to Satyajit Ray, the release of his films has always witnessed a polarising effect among the crowd. Just like with almost everything, people usually take to the social media to express their opinions, argue and debate and write personal accounts and reviews, often resulting in long threads of conversations. The last couple of years has seen an almost division of camps where one group seemed to have declared their undying allegiance for the director and resorted to personal attacks, verbal abuse and cynical remarks against any serious engagement or discussion about Mukherjee’s works which may highlight the inherent flaws within the films. However, till now it was a Web 2.0 phenomenon driven by the users/fans or the ‘fan camp’ and there was no reason to mark the filmmaker and his ‘fandom’ with the same colours. Yeti Obijaan changed it. Unlike the previous instances, the pro-Srijit Mukherjee camp became active since the day of the release itself and there were several posts in social media platforms where any ‘possible’ negative reviews and reviewers were being attacked with caustic remarks and verbal abuses, even threats, probably even way before anyone has written anything negative about the film. Secondly, the director himself incorporated his loathing and hatred for his critics within the body of the film text. The division doesn’t seem to be blur anymore. The criticism on social media have always been discussions about the film or a caricature every now and then, but never a personal attack on the filmmaker. By calling the critics ‘cowards’ because of their refusal to accept his supremacy as a filmmaker, he stooped to a new low. He made it personal. Sh** just got real.
Having got that out of the way, the film is based on Sunil Gangopadhyay’s adventure tale ‘Pahar Churay Atonko’. It recounts Kakababu’s expedition to the Himalayas accompanied by his nephew Santu and a team of Sherpas headed by the good natured Mingma. With the governments of both India and Nepal behind him, the official goal of this expedition is to climb atop Mount Everest. However, when they reach a base camp with a two storey igloo like structure, Kakababu refuses to move ahead for a fortnight causing the Sherpas to become fidgety due to idleness. His Everest plans are put to question when it becomes clear that several mountaineers have disappeared from this particular region over the last couple of years along with rumours of possible sightings of Yeti, the mythical abominable snowman. The latter throws light into a strange artefact Kakababu is carrying; a large piece of tooth carefully encased within a glass box.
One of the first things that strike you within the first few minutes of the film is its unbearable sound design. A synthetic texture of multiple layers of sound effects has become the dominant practice in mainstream films all over the world. But the sheer agony of it reaches a new height with this film as there is not a moment of respite from the chaotic noise in the background, at times replaced by a chorus marching song. The decision seems really strange as it robs away any sense of ‘Atonko’ (fear or panic) that is largely born out of the overwhelming silence one’d experience sitting idle for 15 days at an altitude of almost 20,000 feet at the Himalayas. This not only comes across as bad filmmaking decision but betrays an utter disrespect towards nature and a complete unawareness regarding how to engage with something eternal and majestic.
The camera work in the film is plagued by the same evil and then some. Be it on drone or track or hand held, the camera refuses to stay still, on a face, on a prop or even on natural landscape. Its perennial rush doesn’t really allow the spectator to ‘stop and smell the roses’, even on nature’s lap. In fact, given the director’s much talked about partnership with actor Prasenjit Chatterjee, his camera lacks even the basic respect that a star performer should be given from behind the lens. After all a star is defined more by his screen presence than his acting skills and that is precisely built up of moments when camera quietly dwells and observes the star’s persona and actions on screen. This has been almost like a thumb rule be it Satyajit Ray and Madhabi Mukherjee or John Ford and John Wayne or Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune or even Anurag Kashyap and Nawazuddin Siddiqui. But even with Prasenjit Chatterjee on screen, Srijit Mukherjee’s camera pans, tilts, swings, spins and does all sorts of things except looking at the star. The late Rituparno Ghosh, whether his films were good or bad, definitely knew how to look at Prasenjit, the star. Srijit Mukherjee sadly doesn’t. He can only come up with innovative camera positions and point of views such as Yeti’s eyelash or sleeping bag zippers!
And added to all that is the erratic editing which ruins the narration, interferes with actions and conversations and destroys any logical or coherent sense of geography and time. For instance, right after a flashback sequence which narrates a detailed account of the origin of the mysterious tooth extending from a Chinese flea market to the interiors of an elite English club, Kakababu narrates the same story to Santu and the scene cuts back to the same shots all over again just within a span of hardly five minutes! It’s almost as if the entire film has fallen short of images during post-production as the same thing happens when Kakakbabau and Santu find themselves trapped for a few days and the sequence continuously alters between a time lapse shot of clouds passing and same redundant interior images in dissolves, as a song plays in the background. How is the spectator supposed to feel the tension or paranoia or the claustrophobia? It’d become a nit-picking exercise to list all the instances. But one must mention the crown jewel of the ‘editing achievement’ before concluding this discussion.
There is an elaborate sequence where three events are unfolding simultaneously. Kakababu is lying on the ground with his adversary a few feet away and he needs to reach out to his gun on the floor. Mingma has been caught between the jaws of a metallic trapdoor causing severe injuries in his mid-section and he needs to travel back on foot to the ‘igloo’, a few kilometres away. All this while, members of a rescue team are discussing options sitting inside the ‘igloo’. The filmmaker opts for a parallel cutting between these events where picking up the gun would take two minutes to complete, Mingma’s trip would take at least a couple of hours while the discussion inside gives an unspecified sense of duration which can be anything between a few hours to half a day. So how is it logically possible to intercut (a technique based on the condition of same duration) among these events, without completely messing up the sense of space and time and narrative? With over a century since Griffith and Eisenstein (of course there’s no comparison…nobody’s that mad!), can this mutilated body of work even qualify as cinema?
If one believes the news on the internet and television, the director already has another film in the pipeline, which means he is not quitting anytime soon. Maybe this next release will be accompanied by a legal indictment against his critics. The ones with power can achieve a lot in this country. But instead of investing and thereby wasting so much energy lashing out at his critics, the director can simply get back to the basics and clarify some fundamental concepts of film language, especially space, time and narrative.