Cast: Anjan Dutt, Swastika Mukherjee, Ritwick Chakraborty
Director: Pratim D Gupta
Rating: Two stars
PURE CRITIQUE OF REASON
Reviewing Shaheb Bibi Golaam (SBG), I admittedly want to be generous. The movie’s director, Pratim D Gupta, is a fellow film critic. His reviews in The Telegraph have for long been on point. More topically, SBG received from our Censor Board a very Udta Punjab treatment. At one point, they wanted Gupta to drop the word ‘Bibi’ from the title. They took issue with the moral character of his female protagonist, and as a result, the film has released in late August instead of January. With that said, I must confess that Gupta has made it a tad difficult to bat for his underdog.
A film doesn’t have to be realistic in order to be believable. But for me to suspend my disbelief, it needs to have an internal logic that is self-contained and watertight. The trouble with SPG is that it left me feeling incredulous too soon and too often. Let’s start with the Shaheb in the pack, Jimmy Luke (Anjan Dutt). A cop turned assassin, he is surprisingly at ease discussing his crimes with former colleagues in the force and with priests on the other side of confession boxes. If you want someone ‘taken care of’, you simply arrive at his doorstep. He has lost his wife. His son won’t speak to him. He cries while playing his cello, and while that is a deft touch, his life is so cinematic it just ain’t credible.
Once we’re done with Shaheb, we’re introduced to Jaya (Swastika Mukherjee), the Bibi in the tale. Unlike Sahib, Biwi Aur Gansgster, SBG is not really a modern retelling of the classic Sahib Bibi Aur Gulam. This film only borrows themes and moods from that 1962 film and Bimal Mitra’s novel. So like Meena Kumari’s Chhoti Bahu, Jaya is a frustrated wife. Her husband might be cheating on her but her response to his infidelity and her mother-in-law’s nagging is a turn to prostitution. When joining the ‘Housewives’ Club’, she makes explicit her condition – she will have the right to reject any man she chooses, yet she strangely takes to being called a ‘bitch’ and ‘slut’ by a foreign client without too much protestation. Sticking to the tenets of modern Bengali cinema, Gupta makes his brothel colourfully erotic, but he failed to convince me that the agency Jaya discovers is redemptive.
As Javed, a charming taxi driver, Ritwick Chakraborty does make an endearing Golaam. He falls in love with Rumi (Parno Mittra), a spoilt rich kid who spends her Saturday nights in clubs and the rest of her life on social networking platforms. Their love affair, one which defies class and religion, is as preposterous as Javed’s method of wooing Rumi. He simply parks his taxi outside her house for two days, and she graciously buys him a pizza. Their love is so effortless you want to cheer its subversion. Unfortunately, you realise Gupta has not put in enough effort to persuade you with SBG’s script.
These stories and characters converge in a manner that is unquestionably bizarre. Expectedly, there is violence in the film. Much of what is caused by Zico (Vikram Chatterjee), an entitled brat who rapes as easily as he swears. Chatterjee is sadly such a bad actor that you’re as repulsed by his performance as you are by his character. As the three protagonists, Dutt, Mukherjee and Chakraborty try their level best to make SBG compelling, but the film is so inconsistent, its plot so self-serving, its politics so half-baked, that it becomes impossible to savour its few moments of true pain and emotional confusion. There’s nothing worse than criticising a critic, but this time Mr Gupta, I had to.