Director: Rajesh Dutta, Ipsita Roy Sarkar
Cast:Paran Bandopadhyay, Kharaj Mukherjee, Moon Moon Sen
Some cinematic experiences overwhelm you, leaving you at a loss for words; others leave you at a loss! There is no doubt as to which category Abar Basanta Bilap belongs. It is inconceivable that a mainstream film in circa 2018 can be so sloppy on almost all counts. At no point in the course of its 137 minutes does this feel like anything more than a series of random sequences put together, trying their damnedest to make you laugh. And to think that this apology of a comedy actually harks back to the 1973 film starring Soumitra Chatterjee, Aparna Sen and a host of brilliant character actors running riot in and around a girls’ hostel named ‘Basanta Bilap’.
Here, the Bengali publishing house which houses the film’s two lead protagonists – its manager Paran (Paran Bandopadhyay) and its proof-reader Anadi (Kharaj Mukherjee) – is named Basanta Bilap. As the ‘voluptuous’ Shakuntala (Moon Moon Sen in a poorly written and even more poorly executed role) arrives with a proposal to publish a book, for some unfathomable reason she brings in the words ‘basanta bilap’ into the conversation, apropos of nothing, and we are informed that the proprietor had named his firm after watching the evergreen comedy.
This is the kind of comedy which actually uses ‘funny’ music to underscore that a scene is supposed to make you laugh. This is the kind of film that expects you to laugh when Moon Moon Sen asks Kharaj to call her Suchitra Sen!
Needless to say, Shakuntala sets a few hearts aflutter with her coquettish ways, her come-hither demeanour – not least that of the elderly bachelor Paran, while Anadi finds himself increasingly uncomfortable with the attention Shakuntala bestows on him as it brings him into the firing line of his manager. Add to this mix Anadi’s no-good, jobless son Shibu (Anubhav Kanjilal) who prefers stalking the resident ‘beauty’ Radhika (Devlina Kumar in by far the worst performance in the film), a group of ‘rock-baaz dadas’ – that quintessential Kolkata entity – led by the garrulous Ghonta-da (Sumit Samaddar), and an effeminate teacher Dimpy-da (the popular RJ, TV host and comedian Mir, in a performance he might well find hard to live down), and what you have is an unholy mess masquerading as a film.
This is the kind of comedy which actually uses ‘funny’ music to underscore that a scene is supposed to make you laugh. This is the kind of film that expects you to laugh when Moon Moon Sen asks Kharaj to call her Suchitra Sen! Whose makers imagine that audiences will find it funny that the book the Moon Moon Sen character is writing is called Saat Paake Badha (one of her mother Suchitra Sen’s iconic roles).
This is the kind of film that, when you sit down to write about it, makes you wonder: well, did that scene of the group of local dadas on a drinking binge at night really follow the scene in the publishing office when Shakuntala makes her entry (to the strains of, believe it or not, the evergreen Kishore Kumar number ‘Dream girl’! – you are supposed to laugh here). You look at the notes you have made in the theatre and see that you have scribbled that down; but why? Could you have got it wrong? Because it makes no sense. But does it matter? Do you care? No, because, as I have already mentioned – the whole film is a series of random scenes that follow no pattern.
So, you have a dream sequence involving the effete teacher with a Rishi-Kapoor-in-Sagar fixation (that’s why he is called Dimpy, after Dimple Kapadia) – under the shower, fantasizing about Ghonta-da while a couple of musicians belt out the unforgettable ‘Sagar theme’ (you are supposed to laugh here too) – segueing into Shibu with a noose around his neck being accused by Radhika for some reason that escapes me now! Luis Bunuel anyone?
A melodrama gone wrong you can live with. A no-brainer actioner you can possibly sit through. But a comedy gone wrong … well, it runs the risk of ending up as a comedy of errors, the accent being on errors.
In the end, what remains are a couple of fine comic talents wasted, in particular Paran Bandopadhyay and Mir. If anything, the former is the only saving grace of the film, as the lovesick man given to humming songs at the drop of a hat. Just consider the scene where he bursts into the S.D. Burman classic ‘Shono go dokhino hawa, prem korechhi aami’ after he first meets Shakuntala. He has what are probably the only couple of scenes that raise a genuine laugh.
Kharaj Mukherjee is too one note to be funny right through, though he has the odd good moment that tickles the funny bone. As is Sumit Samaddar. There’s a thin line that separates the slapstick from the offensive – and the sequences involving Dimpy-da lusting after Ghonta-da crosses that line with total disregard for good taste. Debutante Abhinav Kanjilal has a thankless job saddled with the role he is. And when towards the end Radhika comes around to profess her love, in what is probably the worst-acted scene in the film, you can only cringe at the triteness of the situation and the amateurish manner in which it is executed.
Actors and film-makers have been on record that comedy is probably the toughest act to pull off. A melodrama gone wrong you can live with. A no-brainer actioner you can possibly sit through. But a comedy gone wrong … well, it runs the risk of ending up as a comedy of errors, the accent being on errors. Abar Basanta Bilap is a one such. It’s not by any stretch – all 137 minutes of it, give or take a minute of two of genuine laughs – the laugh riot its makers make it out to be. The word ‘bilap’ means a lament, a wail. The makers got that part all right – even if unintentionally so.
I’m going with two stars, for the two-odd genuinely funny scenes in the whole movie.