Director: Pratim D. Gupta

Cast: Adil Hussain, Paoli Dam, Parno Mittra, Anjan Dutt, Ritwick Chakraborty, Chitrangada Chakraborty, Mamata Shankar

Language: Bengali

Ahare Mon – for those who are not aware of the nuances of the Bengali language, the phrase could be translated into something like ‘Haaye mera dil!’, or ‘O poor heart!’. But that would entail missing the essence of Pratim D. Gupta’s charming new film. Because what Pratim brings to the four stories that make the film, with characters weaving in and out of each, goes beyond just the heart, its longings, its dreams. That is where the difference lies between ‘mon’ (the mind) and ‘hridoy’ (the heart). There are yearnings, there are desires that echo beyond what the heart is capable of, that only the mind can hope to capture.

There’s a monologue right at the end of the 1990 Robert De Niro-Jane Fonda starrer, Stanley and Iris, where Stanley’s voiceover is reading out a letter to Iris: ‘Now, I want to say something to you, and I want to say it right and spell it right. Thank you. Not just from my heart, but from my head, where ideas and dreams come from.’ For some reason Pratim’s film reminded me of that beautiful sentiment. It would be doing Ahare Mon a disservice by calling it a love story or a romantic comedy.

What makes the film work is not just how skilfully the director weaves the stories together – that’s a sine qua non for a film like this – but how he keeps the proceedings intriguing

It’s hard to describe a film like this without giving out plot elements or twists that a viewer should experience without being aware of them. So, here is the basic plot outline – not that the film is so much plot-driven as it is character-and-dialogue driven. Ramona (Paoli Dam), a single woman, befriends an immigration officer at Kolkata airport, Purnendu (Adil Hussain), while flying out for a holiday to Italy. A relationship blooms – or does it? Charulata (Mamata Shankar), having lost her husband a year ago, moves into an old-age home and comes across Barun (Anjan Dutt), who has been living there for years. As they get to know each other, she tells him about a stranger she had met twenty-five years ago on a holiday in Thailand who keeps writing a letter to her every month without providing a sender’s address. This goads Barun into action as he sets out with Charu to find the man. Michael Tendulkar (Ritwick Chakraborty) and Suzie Q (Parno Mittra’s) are two ‘thieves’ (that is so demeaning, as old-school as climbing walls to break into homes, as Suzie says – hustler or swindler is how she would rather call herself!) – their relationship as quirky as their names (with Michael insisting on calling her Sujee!). And then there’s the young cancer-stricken Titli (Chintrangada), who adores Bengali superstar Dev and lives, it seems, only for him.

What makes the film work is not just how skilfully the director weaves the stories together – that’s a sine qua non for a film like this – but how he keeps the proceedings intriguing, throwing in a twist every time you least expect it, which gives the film a lightness that belies the core underlying each story: the loneliness of the human condition. One way he achieves this is through the dialogue. Not that there is much of it – Pratim knows to use his words well. Consider the scene where Charulata arrives at the old-age home and its residents ask her whether her name was inspired by Tagore or Satyajit Ray. When she replies that she was born around the time Ray’s classic released, one of the inmates says, ‘Thank god, Podi Pishi did not release at the time!’

There’s scarcely a false note in the performances. Each one shines in the ensemble cast

Or consider the first encounter between Michael and Suzie and how they articulate their different approach to their ‘profession’, the old-school-climbing-up-the-wall pro Michael and the chilled-out new-age Suzie, who loves to break in not so much to steal as to stay in these posh homes overnight. She tells him to break open the safe while she gets some hot chocolate with Hershey’s syrup!

Or when Titli, hospitalized after a relapse, speaks of her idol Dev to the elderly gentleman next to her who hasn’t heard of anyone by that name – in fact, he hasn’t heard of anyone after Uttam Babu! Or the immigration officer asking a man returning from China if the Great Wall is actually that long or a Chinese propaganda!

It is exchanges like these – savour the scene where Titli is looking at her mobile and keeps asking the other patients in the clinic what time it is; the revelation is a delight – that light up the film, ensuring that the proceedings never get maudlin. These are stories that could have easily gone down the sentimental route – old people abandoned by their families, a single woman and an essential Everyman, who has lost out on life more or less, dealing with loneliness, a cancer patient with a crush on a superstar. And in a welcome change from being politically correct, the writer-director is not afraid to have Purnendu’s colleagues making a joke of his SC status or Michael calling ‘green tea’ a Marwari conspiracy.

Ritwick Chakraborty and Parno Mittra make a winning combination and pull it off without ever playing to the gallery

There’s scarcely a false note in the performances. Each one shines in the ensemble cast. Adil Hussain is a standout as Purnendu and you can almost touch the essential goodness of the character in every gesture, every look. Paoli Dam, in a small role, is a revelation. Mamata Shankar and Anjan Dutt are of course old masters and they deliver in spades. Ritwick Chakraborty and Parno Mittra make a winning combination and pull it off without ever playing to the gallery, which they could have given the tenor of their characters. Young Chitrangada strikes just the right chord as the cancer patient who dreams of watching Champ, seated next to her superstar idol. And if the dream does come true, it’s not the director forcing a wish-fulfilment ending – but that even when a hundred desires go abegging, even one dream coming true makes one look forward to life.

In my half-yearly round-up I called Haami the best Bengali film of the year so far. Make that Ahare Mon.

Rating:   star
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