Directors: Haranath Chakraborty, Sujit Mondal and Raja Chanda
Cast: Prosenjit Chatterjee, Jeet, Soham Chakraborty, Srabanti Chatterjee, Sayantika Banerjee and Rittika Sen
When a film’s theme song accompanying its credit titles screams ‘Cinema maane action’ (Films mean action) and goes on to elucidate what the villain is about to face, you pretty much know what you are in for: either a full-on masala entertainer that you can enjoy as one of your guilty pleasures, or a full-on masala entertainer that lacks both masala and entertainment. Unfortunately, Bagh Bandi Khela falls in the second category and what you have on display is just full-on star power trying to hold up material impossible to hold up.
The first section of the film, Bagh, directed by Raja Chanda, deals with the exploits of a MI (yes!) agent nicknamed Bagh assigned to protect the chief minister of the state from potential assassins operating from Bangkok. Jeet plays the agent with as much chutzpah as one expects from him, alternating between the superhero super-spy – running in slow-mo, scaling down skyscrapers, taking off in a jet-ski boat and coming down in a parachute while beating the baddies to pulp – and the timid husband at home who spends an inordinately long time in the bathroom (which has a hidden panel with satellite phones and gadgets he uses to track his foes!), much to the chagrin of his wife (played by Sayantika) who has no clue about his profession. The action is predictable, the plot barely holds together even for the 50-odd minutes of running time, and you don’t expect any histrionics, do you?
What makes this part just about passably entertaining are the one-liners which are a hoot. Jeet offering his adversaries a choice between two bus stops: Keyatala (with a potential upscale high-life) or Keoratala (Kolkata’s famous burning ghats), or between ‘maayer aador’ (mother’s love) and ‘gaayer opor shada chador’ (a shroud). Jeet telling his wife how one can search for anything on Google – including a shutki maachher bazaar, complete with its pungent smell. Then there’s the voiceover announcing Jeet’s character as ‘the tiger who never sleeps and is always on the hunt’ and as ‘tiger means destination to death’. Or the two classic dialogues in the segment’s climax: one, when Bagh, beaten to a pulp, is still breathing, and the villain, who calls himself an ‘undercover don’ as opposed to Bagh’s ‘undercover spy’, gleefully says, ‘Tiger zinda hai’ (your cue to whistle out loud); and two, when the gang of terrorists bring Bagh’s wife as hostage, the tiger rises with the seeti-maar dialogue: ‘Baagher saathe baaghini thakle oke shikar kora jaayena’ (You can’t hunt a tiger when its mate is with it!). Go figure.
Sadly, the second segment, Bandi, directed by Sujit Mondal, does not have even the limited pleasures of the first. For one, unlike the first and third, where the titles are ‘logically’ linked to the stories, here I kept scratching my head as to what bandi could be referring to, until right at the end when the characters use the word thrice in the span of a sequence to explain why this segment is called that.
The final segment, Khela, directed by Haranath Chakraborty, for all its flaws, is the only one that makes some sense, either because of what Prosenjit brings to the table or because of its basic premise.
Hiru (Soham) and Joyee (Srabanti Chatterjee) are wedding planners who bicker constantly with each other until Hiru inadvertently witnesses and records a political murder (don’t ask how). Following which, the duo makes a run for it, ending up in Varanasi (don’t ask why). It’s the kind of film where a couple on the run from killers cutaway to exotic locales to sing a love song, where you are supposed to laugh at names like Dabra and Abra (Debranjan Roy and Abani Roy), or at the sheer comic genius of the couple hiding behind well-oiled wrestlers to dodge the killer and his henchmen, or at lines like ‘Tumi sense e achho na nonsense e achho’ (untranslatable), ‘Aami tokey naarkel gaach bhebe joriye aachi (I am embracing you like one would a coconut tree).
The final segment, Khela, directed by Haranath Chakraborty, for all its flaws, is the only one that makes some sense, either because of what Prosenjit brings to the table or because of its basic premise. In fact, at the hands of better film-makers this had the potential of being a full-fledged film of its own with a strong comment on the justice system.
Agnidev Roy (Prosenjit) is a super-successful defence lawyer who specializes in getting rapists and murderers off the hook using loopholes in the system. He is unrepentant about the flak he gets because for him the law is just a game he enjoys playing (hence ‘khela’), till of course his wife leaves him and his daughter’s best friend is gang-raped by the same trio he had helped set free in an earlier case. Now forced to rethink his position vis-à-vis the law, he turns into a vigilante, taking the law in his own hands. But given the ham-handed treatment, this one too fails to do justice to the premise, ending up as just another potboiler. However, one can’t help but applaud when Prosenjit, the God of contemporary Bengali cinema, says, “It’s God who metes out final justice, even if not with His own hands, through his agent!”
‘Bagh bandi khela’ refers to a game, a sort of cat-and-mouse one, described by Wikipedia as ‘a two-player abstract strategy board game where two tigers attempt to elude and capture as many goats while they attempt to trap the tigers.’ Now, that makes for an interesting premise, full of possibilities of intrigue, plotting, chases – but no, here it’s just a play of words that stands for the three sections of the film: Bagh, Bandi and Khela. Anthology films generally have a thematic link running through the segments but not here, though some reviewers have described it as a film about ‘crime and its consequences’. Really? As far as I am concerned, here the film-makers are the ‘bagh’ (tigers) who have you ‘bandi’ (captive) for 156 minutes and are playing (‘khela’) with your senses.
This must be the only film where one needs to describe the star rating in almost as much length as the review itself. There’s a ‘logic’ behind those two stars that I have for the film – which is more than I can say of the film. I could have given one star for each of the big stars in each section, or I could have treated the film as three separate films and given each one star. But three stars would not only be a misleading rating for the film, it would also be unfair to the first and last films (which have a sprinkling of enjoyable masala) and unfairly charitable to the second (which is abysmally tasteless). So, it’s one star for Bagh (for its dialogue-baazi), one star for Khela (for the kernel of an idea that could have made a good dramatic film), one star for the music by Jeet Gannguly, and minus one for the dud that Bandi is.