Director: Suman Ghosh
Cast: Soumitra Chatterjee, Aparna Sen, Rituparna Sengupta, Jisshu Sengupta, Saswata Chatterjee
Somewhere towards the end of Basu Paribaar, Pranab (Soumitra Chatterjee) says, almost nonchalantly, ‘Fifty years is just a matter of time…’ A little later, when the curtains over the past have lifted, and the rain everyone has been waiting for all day has finally arrived and it’s raining as heavily as it did the day the family wants to obliterate from its memory, he adds, more pensively now, ‘Shei brishti namlo … ponchas bochhor … kom shomoy na … abaar kom…’ (So, it’s rained after all … fifty years is a long time … and yet, not quite…). It is a moment that captures the essence of the film. The past lives on in us, with all its bittersweet memories. Despite our efforts to look at it through nostalgia-tinted glasses, uncomfortable truths have a way of seeping through. And the dead often cast a long shadow over the present, the living.
Inspired by James Joyce’s story ‘The Dead’, from his celebrated collection The Dubliners, Suman Ghosh’s achingly eloquent film begins with Pranab’s voiceover of a letter, inviting his son Raja (Jisshu Sengupta) and daughter-in-law Roshni (Sreenanda Shankar) to commemorate his fiftieth wedding anniversary with Manjari (Aparna Sen), even as the camera provides an aerial view of the majestic Basu mansion, ‘Komolini’. Over the next few minutes you have the extended family all arriving at the mansion. There’s Tonu (Koushik Sen) and Pompi (Sudipta Chakraborty), the latter particularly eager to visit her Ranga maama and maami, as she calls Pranab and Manjari. There’s Raja and his sister (Rituparna), and of course Roshni, who has never been to the mansion before. We are introduced to the family retainer Phatik (Subhasish Mukhopadhyay) and the cook. But there’s also Tublu (Saswata, in the film’s defining performance), Pranab’s nephew, whose demeanour casts a shadow over the general air of festivity and goodwill.
Roshni, keen to explore the surroundings, ventures out to the old mansion next-door, despite being forbidden to do so – and soon enough the carefully built edifice of family pride and tradition begins to unravel. By the time we come to what should have been the pièce de résistance – the family dinner with Pranab making his speech (the director begins with a close-up of a slightly tipsy Soumitra and then draws back slowly to take in the entire family at the table) – everything falls apart as, aided by an embittered Tublu, the past they have taken pains to avoid literally overtakes the present, and all that the members can hope for now is grace in accepting what is.
Basu Paribaar is a triumph at almost all levels. An ensemble cast at its best (with Koushik Sen, a particular standout), scintillating dialogues that convey in their simplicity, and often with humour, all the nuances, the many shades of familial relationships. Consider, for example, the brother and sister reminiscing about their childhood days, the solace that brings, almost meditative. Or the fraught sequence between Rituparna and Koushik in the room with the hunting trophies, where you can almost cut the tension with a knife as a long-held secret comes tumbling out. The happy banter as the members gather for a family photograph even as Saswata’s body language infuses the sequence with a sense of unease. And of course the pure dynamite the climactic dining-table sequence is.
Basu Paribaar is a triumph at almost all levels. An ensemble cast at its best (with Koushik Sen, a particular standout), scintillating dialogues that convey in their simplicity, and often with humour, all the nuances, the many shades of familial relationships.
Despite the action being confined largely indoors, Suman Ghosh’s masterful handling of the material ensures that the narrative never feels static, the mansion itself becoming a character, hiding in its nooks and corners secrets that the family prefers to forget with their selective remembrances of happy summers past. In this, the director is aided immensely by another master at work – composer Bickram Ghosh, a regular collaborator with Suman. Bickram’s plangent sarod strains as Tublu wanders around the mansion is fittingly elegiac and as he breaks out into the song ‘Bhromor kohiyo giya’ in the aftermath of the dinner I was reminded of the following lines from a poem by Rilke, which symbolize the film at least for me: ‘…the fear that I might not be able to say anything, because everything is unsayable – and the other fears … I prayed to rediscover my childhood, and it has come back, and I feel that it is just as difficult as it used to be, and that growing older has served no purpose at all.’