Director: Birsa Dasgupta
Cast: Ankush Hazra, Nusraat Faria, Rudranil Ghosh, Sohini Sarkar, Anirban Bhattacharya, Priyanka Sarkar, Ambarish Bhattacharya, Puja Banerjee
Sometimes a film leaves you so numb that you are stumped for words with which to begin reviewing it. Do you kick-off with a sequence that is its saving grace – given, of course, it has one. Or do you venture with a mention of what’s essentially wrong with it? In which case where do you begin, given that almost all of it is so woefully bad? Do you still be charitable because the filmmakers have made no bones about this being an exercise in pure entertainment? Or do you go the Roger Ebert way when he reviewed North? And then serendipity strikes in the form of a tweet by an esteemed critic, about another film: ‘Those expecting an analysis of “screenplay structure, performances, editing” in reviews of films like Kabir Singh can’t seem to understand that the craft is entirely a part of the problematic plotline.’ Voila! You have your opening. So, thank you, Rahul Desai.
There is a Bengali word ‘bhadaamo’, originating from bhaad, a jester. I am not sure what its exact English equivalent is. It’s not quite slapstick – which is an art form when executed well. It does not quite mean ‘over-the-top’, which again can be fun to watch. Online Bengali-English dictionaries translate it as clowning or buffoonery, which do not make the cut for what I am looking for. In the context of Bibaho Obhijaan, the closest I can get to is ‘comedy gone horribly wrong’.
Two friends, Rajat (Rudranil) and Anupam (Ankush), have reached the end of the tether when it comes to their wives and jobs. Anupam’s wife Rai (Nusrat) is a compulsive activist, protesting and rallying for any cause coming her way – pukur theke kukur (from ponds to dogs, as a dialogue goes). She is the sort who addresses her compatriots as ‘comrades’ (there’s also mention of urban Naxals) and celebrates an anniversary shouting ‘inquilab zindabad’ before proceeding to cut a cake which has Che Guevara carved on it. At the other end of the scale is Rajat’s wife Maya (Sohini), with her daily pujas, her propensity to tie amulets on every part of her husband’s body, and her addiction to TV soaps (in a variation of coitus interruptus, she pushes her husband away on their wedding night because she has just remembered that the heroine in a serial is about to become a mother). You get the picture, right?
The sad thing is that talents like Birsa Dasgupta, Rudranil Ghosh and Sohini Sarkar are part of this tasteless concoction
The problem is not that these are stereotypes – they are and you can live with that. The problem is not that the jokes and exchanges are often ribald – they are and you know that it’s par for the course for a film like this. The problem is not that much of the proceedings is so loud, one-note and politically incorrect – it is all of these and you might have still come away smiling. The problem is that all of this is so unfunny.
The bigger problem is that so much of it is downright distasteful. Sample this: Anupam’s boss (who is on FB as ‘Lonely Ghoshal’) scans internet porn, looking for ‘desperate housewives of Kolkata’, then proceeds to describe life ‘as a library and women as books to be taken off the shelves and read’. Then comes the punchline: molat diye porbe (ensure that the book is wrapped properly – impossible to translate with any degree of precision), proffering Anupam a condom, brand Man Force, in one of the film’s many blatant and shameless product placements: Gas-o-Fast, Vishal Mega Mart, Fly Up, Bengali Matrimony.
Or consider this: a ‘comrade’ of Rai named Tara, calls herself Tarapeeth, and then turns around in a ‘sexy’ gesture to reveal her backless blouse (hence the ‘peeth’ or back in Bangla). There are homophobic digs: Anupam and Rajat having to spend a few hours at a seedy hotel room leads to a series of odious episodes and double entendre, including a police officer who tracks them mouthing ‘Ho’ and ‘Mo’ all the time. Or the effeminate young ‘man’ who boards the bus the two friends are fleeing in. There is the downright offensive episode involving a doddering old man in the bus who has to relieve himself time and again because he is a sugar patient and who threatens to call upon the human rights commission when the driver and conductor refuse to stop.
The problem is not that much of the proceedings is so loud, one-note and politically incorrect – it is all of these and you might have still come away smiling. The problem is that all of this is so unfunny
The sad thing is that talents like Birsa Dasgupta, Rudranil Ghosh and Sohini Sarkar are part of this tasteless concoction. The only one who comes through relatively unscathed is Anirban. In a definite change of pace as an actor, Anirban is a hoot as Bullet Singh, the lovelorn bandit who takes hostage a busload of passengers only to prove his mettle to the woman he loves, Malati (Priyanka Sarkar), by making it to the next day’s ‘heldaine’ in the newspaper. Given to mispronouncing words (watching ‘Kanchan Mullick’ from ‘Darleejing’) and making a hash of well-known Bengali poems and limericks, he has the film’s few really funny lines and one laugh-out-loud moment, giving the classic children’s poem ‘Chaand uthechee, phool phootechhe’ an unforgettable twist when his love returns to him: Chaand uthechhe, phool phootechhe, kadam talaye ke / Malati pher bou shejechhe, ulu de na bey (with a delightful glance at the police officers who have come to arrest him).
Oscar Wilde had this to say to Dorian Gray: ‘Never marry at all, Dorian. Men marry because they are tired, women, because they are curious: both are disappointed.’ There’s a lesson in this lurking for potential viewers of Bibaho Obhijaan, married or not, looking either for entertainment or for a few good laughs. It says something for a film when your take away from it comes in its disclaimer before the opening credits: No animals were harmed during the making of the film. Obviously, any harm caused after the making (watching it) is collateral damage and obviously the audience is not an animal that can be harmed.