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Streaming on: Chorki
The five segments in the anthology series Unoloukik (meaning ‘quasi-real’) resist easy classification. Psychological thriller? Doesn’t quite apply to the events in the fourth story, Hello Ladies, where a reality show anchor (Rafiath Rashid Mithila) is able to see through TV sets into the drawing rooms of her fans, mostly housewives, and witnesses an instance of domestic abuse leading to accidental murder. Filmed in bleak black and white, the conceit seems to give a tangible form to the host’s ‘connection’ with her audience. Magical realism? Sci-fi? I don’t know.
Whereas psychological thriller might be an accurate description for Mrs Prohelika, the third story — an atmospheric two-character-one-setting drama that unfolds in a psychologist’s (Chanchal Chowdhury) chamber on a rainy night. He has a movie to catch at 9 (and is in a hurry to wrap it up); the patient (Nusrat Imroze Tisha) has a sleeping disorder. But the first thing she tells him is that she hasn’t been dreaming. Like Hello Ladies (and other shorts in the series), Mrs Prohelika takes its themes to a somewhat dystopian extreme — she hasn’t slept for two years. But unlike it, the story operates within the real.
The five episodes of Unoloukik — strange, dark, unpredictable, funny — both overlap in style and wildly differ from one another. There is a consistency in tone. This is achieved because they are all based on stories by the same author (Shibabrata Barman) and made by one director (Robiul Alam Robi), but shot by five different cinematographers — a choice that underlines how much thought went behind making it “cinematic”.
Take for instance the second episode, Don’t Write Me, in which the protagonist (Shohel Rana) — who is hiding from members of a gang after he testified against them with the cops — discovers that he is character from a short story (very meta). Perfectly in tune with the weird logic of the show, he tracks down the author (Asaduzzaman Noor) and requests him to write him a happy ending. In a darkly funny scene, he fusses over the details of the climax, asking the author to reduce the number of henchmen and so on as we get four variations of the same scene. As they are played over and over, we observe with keenness their differences — the sort of visual thinking meant for a screen experience rather than being read on paper.
Don’t Write Me is the only story that was written exclusively for the series — unlike the other pre-existing short stories by Barman, which have been adapted by the screenwriting team (Barman, Robi, Syed Ahmed Shawki, Neamoth Ullah Masum, Naseef Amin). But even something as wordy as the fifth and final episode, Dikhondito, is transformed into a living breathing marriage of visual and dialogue. We get a one-take opening sequence in which a bunch of characters trash talk in a moving vehicle — with the exception of one. It’s a stunning bit of mis-en-scene where everything is pointing towards what’s going to be a one-man show (Intekhab Dinar), a masterclass on information in a post-truth world. In the next scene, the man tells us that he will narrate five seemingly disparate stories and its upto us to join the dots. The first one is about the Hillary Step, a famed rock and a final frontier for mountaineers on their way to Everest — and a subject of contention since 2015, when a British climber claimed that it has disappeared, perhaps following the Nepal earthquake; a group of Sherpas countered him saying the rock still exists.
It’s extraordinary how much the fifth episode packs into its 23 minute runtime: from a mountaineering debate, to the partition of India and Pakistan (that concerns the existence of Bangladesh itself), to corruption in government and censorship — topped up by a twist that could only be described as…paranormal, but that seems built into the very notion that there can be alternative ‘facts’: how can two people be in two places at the same time? Once you have the whole thing in front of you, Dikhondito looks like a heist job.
Unoloukik’s genre-bending tendencies call to mind shows like Black Mirror and Love, Death & Robots. Certain stories deal with mental health the way Black Mirror deals with technology — like the first episode, Moribar Holo Tar Shaad, which treats its protagonist, who belongs to the urban rich and wants to kill himself, with seriocomic tone of satire. But unlike those shows, or for that matter most series made in India, it’s made in a lesser budget than what’s available on this side of the border. Streaming on Bangladesh’s homegrown OTT platform, Chorki (you can subscribe if you have an international debt card), Unoloukik is small in scale but big on ideas, and impressive in execution.