It takes an intrepid filmmaker to make his debut with an adaptation of Shakespeare – that too one that incorporates three of the Bard's plays, Othello, Macbeth and Julius Caesar. The film went on to feature in a 2016 conference on 'Indian Shakespeares on Screen' organized by the British Film Institute and the University of London to commemorate 400 years of the Bard's death. According to the organizers, '[The director's cinematic treatment] … is refreshing and effective … modifying and playing with Shakespeare's characters/styles in order to make his own statement about what Shakespeare means to a contemporary audience.' 1n 2015, the film was included in a PhD thesis, 'Shakespeare and Indian Cinema', at the Tisch School of Arts at New York University. In the same year, Oxford, Cambridge and the Royal Society of Arts (OCR) Examination Board enlisted the film in the syllabus for its A-Level Drama and Theatre course – the only other Indian film to feature besides Vishal Bhardwaj's Omkara.
The film: Hrid Majharey (2014). The director: Ranjan Ghosh. "I was exposed to Shakespeare right in my childhood. My first memory of the Bard is an aural one. My mother would be reading out from the text to my elder sister in her study. We had Julius Caesar in our syllabus. So, I guess, elements of the three plays made their way into Hrid Majharey quite organically," says Ghosh.
One would have thought the international acclaim for Hrid Majharey should have eased the road for the director's next venture Rong Beronger Korhi (Colours of Money, 2018), an anthology of four short stories dealing with relationships and the role money plays in our lives. Sadly, despite an immensely successful run in international festival circuits, the film barely managed a theatrical release in India.
Comprising four stories titled 'Red', 'Blue', 'Glitter' and 'White', it intelligently uses the colours to convey the dynamics between the characters inhabiting them. In the words of the director, 'Money is the central character here and how it assumes different colours through its interactions with different people and their interesting lives forms the crux of the film. It is 'Red' when it deals with two people who love each other, it becomes 'Blue' when love goes unrequited, it 'Glitters' gold denoting greed and finally turns 'White', signifying loss and sacrifice, showing that money is devoid of all value when you lose someone near and dear.'
What makes the film especially heartening for me is the way Ghosh explores rural and small-town Bengal, almost entirely missing from popular Bengali cinema today. "Villages and stories from rural settings have almost disappeared from our cinema. As if they don't exist anymore. I consciously wanted to explore their lives," the thirty-five-year-old filmmaker says.
'Red' is a delightful tale of two illiterate villagers (Soham Chakraborty and Arunima Ghosh) approaching a clerk working for a lawyer in the panchayat office for a 'devorce' as they pronounce it, with the wife insisting on 'something called "alumuny"'. In 'Blue', a young girl (Arunima again, and totally unrecognizable from the first) marries a rich elderly man who is doomed to an early death which will lead to her inheriting his property and enable her to marry the impoverished boy she is in love with. The two other stories 'Glitter' and 'White', both starring Rituparna Sengupta in diametrically different roles, a prostitute in the former and a widowed, ailing mother in the latter, lack the ingenuity of the first two but are redeemed by standout performances and the director's eye for the minutiae of everyday life. The final segment, chronicling the relationship between a mother and her teenage son, strongly reminiscent of the relationship between Apu and his mother in Satyajit Ray's celebrated trilogy, is a little heavy in drawing on the symbolism between the mother and the Mother Goddess, despite an affecting performance by Rwitobrota Mukherjee.
Actress Rituparna Sengupta says, "Ranjan conceptualized Rong Beronger Korhi uniquely … The way he explained the nuances of each character in an ensemble cast was an eye-opener. It was a soul-searching experience for me to go through two entirely different roles. I am glad I was part of it because I believe Ranjan is destined for greater things. The kind of buzz Ahaa Re has created, with over 250,000 views of its trailer, is quite awesome."
Be it exploring human nature and relationships through three diverse plays of Shakespeare or through the myriad colours of money or through food in his forthcoming film, the director has shown a welcome propensity to experiment with diverse themes and styles. And, to his credit, has managed this without the backing of a big studio so far.
Ahaa Re (a clever play on the word 'Ahaar', meaning food, and the word 'Ahaare' used to commiserate someone coping with the tribulations of love) deals with the relationship between a young and rich chef from Dhaka, Farhaz (Arifin Shuvo), and a home-delivery cook, Basundhara (Rituparna), in Kolkata. "To my mind, food is an emotion that binds us all. In Ahaa Re, it binds two people from different religions, class and countries. The bond comes through their shared passion for cooking. Food and cooking are the trigger points for an emotional and poignant love story," says Ghosh. On the evidence of Hrid Majharey and Rong Beronger Korhi, Ahaa Re could well be a mouth-watering dish, well worth the wait.