Director: Anjan Dutt
Cast: Raima Sen, Arjun Chakrabarty, Anirban Bhattacharya, Arindam Sil, Sauraseni Maitra
Anjan Dutt has long been a chronicler of Kolkata in his films. One has almost come to recognize the signature tune of an Anjan Dutt film – urbanites dealing with existential crisis, people coping with broken families and relationships, antsy, edgy characters who have given up on their dreams and often operate in a morally twilight zone, hurting each other, seeking some sort of closure, redemption, with the city hovering large in the backdrop. And almost all of the drama no-holds-barred, most often an octave or two higher than one is comfortable with.
Finally Bhalobasha retains some of these tropes, particularly in terms of the characters – a physically abused wife looking for freedom from the hell she inhabits, a dying man seeking friendship with the male nurse who tends to him in a hospice, a confused young girl from a broken family who bonds with an elderly man suffering from arthritis. Yet it is in many ways a film unlike most in Dutt’s oeuvre, nowhere more so than the narrative moving out of Kolkata (which, though the backdrop of one of the stories, is never ‘The City’ as it is in his other films) to Asansol and Darjeeling. And despite its tagline, ‘Hormones run faster than emotions’, this is an uncharacteristically subdued film, with the director eschewing the in-your-face for the understated. Also, unlike the typical Dutt film, the music never overwhelms the narrative, though the three songs that punctuate its stories are exceptional, as is the background score which enhances the mood immeasurably.
This is a film that revels in its small moments. Having just witnessed his boss (Arindam Sil) brutally battering his wife Malavika (Raima Sen), the greenhorn assistant Bibek (Arjun Chakrabarty) tentatively walks up to her and asks he if she is okay and would like a glass of water. A guitar chord strikes in the background and you know a connection has been made. A young aspiring actor dying of AIDS, Joy (Anirban Bhattacharya), tells his nurse Rajat (Suprobhat Das) that he had always wanted to come to this particular spot with his lover who ended up marrying someone else and moving to America. When Rajat asks why ‘she’ left him, Joy, twirling a flower in his hand, says, nonchalantly, his lover was a man. Or witness the almost orgasmic pleasure on Dinesh’s (Anjan Dutt) face as a young Ahiri (Sauraseni Maitra) sprays his arthritis-wracked back with a painkiller. These are moments charged with sensuality and yet work better because of the understatement that marks the execution.
A narrative like this, fragmented into chapters, always runs the risk of remaining standalone episodes stitched together to make a film. However, here it not only comes together beautifully with the final chapter
To these ‘small’ moments add the little dreams these characters have nurtured – Rajat has always wanted to be a boxer and found his way to the hospice after being a petty hawker, a rickshaw-puller, among other menial jobs. Ahiri has dreams of being an air-hostess but has studied economics and is now fed up of playing ‘baul jazz’ on the trumpet. Even a marginal character like Bibek’s co-worker (Saurav Das) in the factory in Asansol dreams of setting up a highway restro-bar where he can play and sing his own songs. What you have then is a strangely affecting film that you carry with you well after you have left the hall.
A narrative like this, fragmented into chapters, always runs the risk of remaining standalone episodes stitched together to make a film. However, here it not only comes together beautifully with the final chapter, ‘Finally Bhalobasha’, but never feels like a patch-up work thanks to, one, the writing which sparkles with wit despite the bleakness of the narratives, and two, an ensemble cast on top of its game. If Arindam Sil (with his constant refrain on ‘body and reflex’) is a standout as the brutish husband with a manic gleam in his eye and a body language that in its misleading friendliness screams, ‘don’t cross my path’, Sauraseni proves that Generation Amiwas no fluke. Watching her engage in repartee with the veteran Anjan Dutt, who makes the mistake of calling her a spoilt brat and is given a lecture on, courtesy Bob Dylan, not criticizing what you can’t understand, or that final wistful look she casts as Dinesh walks away from her is to be in the presence of an actor worth watching out for.
The Anirban-Suprobhat jugalbandi (despite a couple of high-pitched melodramatic aberrations) is an immensely moving statement on male bonding, with Anirban having a whale of a time with his parodies of iconic film monologues, be it ‘Yeh duniya ik rangmanch hai’ (Anand), ‘Pehle uss aadmi ka sign leke aao’ (Deewaar) or ‘You talkin’ to me’ (Taxi Driver), all but driving his caretaker, whom he derides as ‘Rocky Baal-boa’, up the wall. And that final look on Anirban’s face in the fading light from the window, as he breathes his last, alone is well worth investing your time in the film.
The only character I wish were developed more fully is Raima’s. There’s a scene right at the start where soon after being brutally assaulted, she is being fondled by her husband, a vacant look in her eyes. No sooner than he leaves, she puts on her shades, and a change comes over her face that reminded me of those femme fatales of 1940s Hollywood. Unfortunately, the strand is never fully realized, and I would have loved to see more of the ‘docile’ Raima as a scheming seductress.
But on almost all other counts, this is an unpretentious film, and if love is indeed as much a malady as are insomnia, arthritis and HIV positive – the titles of the film’s three stories – on the evidence of Finally Bhalobasha, it is a malady well worth experiencing.