Director: Kaushik Ganguly
Cast: Prosenjit Chatterjee, Aparajita Adhya
There is a certain pattern to the subjects Kaushik Ganguly addresses. Marginalized people we normally don’t have as protagonists in our films. Contentious subjects that make us uncomfortable and hence are seldom part of our cinematic narratives.
So it is with Kishore Kumar Junior – even if this has Prosenjit in the lead (and it does not get any bigger than him at the moment in Bengali cinema). But then this is a film that needs a certain ‘star’ quality to the protagonist even if it deals with someone who lives in the reflected glory of a true-blue legend, because in his own way he too is a ‘star’.
The popularity of Hindi and Bengali playback singers like Mohammad Rafi, Kishore Kumar, Lata Mangeshkar, Manna De has created an industry of cover artists whose voices resemble to an extent that of their more famous icons. Thanks to which they become names to reckon with, often referred to as ‘junior’, particularly in the hinterlands. So it is with someone like Gautam Ghosh who became something of a star in Bengal in the 1980s and ’90s as a Kishore Konthi, rendering Kishore Kumar songs in stage shows. And although the film is not a biopic of Gautam, it draws on singers like him to tell the fictional tale of a similar Kishore Konthi called Kishore Kumar Junior (Prosenjit).
The film begins with a classic shot as the camera approaches a man seated backstage on a plastic chair, his right hand lounging over the chair’s back. As we draw into a close-up we see him dozing and clearly fatigued – this is peak season and these shows go on almost all night, sometimes multiple shows on the same night. His Man Friday Khokon (Lama Halder in a wonderful performance that strikes a perfect balance between the comic sidekick and the empathetic friend) escorts him to the stage as he staggers unsteadily. However, the moment he is handed over the mike and the spotlight falls on him, the man is transformed as he breaks into Kishore’s classic ‘E ki holo / Yeh kya hua’.
Part of the pleasure of the film lies in the Kishore Kumar songs that literally weave the narrative together. To the credit of the director, the songs are timed to perfection. But Kaushik Ganguly gives it a bigger contemporary import as Junior is called upon by the Indian government to participate in a cross-border musical programme for the promotion of peace between Indian and Pakistan. Things, however, go horribly wrong as, arriving in Jaisalmer, Junior and his team go missing, kidnapped by a band of ‘terrorists’.
The first half of the film is pure delight, Prosenjit setting the tone with two superlative scenes. In the first, he goes after his wife Rita (Aparajita Adhya in the film’s other unforgettable act), slapping and abusing her for daring to question him coming home drunk and creating a ruckus. In the second, it is his son Rishi (Rwitobroto Mukherjee) who gives it back as good as he gets, telling his father off in no uncertain manner. Prosenjit brings to the fore the character’s inherent self-doubts and complexities about an identity of his own as his son asks, ‘Where is my father’ – and that all he sees in his father is the ghost of someone long dead called Kishore Kumar. In between there is another moving scene as Junior, dressed in the humble middle-class lungi, goes shopping for fish and drops by a teashop only to be surrounded by the localites who won’t let him go unless he renders a Kishore song. The pride that suffuses Prosenjit’s face in this scene alone is worth the price of the ticket. His son may not give him the time of day, but he means something to the strangers around him.
Part of the pleasure of the film lies in the Kishore Kumar songs that literally weave the narrative together. To the credit of the director, the songs are timed to perfection.
If the second half fails to live up to the promise of the first, it’s partly because the narrative moves into more conventional territory. Not that there aren’t nice touches here too. One of the terrorists, Feroze (Rajesh Sharma, in another of the film’s wonderful supporting acts), is a closet Kishore fan, reminiscing to Junior after he renders a version of ‘Panthi hoon main’ that his father used to sing that as a lullaby when he was a child! The play of emotions on Rajesh Sharma’s face as the song takes him back in time is as much a tribute to the song, as it is to the director’s take and the actor’s craft. There’s also the never-ending debate on ‘Who is the greater singer – Rafi or Kishore?’ as the terrorists define Rafi solely in terms of his religion and it takes Junior and Khokon to sing the popular Rafi-Kishore duet ‘Bane chahe dushman zamana hamara, salamat rahe dostana hamara’ to drive home the necessary point. There’s also Aparajita Adhya, with a hilarious Hindi accent, who is a particular standout in this section as she tries to get their kidnappers to develop a taste for Bengali food (in a classic exchange, Junior tells them that their food lacks ‘sur’ and ‘taal’ – melody and rhythm, thus creating a link between food and music).
If the second half fails to live up to the promise of the first, it’s partly because the narrative moves into more conventional territory. Not that there aren’t nice touches here too.
However, unlike the first half, which give us insights into Junior and his anxieties, there are no surprises here; and what was poignant and moving in the first half becomes sentimental in the second. You know that eventually the ‘terrorists’ will realize that music knows no frontiers, no religion. You know that Feroze will eventually help them escape. You also know that Junior’s son will come to understand how wrongly he had judged his talented father. There are also the rather schmaltzy forays into ‘maa-er hather ranna’ (food cooked by one’s mother) and how that makes all the difference to the taste. As also the rather needless music competition the son has to participate in back in Kolkata even as efforts are on to rescue Junior and his band.
Despite these drawbacks, the film worked for me. For its medley of Kishore songs. For three top-notch supporting acts by Lama Haldar, Aparajita Adhya and Rajesh Sharma. And, above all, for Prosenjit’s enigmatic take (look at him jive to madcap Kishore numbers like ‘Sing nei tobu naam taar singho’ and you know how invested he is in the role) on the pride of a life lived in the shade of greatness, despite the insecurities it entails, because for him that shadow, Kishore Kumar, is God’s.