Saswata Chatterjee, Sabyasachi Chakraborty, Rini Ghosh

Director: Saptaswa Basu

Cast: Saswata Chatterjee, Sabyasachi Chakraborty, Rini Ghosh, Indrajit Mazumder, Bhaskar Banerjee

Language: Bengali

Nowhere is the surrealism of our times more palpable than in our popular media, particularly television. Between soaps that give the terms regressive and implausible a whole new meaning, news anchors and panellists screaming at each other about what the nation wants to know, and reality shows that manipulate audiences with their ‘sensational’ content, we are spoilt for choice that I for one am often conflicted about. Conflicted because at the end of the day, exhausted out of my senses, there’s nothing I like more over dinner than flicking through channels aimlessly, consuming what Mirza Ghalib said in an entirely different context: hota hai shab-o-roz tamasha meray aage. 

As I jump from prime-time news to a prime-time soap to a prime-time reality show and even tele-shopping channels, I find it fascinating how the lines between these are blurred so that news panel discussions look like reality shows which could well be soaps. Having had my fill of the day’s ‘entertainment’, as I reflect on why I go through this ritual every night, I realize that it’s because TV caters to the voyeur in us shamelessly – and even if it is for those fifteen minutes over dinner I am a voyeur.

Saptaswa Basu’s Network attempts to address a few of these aspects of popular media and it is audacious in its ambition – audacious because this is a subject that expert hands would find hard to do justice to. As far as debuts go, it’s not a bad effort. 

What he has going for him is an intriguing premise. There’s a down-and-out director, Abhijit Ganguly (Saswata Chatterjee), trying to make a comeback with a high-concept horror film different from the love stories that once made him the toast of tinsel town before three consecutive flops put him out of business. What makes this a do-or-die effort for him, literally, is that he has cancer and time is running out. There’s a hard-as-nails TV network honcho, Arindam Chakraborty (Sabyasachi Chakraborty), who will go to any lengths for success and TRPs. There are two young strugglers Raj Sengupta (Indrajit Majumdar) and Shreya Mukherjee (Rini Ghosh) wanting to make it big and who get their break as an actor (albeit in a supporting role) and an executive producer respectively in the film Abhijit is making. 

Saptaswa Basu’s Network attempts to address a few of these aspects of popular media and it is audacious in its ambition – audacious because this is a subject that expert hands would find hard to do justice to. As far as debuts go, it’s not a bad effort.

Giving away anything more would amount to spoilers, so suffice it to say that before long Abhijit discovers that another producer has already made a film that is an exact copy of the one he is making. It does not take him long to put two and two together and realize that people in his unit have not only leaked his concept but also gone on to star in and direct the film – making them the new heart-throbs of the industry. With nothing left to lose, Abhijit embarks on avenging himself, creating a TV reality show, Their Life, towards this end. It’s a celebrity lifestyle show which, in his words, would be ‘unscripted’ and would bring to viewers star lives ‘unfiltered and ‘unedited’ – and who else to star in the show than the new kids on the block, the latest industry sensations. Of course Abhijit operates in the shadows, using another director as a front, and needless to say, the stars, and Arindam (a sucker for TRPs), fall for the concept hook, line and sinker.

But if the premise holds promise, it’s the execution that undermines the film. The writing is mediocre, with the filmmakers never quite sure of the approach to take. Whether to go over-the-top, no-holds-barred, which would have worked for the film, or adopt a more meditative, philosophical take on what the media has to offer and what we, the audience, are willing to consume. Whether to focus on the aspect of personal revenge or make this an exposé of our society. As a result the film loses its way in the multiple strands it straddles, going nowhere, and taking no less than 150 minutes to get there (there as many as three songs in the first half-hour itself, weighing the narrative down even before it can get going).

The performances (barring the ever-dependable Saswata) are downright amateurish and it says a lot when even an actor of the calibre of Sabyasachi gives the impression of simply going through the motions. Lines like ‘the screen has become the retina of the mind’s eye’ and ‘heaven is just a heartbeat away’ don’t help and in the end what you are left with is the feeling that here is an opportunity lost, a classic case of high concept undone by mediocre implementation, of a debutant’s enthusiasm trumping over his ability to put his message across coherently.

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