Soumitra Chatterjee

Director: Anik Datta

Cast: Soumitra Chattopadhyay, Madhabi Mukhopadhyay, Ritwick Chakraborty, Koushik Sen, Bidipta Chakraborty, Paran Bandopadhyay

Who is Borunbabu’s friend? He is first mentioned toward the end of the film’s interval, when his name is announced as the President of India—Borunbabu (Soumitra Chattopadhyay), seated with his wife (Madhabi Mukhopadhyay) in front of the TV, raises the volume. In the course of the film, we will learn that they were best friends in school; in fact it was Borunbabu who had taught him the basics of politics and introduced him to communist literature. Why they are not great friends anymore is a bit of a mystery, and Borunbabu himself is largely silent about it. (The last time they met, we are told, was in 1998). Some light is shed by Siddartha (Koushik Sen), Borunbabu’s elder son, who is heard talking to his wife, Raka (Bidipta Chakraborty), about an incident during the Emergency: Borunbabu went to jail, and his friend—who had possibly just began to climb the hierarchy of the political establishment—didn’t do much. Borunbabu’s friend toed the line, Borunbabu didn’t. Maybe that’s why he has remained a respected writer, and not a particularly famous one. 

One day, Borunbabu wakes up to see a Pro-Government Op-ed in the newspaper, which praises a problematic policy, and writes an acerbic Letter-to-Editor in response. When a poet, who has turned into a Government stooge, comes visiting Borunbabu, making a thinly veiled offer to join them—‘You’ll be an asset to us,’ he tells him—the way he asks him to leave is as acid-tongued. (A meta reference too, given Datta hasn’t been in the good books of the West Bengal government, and that Chattopadhyay has been a lifelong CPM supporter). All of which earns the the disapproval of his family members: his sons, their wives, their children, who think that Borunbabu could use some of his contacts, and they could benefit from it. 

The film begins with his 80th birthday and ends the morning after his 81st birthday, the two dates bookending a year of his life, during which the hypocrisies of the Bengali middle class family is exposed

But Borunbabu’s tough resolve to hold on to his principles is challenged, when the President decides to pay his old friend a visit, on the day of his birthday. That’s the film’s central conceit. Suddenly every family member cares about Borunbabu. 

The film begins with his 80th birthday and ends the morning after his 81st birthday, the two dates bookending a year of his life, during which the hypocrisies of the Bengali middle class family is exposed; Datta assembles a solid ensemble of actors such as Ritwick Chakraborty, who plays his younger son, Paramartha, and Paran Bandopadhyay, who plays Sukumar, a childhood friend. All the fawning and bragging that ensues reminded me of the collective reaction of the Bengali community that followed the Nobel win by the economist Abhijit Banerjee last year. We never see this friend of Borunbabu’s, but we get a a blurry glimpse of a photograph in which he even looks a bit like the Nobel laureate. With Datta (Bhooter Bhabishyat, Aschorjyo Prodeep, Meghnadbodh Rohoshyo), playful with pun, wordplay, innuendo, and satire, you never know.

The home truths that his film (co-written by Utsav Mukherjee) tries to convey come across as a little too pat: a story of old age and selfish children; the clash of old and new ideals. For a while it’s fun to see Borunbabu’s petit bourgeois family members getting what they deserve, but after a point it becomes a bit predictable. Few scenes, for instance, match the subtlety and sharpness of the scene where Raka, one of the daughter in laws, sing a soulless rendition of a Rabindrasangeet on Borunbabu’s 80th birthday, where the off-ness of the moment is conveyed through the body language of the actors. The family drama part doesn’t always work, the political undertones are the real surprise of the movie, adapted from a story by Ramapada Chowdhury. I don’t want to give spoilers, but a final plot twist involves the outbreak of riots. What is happening in Delhi right now is not a riot; it’s a pogrom, and the way the film echoes it is uncanny.

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