Director: Atanu Ghosh
Cast: Ritwick Chakraborty, Jaya Ahsan, Chandrayee Ghosh, Kheya Chattopadhyay
When Kajol (Ritwick Chakraborty) and Sraboni (Jaya Ahsan) meet on the sets of a reality show in suburban Kolkata, it’s not simply two strangers meeting each other. It’s two strangers seemingly looking for the same thing in life who happen to be in the right place at the right time. She has a sob story, which she records in front of the TV crew camera, while he listens on. Seconds later, he is out to give her the handkerchief she forgot; it’s the oldest trick in the book. She has one even older; she falls and injures her hand. Oh, poor thing — her situation screams SAVE ME. They walk and talk. He takes her to a doctor. Then it starts raining. A kindly manager of an old school lodge ushers them in. The lighting becomes romantic. It’s all so fake, and phoney, and cliched — only, a few scenes later, at the end of Act 1, director Atanu Ghosh pulls the rug from under our feet.
It’ll be unwise to give out any more of the story, but let’s say Binisutoy becomes a different film from here on. We follow Kajol and Sraboni back to their individual lives, and the film becomes more enjoyable, more loose, and more unpredictable. From the drab environs of Act 1, we move to swankier parts of Kolkata. We meet other characters, like the delightfully irreverent girl (an impressive Kheya Chattopadhyay) who works under Sraboni in her family-owned tea company, where she is the Managing Director. She is separated, has no children — yet she seems to be living a fuller life than Kajol, who has a son, a wife (Chandrayee Ghosh), as well as a high-ranking, albeit, soulless job in a construction company. Four years ago, she took a call. He hasn’t, yet. What does Sraboni know about the secret to a good (or at least a better) life that Kajol doesn’t? He wants a sense of control only because he has lost it. He has made too many wrong choices. He encourages his son to take up literature. Maybe he should have studied literature, too. Whereas she has learnt the art of letting go. Binisutoy looks like a romantic film — in that it’s supposed to be about the romance between its two leads — but it isn’t quite one. It’s a story about these two characters, and how she teaches him a thing or two.
He is a novice to her pro. He has tried it four times; she is doing it for four years (what, I won’t tell you). What is play to him is for her, life itself. The film is about deceit and this dictates the design of the film. Ghosh (Mayurakshi, Robibar, Ek Phaali Rod) writes his films almost like mysteries, but this one’s a real puzzle box. He compels you to participate. I am not sure subtle is the word for it. It’s meant to screw with your head. It feels labyrinthine, maze-like, taking us through varying architecture and spaces. (I wish Debojyoti Mishra’s background score was more in sync with the scape of the film).
There are reasons why it’s told the way it is. Straightened out, it’ll sound ridiculous. Binisutoy has an unusual, fanciful central idea — that, in conventional wisdom, might be more at home in another kind of movie. Ghosh gives it the arthouse treatment: the pacing is leisurely, the takes are long. But it also means that the film is not merely operating on a realistic level, but from a philosophical one — a rumination on companionship in the age of social media. Appropriately, it begins with a Dostoevsky quote.
Chakraborty and Ahsan play along. (They need to be seen together more often). There’s nothing left to be said about Chakraborty that hasn’t been said before, except here he has a character that’s tough to buy and he’s pretty much the best man for the job. Ahsan is deceptively wicked, shape-shifting as the film progresses into a woman who is wholly human and completely mysterious. She has the capacity to surprise and appear unrehearsed, as in her reaction shot during the junior girl’s farewell speech where she mixes embarrassment (of having been endlessly thanked for being her mentor) with a laugh.
Binisutoy is not an easy film to like, and is all the more rewarding for it. Time to time, you get the feeling that Ghosh might have gone a bit too far with trying not to spell things out, but that’s part of the fun. It’s hard to come by a new mainstream Bengali film that is this challenging, and that, instead of infantilising the viewer, does quite the opposite. The film’s final scene touches a kind of spiritual chord and you think of the opening line in Kajol’s voice: ‘One day, suddenly, someone will come and wake us up…’ Binisutoy, after all, is the kind of film that begins after it ends.
Binisutoy is playing in theatres in Kolkata