Director: Debaloy Bhattacharya
Cast: Anirban Bhattacharya, Mimi Chakraborty, Bidipta Chakraborty, Rudranil Ghosh
A naxal youth is being led by the police on a wintry morning in a field. It’s 1971 Calcutta. We hear a gunshot. In the next scene, we are in present day Kolkata. A man (Anirban Bhattacharya) is making an omelette for dinner as his landlord yells at him from the other side of the wall—he doesn’t pay his rent on time. He wears a morose look.
That man—his name is Raktim, which signifies the colour of blood—is a school teacher. He covers his mouth while speaking lest it reveals his pair of fangs. But instead of being feared, he is made fun of, treated like a freak. One of his students go and write on the blackboard the title of the film, Dracula Sir. It’s a good start, full of possibilities. But most Bengali films these days start with potentially good ideas and doesn’t take them anywhere, and Dracula Sir, directed by Debaloy Bhattacharya, is no exception.
It’s as if the makers came up with the idea of connecting the Naxal movement and a Vampire story and tried to work backwards, but couldn’t find a creative way to do it. It’s a noble thought on the makers’ part to root a horror film into a social truth of Bengal—in line with the kind of films being made today in the genre. But the film is interested in using the Naxal movement only as a backdrop without really diving deep into what great social injustice it wants to throw light on. (Raktim is a saviour to his landlord’s wife, played by Bidipta Chakraborty, and in another parallel track set in the past, Mimi Chakraborty, who is hit upon by a local drunk, played by Rudranil Ghosh). I lost count of the number of times Nabarun Bhattacharya’s ‘Ei Mrityu Upatyaka Amar Desh Na’ is iterated.
Like everything else in the film, it’s used cosmetically, to come across as intellectually serious. Dracula Sir doesn’t have the intent, or the ability, to critique the present day politics of the country. There’s a token reference to a Vidyasagar statue being desecrated in Kolkata, a real incident that was allegedly done by a right wing outfit last year, but nothing comes of it. Characters say things like ‘the greatest love letters were written from the trenches’. A cop shouts at a Naxal sympathiser ‘You guys think Tagore is a bourgeois poet’. The track that plays out between Bhattacharya and his Rabindrik ex-lover Manjari (Chakraborty) that is quite frankly very boring. The film keeps throwing biplobi cliches and hopes to disguise its lack of coherence. All we want going into a movie called Dracula Sir is in the hope that we are told a good story, clearly and simply. But Dracula Sir doesn’t even get the basics right in that regard.
Neither is it able to serve something fun. You only see glimpses of that kind of trashy pleasure: when you see a copy of a Bangla pulp novel of a student in the class Raktim teaches in, or blood spurting out when Raktim bites his landlord and makes his first kill. I was disappointed, because I like watching Bhattacharya on screen (he is unable to rise above the script), I have a fondness for the genre and I liked the way the film starts.
But disappointment turns into mild irritation when the film starts glossing over the shortcomings in the screenplay with music video like passages, where maudlin songs play over visuals of Bhattacharya and Chakraborty in slo-mo. We start getting moments that are there just for effect, like him dancing with snowflakes flying around him, or running over a flyover at night like Joker in The Dark Knight. There are multiple shots of Raktim drowning his face in a bucket of water like Dev D. I am no big fan of ‘realism’ in cinema, but these things have to work according to the internal logic of a film’s world.
Vampire lore is varied and many. It’s different in different parts of the world. There is a series called The Strain, co-created by Guillermo del Toro, that locates vampire myth in the Nazi ruled Poland in the 1930s and connects it to a present-day pandemic in New York. The recent Netflix film, Bulbbul, imagined a Churail origin story in the oppression of women in late 19th century Bengal. The makers of Dracula Sir try to find it in Calcutta in the Naxal days. But it shies away from the supernatural phenomenon it promised us at the start. The explanation in the end feels like a betrayal.