Director: Dhrubo Banerjee
Cast: Abir Chatterjee, Arjun Chakraborty, Ishaa Saha, Anindya Chatterjee, Kaushik Sen
Circa 1757 – Nawab Siraj-ud-Daulah has just lost the Battle of Plassey after being betrayed by Mir Jafar with the help of Jagat Seth – the richest businessman-banker in the world at the time. Towards this end, Jagat Seth had called upon the services of his friend, Raja Krishnachandra Ray of Krishnanagar. Grateful for the latter’s help, Jagat Seth lavishes his friend a treasure-trove of gems and jewellery. In keeping with court intrigues of the time, Mir Qasim, who has succeeded Jafar to the throne of Bengal, has Jagat Seth executed and Krishnachandra imprisoned but not before the latter has hidden away his considerable treasure. Over the centuries this treasure has acquired the halo of a myth, a legend.
This ‘animated’ prologue sets up Durgeshgorer Guptodhon, Dhrubo Banerjee’s follow-up to 2018’s blockbuster Guptodhoner Sandhane. Cut to the present, and you have Jhinuk (an utterly fetching Ishaa Saha) celebrating her birthday in the company of her suitor Aabir (Arjun Chakrabarty) and his ‘kaka/dada’ Sona-da (Abir Chatterjee).
In the course of the evening, Inspector Sarkar comes calling with an ornate dagger that the police have just prevented from being smuggled out of the country. Historian that he is, it does not take long for Sona-da to figure out its antiquity from a couple of names, including ‘Mehtab Chand’ (alias Jagat Seth), inscribed on it. The priceless antique then goes missing from Inspector Sarkar’s house and Sona-da is called upon to help track it down. Fortuitously for him, a student in his class mentions the dagger as a family heirloom and invites him to the upcoming Durga puja celebrations at the ancestral home of the Deb Roys in Bonpukuriya. Before long, Sona-da and his able ‘partners-in-crime’ are making their way to Bonpukuriya, in the process tumbling upon the legend of Krishnachandra Ray’s treasure.
If you find yourself longing to go back in time to experiences you have left behind and eventually lost for good, Durgeshgorer Guptodhon might just be what the doctor ordered. There’s the excitement of getting out of the city during the pujas, there are cryptic clues hidden in devotional songs and in the artworks that adorn the chaalchitra (the painted canvas that frames the idols of Goddess Durga and her family); there is the joy of watching a traditional Durga Puja unfold, starting with the adorning of the Goddess (in which itself lies clues to the mystery of the hidden treasure); there are nuggets of information on the history of Bengal, particularly Durga Puja, scattered in the narrative; there’s the thrill of watching abandoned dungeon walls open up to reveal the treasure. Time and again during the film I found myself thinking of the adolescent joys of reading the adventures of Tintin, being mesmerized by the Feluda mysteries, summer and Durga puja vacations spent in conjuring ‘treasure hunts’ of our own.
Why then does the film fail to satisfy you as much as it should have? I would like to believe that part of it is because I am long past my adolescence; that you pay a price for growing up. However, the problems with Durgeshgorer go deeper. The film suffers from a patchy screenplay that never quite soars. A couple of convenient plot-point manipulations don’t help either. How can a police officer in possession of an antique this priceless be careless and stupid enough to let a stranger into his house to look at it, that too in the dead of night? In fact, if you think about it, take this ‘lapse’ (both the officer’s and the writers’) away, and you don’t have the film!
There are turgid passages – including some laughably unconvincing fight sequences – where it’s left to the pulsating background score to ramp up the tension (take a bow, Bickram Ghosh). There’s the wholly needless flashback involving the patriarch of the Deb Roys – true it lasts only a couple of minutes, but to what purpose? Also grating is the ‘coyness’ that often marks the Aabir-Jhinuk romance. One of the delights of the first film was Aabir’s inept wooing of Jhinuk. With that accomplished, the relationship now appears to be in a limbo: Aabir being awestruck by the sight of Jhinuk in a sari, the latter chiding him for his love for food (a running joke that begins to pall soon), and Sona-da having to ‘cough’ discreetly to make his presence felt whenever the lovers get too close for comfort.
And someone urgently needs to invent a new child-character prototype in Bangla cinema – we have had enough of these cuties referring to Spiderman, Pinocchio, Mowgli (though in keeping with the times there’s also the Avengers here). I know, franchises often tick their marketing boxes by demographics – but that shouldn’t come in the way of creating something new, when the whole point of this franchise is exploring genres not done in Bangla cinema before.
These pitfalls undo the film’s other considerable strengths – the way in which it weaves a historical event into an intriguing fantasy, the top-notch camerawork by Soumik Haldar, Bickram Ghosh’s terrific background score and a string of good performances. Abir is way too seasoned an actor and he owns Sona-da in his trademark laid-back manner. Arjun and Ishaa make a winsome pair but are undone by their unidimensional characters. And though Lama Halder – one of the finest character actors in contemporary Bangla cinema, whose very presence lights up a scene – is grossly underutilized, Kharaj Mukherjee and Kaushik Sen are particular standouts.
The Guptodhon franchise is a novel experiment and more importantly good escapist fun. One only hopes that the next one goes beyond the BIG picture to address the writing, more so with Sona-da’s final ‘hello’ whetting the appetite immeasurably.