Director: Mainak Bhaumik
Cast: Sauraseni Maitra, Aparajita Adhya, Rwitobroto Mukherjee
Apu (Rwitobroto Mukherjee) has a chemistry exam. He is on Facebook, looking at the profile of the girl he has a crush on, while his mother is hollering away from the next room. Then he is literally spoon-fed by his mother (Aparajita Adhya), while he turns to the camera and addresses the viewer, in Bengali: 'Imagine if Bob Dylan had his mother feeding him milk and bread like this every day, would he have been able to compose Blowing in the Wind?'
Cut to his school, his mother holding him by the hand while he crosses the road, with a barrage of instructions on how to approach the exams. Apu once again turns to the camera: 'If your mother insists on holding you by the hand to help you cross the road, what's the point upgrading from crawling as a baby?' And adds for good measure that unless you are a Bengali, you will never understand what it means to have your mother helping you cross the road even when you are sixteen years old.
These two sequences that form the film's pre-credit prologue, and the way they are delivered – Bhaumik has time and again spoken about Woody Allen's influence on him – are alone worth the price of the ticket. However, Generation Aami, though peppered with smart one-liners – Bhaumik has a way with the turn of the phrase – is not limited to that. It's a film about the young, their dreams, their desire to break free. At the same time, it's a film about parents, their dreams, their fears for their children which often drive them to extreme lengths. More importantly, it's a film about the total breakdown of communication across generations, despite technology supposedly making communication easier.
In a telling sequence, Apu's cousin is desperately trying to reach out to the three people she needs to talk to – and in each case, the person at the other end has neither the time nor the inclination nor the 'network' to attend to her, leading to the film's most shattering sequence. It's the delicate balance that Mainak brings to these aspects that makes the film work.
Apu dreams of becoming a songwriter but has to contend with a set of parents who can't think beyond IIT. They have their reasons. The father has seen the ups and downs of life as a humble salaried man and is afraid of what life might have in store for Apu. The mother faces peer pressure from other mothers.
Adding to his already complicated family life (and his inability to comprehend chemistry), Apu has a crush on his classmate Piya, who appears to be enamoured with another guy (Apu and his friends refer to him as 'bot gaachh', a banyan tree, given that he is much older than them but is in the same class having flunked a few years). Apu doesn't have the maturity, the confidence, and 'the stubble and the bike' that 'banyan tree' has. In a delightful sequence, he tells his cousin that, as far as his love life is concerned, he is still sitting in the pavilion, pads on, with zero to his score.
Enter Apu's cousin Durga (Sauraseni Maitra), who suffers from clinical depression and has been sent to Kolkata by her parents in Delhi for treatment. Despite her battles with the demons in her mind, she is everything Apu is not – capable of doing her own thing, unmindful of authority, an iconoclast who brooks no control. Unlike Apu, she has had 'a dozen flings, all use and throw away variety, where she has been used and thrown away'. Needless to say, soon she is getting Apu to stand up for himself and his dreams – repeatedly using the line from Kabir Suman's song, 'Haal chhero na, bandhu.' (Never give up, my friend.) There's more than what meets the eye behind her façade, and it's the way Mainak plays with her character's fragility adding to Apu's growing confidence that lends the film its magic.
There are some incredibly touching moments, leavened by humour, between the cousins: Durga using the money she receives for her birthday to buy Apu his cherished guitar; the two of them sitting on the parapet of the terrace, looking at the self-help book her parents have sent her as a birthday gift, which they then set on fire
There are some incredibly touching moments, leavened by humour, between the cousins: Durga using the money she receives for her birthday to buy Apu his cherished guitar; the two of them sitting on the parapet of the terrace, looking at the self-help book her parents have sent her as a birthday gift, which they then set on fire; Apu getting his ears pierced at the bidding of Durga and proceeding to get slapped by his mother who turns away, aghast, in an indignant huff, leaving the two of them dissolving into a fit of uncontrollable laughter.
All of these lead to the film's two climactic points, one of which involves a high-octane confrontation between Apu and his father as Apu prepares to attend the music festival 'Gaanwala' to which his father is vehemently opposed. As father and son spar, and the mother tries in vain to mediate, Bhaumik encapsulates the essence of the film, giving us point of views of both the parents and the children, while underlining that there are no easy ways out, if at all, of this generation gap, which has probably endured for as long as time itself.
The performances are uniformly good, with Mukherjee a particular standout, as is Adhya, with that apprehension on her face at what her son might be coming to. Your heart goes out to Maitra's Durga, who wonderfully conveys the many turmoil that plague her mind even as she gets her brother to find his way. The young characters look their parts – these are not stars, overgrown men and women playing schoolchildren. You relate to them, you see them in real life, hanging around school gates, at cafes.
Composer Arindam Chatterjee delivers a winner in each number and Bhaumik gets just the right ingredients in the lyrics and the music for his film.
And yes, in the sister and brother bond of Durga and Apu you cannot miss the allusion to their more famous sixty-year-old avatars. The film's epilogue, a year later, plangent and contemplative, not only contrasts the laugh-out-loud prologue but also underlines the fact that it probably always takes a Durga for the Apus of the world to find their feet.