Director: Srijit Mukherji
Cast: Prosenjit Chatterjee, Aryann Bhowmick, Anirban Chakrabarti
Streaming on: Hoichoi
How do you talk about Srijit Mukherji's Kakababu films with a straight face anymore? The first one was a death knell for the imagination of those who grew up reading the stories. The second one, Yeti Obhijaan, has become a classic of the so-bad-it's-bad genre. But there's something about the opening of a movie – something sacred – that can instill in even the most cynical viewers a sliver of hope. Take the first scene of Kakababur Protyaborton. It's not a bad idea to begin the movie with a sequence in which an animal activist is being sentenced the worst kind of death out in the savanna: he isn't shot dead, instead he's shot in his feet and left to be devoured by a pack of hyenas closing in on him. But here's the thing: to get to the idea behind the scene you have to first get past the lousy acting and dialogue. You have to survive the awful background score, which plays out like an ill-fated homage to that of Lion King.
The idea of setting foot in Africa has always captured the imagination of the Colonial traveller adventurer. Perhaps some of it rubbed off on the middle-class Bengali gentry. When Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay wrote Chander Pahar, in 1937 – without ever having actually stepped out of the peripheries of his own country – he was giving form to a collective cultural fantasy. He was also helping establish an entire sub-genre of Bengali literary fiction that are essentially travelogues. Sunil Gangopadhyay's Kakababu stories were wonderfully pulpy updates of the same template. My problem with Mukherji's adaptations is not that he doesn't get the spirit of the original. He rightly locates it in the action-adventure space. Prosenjit Chatterjee is the perfect choice for the role – as the retired government official whose disability in one leg has only intensified his other faculties – in that he looks the part, is adequately middle-aged, and has the box office draw that can justify the lavish budgets.
One of the problems is Mukherji's failure in finding a middle ground for the basic, good-natured sincerity of the stories and the post-modern cheekiness he tries to give them in his attempts to woo an audience that has never read a page of Kakababu. He wants to please everyone but no one is pleased with these objectively bad films. The least you expect from a film shot in Africa is a kind of visually appealing experience. Kakababur Protyaborton is visually flat, there's not a single memorable shot, and it lacks the technical finesse you expect from a big-budget film of this sort – a real pity given Mukherji has at his disposal a cinematographer of the calibre of Soumik Haldar (Mandaar).
I would be lying if I said that it's the worst thing I have seen. I like what Mukherji does with the Anirban Chakrabarti character (who plays a Lalmohan Ganguly lookalike with a self-awareness that makes sense only later). The wild twist (pun completely intended) caught me off-guard. He plants cues – Nairobi's unique location acting as a precursor to the hotel in the middle of the Maasai Mara; the recurring visual of the wildebeest; the retribution of the villain's death at the hands of animals – that will pay off later. But just like the first scene, a half-decent idea is lost in translation.