Director: Srijit Mukherji
Cast: Azmeri Haque Badhon, Rahul Bose, Anirban Bhattacharya, Anirban Chakrabarti, Anjan Dutt, Debopriyo Mukherjee
Streaming on: Hoichoi
Srijit Mukherji’s REKKA begins with a plane wreck and appropriately so. The opening shot suggests the painful and catastrophic experience that lies ahead for the viewer. And the last shot, where Rahul Bose’s character screams from a Kolkata high-rise, becomes a sort of catharsis for us. (Don’t worry about spoilers because trust me, nothing can spoil REKKA). In retrospect, they seem like coded messages from a filmmaker who was subconsciously trying to warn us all along.
Based on a bestselling Bangladeshi novel, REKKA is abbreviation for “Rabindranath Ekhane Kokhono Khete Ashenni” (Rabindranath Gave This a Miss) — the name of a restaurant in a fictional small town called Sundarpur. It’s an intriguing, if somewhat gimmicky, title — like a Bengali bourgeoisie equivalent of “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck” or something — with a hooky enough conceit: a restaurant in the middle of nowhere attracts patrons from far off places for its almost mysteriously good food.
Mushkan Zuberi (Azmeri Haque Badhon), the restaurant owner, is equally mysterious: a femme fatale figure who reigns over her estate like a gothic heroine and holds considerable power over local police and politicians. We get an adversary in the form of Nirupam Chanda (Rahul Bose), a CBI officer with a spotless track record who has landed up with suspicions over what goes on in there. The series has an ensemble cast, but Mushkan and Nirupam are the primary characters.
Now imagine this being played out in the mould of a bad TV serial, with little regard to choices in terms of performance, pacing, lighting, characterisation, dialogues, background score — in short, filmmaking! REKKA is infuriatingly shoddy, in every department — infuriating because the audience has never been more exposed to the best stuff in the world, and you’d expect a general effort on the filmmakers’ part to strive for better. I understand the Bengali industry works under severe budget constraints but that can’t be the excuse for a lack of creativity. Besides, pretty much every regional film industry in India operates within low budgets, but no one is effing it up like Bengal is. It’s hard to critically engage with shows like REKKA and look at them in terms of things like form and style because why expend so much energy on something behind which so little thought seems to have gone? Is it too much to expect basic quality control? The Anirban Bhattacharya character is developed as a key character, but he is done away with in the middle of the show and plays no role at all in the final stages of the story. These are storytelling fundamentals that are being flouted here. And it really works against the show because Bhattacharya, in whatever screen time he gets, is consistently watchable for all the little things he does with body language, speech etc.
Which brings me to the issues with speech and dialogue delivery of Badhon and Bose. The show pivots on their face-off, a sort of variation on the Clarice Starling-Hannibal Lecter equation from The Silence of the Lambs, with the gender roles swapped. The story is built around their meeting, which takes place at Mushkan’s mansion in the night. Now this is an inherently talky set-up: you have the “cop” and the “criminal mastermind” seated across each other and it’s going to be a battle of wits. We have seen it in countless movies. The challenge for the director, then, is to undercut the verbosity of the scene, maybe with silences, a glance here, a gesture there. Mukherji does none of that, instead launching into a straight up verbal exchange. Then there is the writing itself: the lines are like punchlines without the punch. But a bigger problem is the way Bose and Badhon says them; Bose’s discomfort with Bangla bogs him down while Badhon sounds mechanical.
Contrast this to a parallel scene that features the Anjan Dutt character in a similar set up — he is Bose’s senior and is interrogating someone — and you see the stark difference: he relishes the lines and makes them his own. But that scene has other problems. We are in the house of a well-known surgeon who is being questioned by Dutt for his alleged involvement with Mushkan’s crimes and suddenly your eyes fall on film posters on his apartment wall: posters of Kill Bill, James Bond and Bruce Lee rendered in Kalighat painting style. Very nice. But why is it there? I am not saying the surgeon can’t be a film buff and that he can’t have a taste for cool posters but how is it important to the story? Bad production design is one thing, distractingly pretentious production design is another. REKKA has both. Mushkan’s mansion looks as if a Fab India boutique has been converted into a movie set.
In case you’re still watching REKKA but start regretting your decision midway (which you will), stick around, because Mukherji rewards you with some of the wildest WTF moments you’d have seen on screen in a long time. In episode 7, we are back to the first shot — a tragic event with hair-raising possibilities that becomes a giant turd of a joke when terrible foreign actors start talking in terrible foreign accents as they turn to cannibalism. You have to see it to believe it. I’d go as far as to say that the show almost redeems itself in those 10 minutes.
Who is watching these shows? What is the audience demographic? How is it a successful business model? What am I missing? REKKA is not the first show of its kind, and it’s not going to be the last. This is standard Bengali fare, indistinguishable from one another in terms of how they look and feel, how the actors talk, the clothes they wear etc etc. What is said about REKKA can be said about so many others, which can be summed up as lacking in integrity (in its making), lacking in self-criticism and lacking in concern for the audience’s intelligence. Sooner or later, this bubble will burst.