Director: Murari Mohan Rakshit
Cast: Parambrata Chatterjee, Anindya Banerjee, Anindita Bose, Sabyasachi Chakraborty, Raima Sen
There are probably few things in life as filled with joy and pathos in equal measure as a reunion of old school and college friends – bittersweet with memories, lost opportunities, the choices and compromises made that have shaped the years since. Director Murari Rakshit’s maiden feature Reunion taps into these nostalgic aspects of old friends coming together. And when the university is in Bengal, can student politics and its attendant violence be far behind? Reunion attempts to blend the wistfulness associated with a journey down memory lane with the rough and tumble of hard-nosed politics. It is by all means a more than competent effort which largely pays off.
Arko (Indrashis Roy), Abhi (Saurav Das), Joyita (Saayoni Ghosh), Shuvo (Samadarshi Dutta) and Romita (Anindita) plan a get-together in Kolkata after twenty years. While the reunion is marked by all the bonhomie of the wonder years lost, it is also tinged by the sadness of an unspoken loss – the sudden disappearance of their mentor and senior in college, Rudra-da (Parambrata Chatterjee), in the wake of violent student union politics.
Of the group, Romita wasn’t part of the college days and the director uses her as the peg for the rest to open up to their memories. It’s interesting as a tool – making for the fragmented nature of the narrative as it moves back and forth – but it also tends to become predictable after a point, almost like a question-and-answer session.
Films depicting student politics with any authenticity are rare to come by, though film-makers like Mrinal Sen became iconic figures with their take on the politics of the turbulent ’70s. In Hindi, one can count films in this genre on one’s fingertips: Gulzar’s Mere Apne (1971), Tigmanshu Dhulia’s Haasil (2003) and Sudhir Mishra’s Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi (2003) come to mind. In Bengal, university politics is a big, often brutal, affair, with its potential to propel the players into the big league, but even a film-maker of the calibre of Mani Ratnam made a hash of it with Yuva (2004) which showed little understanding of its ideological and violent underpinnings.
Reunion, though not in the same class as Mere Apne, Haasil and Khwaishein, has its heart in the right place as far as depicting the politics of the 1990s, a particularly important era in Bengal, when the left, with over twenty-five years of power-driven hubris was rapidly ceding ground. The strength of the film lies in its belief in and articulation of the importance of student politics being left to students, without external, corrupting influences coming into play. However, it’s a utopian premise and it’s in this emphasis on idealism that the film falters, as it robs its protagonists of the grey shades that make characters interesting.
That, with a propensity to underline a sense of nostalgia which keeps drawing attention to itself (how many times do you need to be told how wonderful it is for old friends to come together) and a tendency to explain everything often through dialogues make for the film’s major shortcomings. Rudra’s idealism and his disillusionment with his mentor, the local MLA Manas-da (Sabyasachi Chakraborty in an impressive cameo), would have come through even without him articulating it in so many words. As also that pre-finale song sequence, though beautifully rendered by Iman Chakraborty, tends to drag the narrative with a montage of Monideepa’s unhappy married life that is unnecessarily expository.
Also disconcerting is the abruptness with which Rudra recruits Arko, Abhi and Shuvo to his cause, and then out of the blue sets up a music band – which then becomes an excuse for the film-maker to include songs into the narrative, though it must be said that the film’s lyrics (Rajib Chakraborty) and music (Joy Sarkar) are a standout. And that scene does provide the film’s one laugh-out-loud moment as Rudra asks the triumvirate what they do. As one says, he plays an instrument or two and another that he kind of sings, Rudra deadpans, ‘So, Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne, are you?’
Apart from its music, the film stands on the strength of two luminous performances by Parambrata and Raima Sen. Seasoned performers as they are, they would have carried this off in their sleep and it’s their presence that lends the film its elegiac undertones, and a surprisingly moving open-ended finale. They are ably supported by a string of character actors, including Anindya Pulak Banerjee (as the loutish Ajit Monideepa marries) and a particularly memorable cameo by Subhrajit Dutta as the college bully whose ragging tool involves asking freshers to rattle off his impossible name, Syed Mozammel Kamrul Hasan Firdaus Ahmed Jahangir, without faltering.
It’s hard to judge a film so well-intentioned and honest in its approach so as to almost underscore those aspects but where the execution falls just short of the ambition, maybe because it wears its intention on its sleeve so openly. With a little bit of understatement and narrative control, it could have been the film the director intended.