Director: Syed Ahmed Shawki
Writer: Neamoth Ullah Masum, Syed Ahmed Shawki
Actor: Chanchal Chowdhury, Manoj Pramanik, Shohel Mondol, Sanjida Preeti, Partha Barua
Streaming on: Hoichoi
Whatever little we’ve seen of contemporary cinema from Bangladesh — the best of the lot, namely those by Mostofa Sarwar Farooki — there’s something to be said about them having a distinct flavour, and how different they feel from films made in West Bengal. The language is the same, but the dialects different; the physiognomy is not too different either; neither is the landscape, defined by its rivers. And yet the films seem to be informed by their own socio-political reality and the peculiar rhythms of the spoken word, coupled with an urge to possess a language of its own that’s decidedly different from Calcutta arthouse or Bollywood, the two big influences close home.
The web series Taqdeer ticks all those boxes, although it has a story that could be set anywhere: Taqdeer (pronounced ‘Toq-deer’), the driver of a freezer van that’s used for the purpose of transporting the bodies of the departed to their final destination, gets embroiled in a murder mystery; the body of an unknown woman lands up at the back of his van — a body that’s later found to be that of a renowned journalist who was on the brink of uncovering a damning story about the rape of a woman by men associated with a politician.
Over eight episodes, each about 20 minutes long, Taqdeer must get out of this mess — the meaning of his name bearing heavily on the events of his life: from being raised by a mother who had to sell her body to send him to a Madrasa, to, a few years ago, being falsely convicted of smuggling organs from dead bodies.
Chanchal Chowdhury (who was the lead in Farooki’s Television) plays him with the ambivalence of a noir hero, who must also ensure that the truth the journalist was trying to uncover is out. It’s an urgent, busy performance, full of rash talk and small movements, seemingly more to do with the situation at hand but alluding to unknown depths; he allows the camera to capture his high-strung anxiety ridden face in close-ups. The character attains an existential dimension that’s rooted in his vocation: the macabre business of body and soul.
Created by Syed Ahmed Shawki, Taqdeer takes a couple of episodes to settle in, before it draws you in with the loopiness of the plot. You feel as trapped as Taqdeer, and his loyal companion Montu (Shohel Mondol). Other characters, like Rana (Monoj Kumar Pramanik), the photographer accompanied the journalist on the assignment, join them. Should we trust Rana’s version of events, who is bit of a weakling and could well be an unreliable narrator? All the actors pull in compelling performances, including those who play the journalist, Afsana (Sanjida Preeti), and her husband, with a scene-stealing Partha Barua as a seriocomic hitman. This is a well-made, well-performed crime thriller series that takes its time to unfold but doesn’t overstay its welcome.
There is some impressive filmmaking on display, whether it’s the use of authentic locations like the country’s inland water transport system, or an unexpected touch of beauty: the sudden burst of a field of barley in twilight; or the seamless cutting to the backstories of Taqdeer and Montu; the minimalistic background score (with a haunting central theme; by Ruslan Rehman). There’s a particularly riveting episode involving a ‘dom’ who’s been called to cut a dead body and who must get drunk on country liquor before he conducts the ‘surgery’. That scene, in a web series made in Kolkata, might have been played for cheap laughs, or for sensationalistic effect; in Taqdeer it’s just chilling and fascinating to watch.