Director: Churni Ganguly
Cast: Saswata Chatterjee, Ritwick Chakraborty, Raima Sen
For the longest time I had my own slogan for Facebook: 'Losers of the world unite – you have nothing to lose but your "status" updates.' I had all of twenty-seven friends on it, and it would be months, at times years, before I logged on to the site, by which time I would have forgotten my password too! Last year, I picked up the thread and one night at 2 and came across a post on my timeline asking if I had been a student at B.K. Bajoria School, Shillong. This was thirty-four years after I had left the school and I had reconciled myself to having lost my school friends forever. Within a week of that one post, however, I had connected with the entire batch of students from four classes and a WhatsApp group had come together. For the first time, I acknowledged the utility of FB, though I am not sure I have overcome my initial reservations.
It is thus with some anticipation that I looked forward to Tarikh. So, does it succeed in making a convert of someone as sceptical as me? Not quite – though there's no doubt that it makes a strong, often nuanced case for social media, its ability to connect people and how important that is. And it's in this ambivalence the film left me with that lies both its strength and weakness.
On the surface, the story deals with three friends, an idealist professor Anirban (Saswata Chatterjee), his wife Ira (Raima Sen) and friend Rudrangshu (Ritwick Chakraborty), and their engagements with life and with each other. But underneath that lies the sombre subtext of death. As Anirban explains to a group of students debating 'Five Ways to Kill a Man', a discussion that brings into its ambit the death penalty, Afzal Guru, Ajmal Kasab and the Twin Towers: 'Those who are gone, are gone – the real story lies with the people they leave behind.' It's a theme that underlines almost every frame of the film, nowhere more eloquently than when Anirban talks about a river, a boat and the ferryman in the context of death, invoking Dante's and Virgil's take on Charon and Bengal's very own 'Sagor kuler naiyya' (in a memorable line Anirban says, 'I'm sure the ferryman of the dead sings the bhatiyali').
On the surface, the story deals with three friends, an idealist professor Anirban (Saswata Chatterjee), his wife Ira (Raima Sen) and friend Rudrangshu (Ritwick Chakraborty), and their engagements with life and with each other. But underneath that lies the sombre subtext of death.
This might give you an idea of Tarikh being an intellectually stimulating film – full of literary references and political ideas, which makes it a pleasure for a viewer thus inclined. At the same time, what's also stimulating is the film's structure – arranged by datelines, much as FB posts are. It begins with the date 26 April 2018 when a wildlife photographer Dipankar Mitra (Kaushik Ganguly in a cameo) takes to FB to wish his friend Anirban a happy birthday only to come across RIP messages on Anirban's timeline. The narrative then goes back to a series of dates starting with 26 April 2015, three years prior to Anirban's death, in the process introducing us to the dramatis personae and their varied ideologies, concerns and the humdrum business of life.
It's a tricky structure because it makes for a fragmented screenplay that compels you to pay attention – and coupled with the literary allusions and its engagement with death does not make for lazy viewing. It is to Churni Ganguly's credit that she sticks to her convictions and does not dumb down proceedings, so that the climactic revelation of a key relationship in the film comes as both a surprise and a pleasure.
Apart from its structure and its technical finesse (the imaginative editing that the structure calls for and remarkable camerawork), what stands out are the three lead performances. Not that with actors of the calibre of Saswata (particularly good in conveying the frustration of an 'ineffective intellectual', an 'insufferable escapist' as he calls himself), Raima and Ritwick you expect anything less.
However, what Churni Ganguly does with her writing is give the encounters between them a frisson that keeps you engaged. Even as you know that Anirban and Ira are a happily married couple, though poles apart in their world views, you also realize that there's something strong lurking between Ira and Rudrangshu. Nowhere is this more apparent in the film's most effective sequence (unfolding on the day of Holi, 24 March 2016), brilliantly cut by the director into three separate segments, when the friends engage in a 'game' of confession. It's here that Saswata and Ritwick come into their own and Ritwick is electric. And then there's Georgina Abott, Anirban's London-based friend whom we never meet, but whose attractive FB profile picture and apparent intellectual and emotional proximity to Anirban provides the film its x-factor.
However, one wishes the narrative was tighter, and if there's one aspect where the film falters it's in its pacing which slackens noticeably in the second half, with an expository homage monologue by Rudrangshu, a rather unnecessary dream sequence, the constant underlining of the importance of living every moment, and a naïve belief in the power of social media to usher in change and revolution (a candlelight vigil actually has a placard declaring 'the red colour of revolution will not fade').
The revolution is long dead – it's every man for himself out there in an increasingly consumerist world. And as we have seen in real life, though social media has the power to bring issues to the forefront, it is too easily distracted by the next 'big/exciting' issue to follow-up anything to its logical conclusion and too self-obsessed with the trivial to care about the bigger picture. That's an aspect the film never broaches. But then maybe that is another film altogether.