Director: Churni Ganguly
Writer: Churni Ganguly
Cast: Saswata Chatterjee, Ritwick Chakraborty, Raima Sen, Kaushik Ganguly
Streaming on: Hoichoi
Tarikh, actor Churni Ganguly’s second film as a director, tells us at the very beginning that the central character, Anirban (Saswata Chatterjee), is dead. And this information is given to us in the form of Facebook browsing. A man (Kaushik Ganguly), who we later get to know is Anirban’s friend, wishes him on his birthday by posting something on his wall. Only to find out that he is no more when he sees what Anirban’s other friends on Facebook have written: Anirban passed away on the day of his birthday a year ago; and since Ganguly’s character, a photographer on a long assignment in Africa, has logged into his social media account after a period of hibernation, he is finding it out only now.
What follows is the the most unusual character introduction scene, that unfolds entirely on Anirban’s Facebook profile. The major characters of the story are introduced through the scraps of remembrance they have written for Anirban: his childhood friend Rudra (Ritwick Chakraborty), his wife Ira (Raima Sen), a few of his students at the University where he used to teach English literature. Mind you, we still haven’t seen Anirban in blood and flesh, only his Facebook profile. We are being prepared for a flashback—or rather, a series of flashbacks.
But how do we make the jump from the present to the past? What’s going to define the timeline of the events that we will see? What are the events we are going to watch? All this is dictated by the lifespan of Anirban’s time on Facebook, since the day he joined the social media network at his students’ behest. Anirban’s introduction scene is the setting up of his Facebook profile: from his choosing a Pink Floyd album cover art for his ‘cover picture’, to his debut post on the social media platform. We will now operate within this timeline. We will navigate within this framework, from one anniversary to another, with his daughter’s birthday in between; episodes will unfold in and out of chat boxes; selfies will unravel their behind-the-scenes.
If this sounds contrived and heavy-handed on paper as a concept note, it flows smoothly on screen. There’s a rhythm in the editing (Subhajit Singha) and its cues are mostly aural: the voiceovers guide us from one scene to the next or to a line in a chat; at other times it’s a homage to the opening guitar passages (by Raja Narayan Deb) of “Wish You Were Here” (it’s actually a homage, made all too obvious by the end) and Mohiner Ghoraguli covers sung by Anirban’s students. This editing style and back and forth across timelines is a crutch to break into episodic vignettes into the primary characters of the story Anirban, Ira and Rudra. But it also is instrumental in the way the dynamics between the trio play out.
Consider the scene in which we see Rudra for the first time in real, physical form. He is on the phone with Ira, but it looks like he’s talking to his lover. This creates a perception that Rudra and Ira are a couple and Anirban is the outsider, who enters their life in reverse from the dead (the film makes several later allusions to this perception). Chakraborty is fascinating as Rudra, who hides subtle hints of his darkness under casual ambivalence. He is unmarried, and is likely to be so for the rest of his life; he fills the voids and empty spaces in his life with his lived experiences with Anirban’s family–a fact he pretty much spells out on the Holi night at the Bolpur farmhouse where they get drunk and play confessional games. He stands in as a father figure to their daughter, Ninny, and of course, as Ira’s husband/lover. At the same time, he’s also the guy defending his friend in front of Ira (when he is not around).
The complicated equation of Anirban, Rudra and Ira is at the heart of Tarikh, one that loses its potency after we are back in the present, post Anirban’s death. We never get a real sense of what Ira feels for Rudra, for example. Or why, if Rudra and Anirban are childhood friends, do they feel so apart. Apart from him being resentful of Rudra’s growing closeness with his wife and daughter, one explanation is that Anirban had become increasingly lonesome, probably even depressed, disconnected from the people who are supposed to be his closest, disturbed by ideological decay and taken further away from Ira because of his academic snobbishness. (Chatterjee portrays all this and more, if a little repetitive with certain ‘stock expressions’). His only two friends are the photographer in the opening scene of the film and a certain Georgina, who we only see through her Facebook chats with Anirban (and who Ira suspects to be his lover, which the film turns around with a silly twist). The fact that we see very little of Anirban’s real friends deepens our sense of Anirban’s alienation.
The Facebook format works because it’s about connections, some of them forbidden, chat boxes, our notion of spousal privacy. Even the dates—alluded to in the title—are interconnected by destiny. Anirban and Ira’s anniversary and Rudra’s birthday are on the same day—further pointing toward the idea that Rudra’s sole purpose in the story is to be the third wheel in Anirban and Ira’s marriage. It’s an intricately constructed screenplay for the most part, that needed better finishing. But Ganguly has made a film that feels handcrafted and personal, like the short kurta with modernist blocks Rudra wears at a party, probably handpicked by Ganguly (who did some of the styling in her first film, Nirbasito). You have to see how much it adds to the scene.