Director: Saibal Mitra
Cast: Saswata Chatterjee, Soumitra Chatterjee, Basabdatta Chatterjee
Saibal Mitra’s Tokhon Kuasa Chilo is based on a story by Bengali author Syed Mustafa Siraj, but it’s almost as if it uses Tapan Sinha’s Atanka (1986) as a jumping off point. Central to their link is the casting of Soumitra Chatterjee (in one of his posthumous releases) as the retired school teacher in a town rife with local level political violence, whose helplessness and pain is compounded by the fact that the town’s dreaded goon is one of his former students, his fear heightened by the notion that his granddaughter with who he lives alone, could be in danger (in Atanka it was his daughter).
But unlike Sinha’s film, here we have the character of Saswata Chatterjee, called Putu, also a former student; he, and not Chatterjee, is the protagonist. It’s pre-election time in the small town of Begumpur and the air is thick with tension. Putu is an idler, desperately looking for a job and his friend promises him one if he joins their party and help them win, pinning hopes on ‘poriborton’.
Mitra’s film is seemingly set in present day rural Bengal where pre and post poll violence is normal, but it treats it as a mere backdrop to make any real political comment. The allusions are vague (a party that creates communal disharmony) and convenient (it is shown to be the ruling party). Which would’ve been fine if it wasn’t so caught up with pretending to be a political film and instead focussed on the human characters driving the drama in the foreground (like say Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi). The players in Tokhon Kuasa Chilo are forced to serve as a metaphors for the state of affairs: Soumitra’s character Akhil babu the moral centre, and his two students – the wayward Sachin who chose a life of political violence and Putu, who didn’t and therefore is unemployed.
The film exposes its hypocrisies in the way it characterises Akhil babu’s granddaughter Mou, who is not only given zero agency but is treated as a prize to be won by either of the two men in a some sort of a twisted, confused love triangle. She is never asked what she wants and when Putu brings it up, Soumitra’s character defends it by saying something like ‘It’s women psychology. They always say no first and then eventually say yes.’ A director so clueless and regressive about gender politics has no business preaching anti-fascist sermons. By the time the drama runs out of the little intrigue it creates, through believable performances and some suspense thanks to a twist in the middle, Tokhon Kuasa Chilo gets insufferable. Out of nowhere, the climax shows footage from Nazi Germany, but the worst is arguably a ‘sad version’ of “Bella Ciao“, played in flute to underscore the film’s tragic end – anything, in the name of ‘political filmmaking’.