Director: Srijit Mukherji
Cast: Ritwick Chakraborty, Rudranil Ghosh , Sohini Sarkar , Anirban Bhattacharya, Riddhi Sen
Vinci Da kicks off with a sequence so nonchalantly brutal in its execution and stunning in its impact that a lesser filmmaker would probably have held on to it, putting it much later in the film. In fact, as you think back on the narrative, it is possible to visualize it – essentially a backstory – as a possible pre-intermission cliff-hanger that would have the audience come back from their popcorn or washroom break in a hurry, or a climactic high on which to sign off.
To begin with it is setting yourself up for the impossible task of following it up with something as dramatic. I for one was immediately wary: how would the film manage to engage the audience after this without playing to the gallery and, more importantly, sustain an opening this high-octane without becoming an exercise in excess?
Thankfully for the film, Srijit Mukherji eschews that route. Instead, what he does is almost immediately bring down the pitch a few octaves, cutting away to a series of apparently random and hence disorienting court sequences which are like pieces of a jigsaw that fall into place as the story unravels. These are interspersed with the voiceover of a down-and-out make-up artist, Vinci-da (Rudranil Ghosh), narrating his tale of woe, starting with the death of his father, his dismissal from two film units for his refusal to compromise with his art and his penchant for calling a spade a spade, his tender 'love-tove gochher' relationship with the girl-next-door Jaya (Sohini Sarkar in one of the film's most affecting performances, with a stammer that's spot-on) and his life-altering meeting with the deliciously twisted Adi Bose (Ritwick Chakraborty).
What constitutes the film's major strengths are the performances and the dialogues, which is not surprising given that Srijit is a past master at the game and has literally rewritten the rules of dialogue-writing in Bangla cinema.
It's impossible to discuss the film without giving away key plot points and spoilers. Suffice to say here that the expert legal mind Adi is – though he does not possess a degree in law, he knows the legal system inside out – he has an agenda for which he needs a partner in crime whom he finds in Vinci-da, pandering to the latter's ego as a 'great unsung artiste'. There is a method to Adi's madness and a perverse logic with which he justifies – quoting and referring to everyone from Nietzsche to Alfred Nobel to Leonardo da Vinci – the means to his ends, despite the fact that his actions entail death and destruction of innocents. As far as he is concerned, these constitute 'collateral damage' and is perfectly kosher in a godless world where it is up to übermensch like him to deliver justice.
It is here that the narrative enters a delectable morally ambivalent space. Adi may be off his rocker, but Vinci-da buying into his philosophy primarily because it offers him an outlet, thus far denied to him, for his art makes an interesting comment on art and the responsibility it entails, if any. In a standout sequence, Vinci-da (Rundranil in probably the finest performance of his career yet) seeks validation from Jaya, using much the same logic as Adi: all great artists have their foibles, the legendary singer is a wife-beater, the superstar is a veritable pervert and womanizer, and it is their art that 'justifies' every kink in their character.
What constitutes the film's major strengths are the performances and the dialogues, which is not surprising given that Srijit is a past master at the game and has literally rewritten the rules of dialogue-writing in Bangla cinema. Very few filmmakers can make something as profane as 'shoving Whatsapp up your a**s' sound so apt and non-gimmicky, of course helped immensely by Anirban Bhattacharya's understated delivery – and the film is strewn with similar brilliant lines.
Viewers will no doubt go gaga over Riddhi Sen's jaw-dropping opening scene, but for me even better is the insouciance with which he invests his walk across the corridor in the asylum soon after; he literally owns the film in those two sequences. Ritwick could of course do Adi Bose in his sleep – it's right up his alley – and he does not disappoint. Not to forget a series of quirky and often disarmingly engaging sequences in stark contrast to the overall grimness of the narrative: Adi Bose humming 'Ajeeb dastan hai yeh' or asking Vinci-da for a cup of tea with a 'twist of ginger' after a particularly gruesome killing, Vinci-da dissing all the greats from Monet and Manet to Rembrandt and Van Gogh to establish why his namesake is the one true genius, or Anirban, absolutely riveting, chewing paan and nonchalantly bringing up Aesop's Fables while giving a suspect the treatment in police lock-up.
Yet – and this is a big, infuriatingly mystifying 'yet' because I can't quite put my finger on it – despite so much going for it, Vinci Da left me with a feeling of je ne sais quoi. Is it because despite Adi's ingenious modus operandi, the 'avenging' of criminals who otherwise get away scot-free is a bit too pat? Or is it that wholly superfluous sequence involving the young boy selling incense sticks – in a lean, dark film, and relentlessly so, this unforgivable lazy piece of filmmaking sticks out like a sore thumb with its bathos and the boy's abysmal 'non-performance', more so as it is intended to be a 'key' sequence which goes on and on. Though the film recovers soon enough towards a disconcerting climax where Vinci-da's tacit acquiescence to Adi's scheme comes home to roost in the most tragic manner possible, its aftertaste lingers.
Leonardo Da Vinci had his Mona Lisa and The Last Supper, Vinci-da creates his own masterpieces for the benefit of Adi Bose, but Vinci Da, the film, falls short of being Srijit's.