Writer-Director: Chandrasish Ray
Cast: Prosenjit Chatterjee, Satyam Bhattacharya, Ankita Majhi
A middle aged civil engineer goes to the mountains location scouting for a resort with his assistant project manager. It is just a starting point for this character-driven film; the plot of land will soon become irrelevant and the plot of the film will move in its own languid rhythm, assuming the slow paced life up in the mountains, alive in the banter between the unlikely pair.
The equation between Prosenjit Chatterjee’s Biplab and Satyam Bhattacharya’s Bhaskar is interesting. Biplab throws casual insults at Bhaskar without reason, but he also has an affection for him; Bhaskar (a relaxed, contemplative performance by Bhattacharya), on the other hand, seems to be struggling from within, both in terms of unresolved issues back home, and indigestion. And Chatterjee is great playing the senior to the junior, the professor to the assistant, as in Kakabu films or Baishe Shrabon. Here he is part father-figure, part drinking buddy and a bit of a bully to Bhattacharya’s sullen Bhaskar. There is an almost seriocomic air in their interactions that keeps the film going even though nothing much happens, except the two characters revealing more about their own lives to each other.
The atmosphere of the place is spot on. Soumik Haldar captures the beauty of the mountain in all its changing lights, curving roads and magnificent vistas without none of the picture postcard glossiness; the place Biplab and Bhaskar stay is no fancy hotel but a budget accommodation. It’s a non-touristy spot presumably somewhere in the Chitre region, close to the Singalila range in West Bengal (at the beginning of the film, when a local asks Biplab why they want a plot in this godforsaken place, which is barren and where there is hardly any network to make calls, he says, ‘It’s exotic. Thats what we are after now.’) The music playing in the car is a song by Bipul Chhetri, the Nepali indie musician who has an audience among the urban listeners thanks to YouTube.
The director Chandrasish Ray seems to be in love with the hills himself, setting the first half of his first film in the kind of place he loves, filling it with the kind of things he has fondness for. You sense the influence of Iranian cinema, and it reminded me of Turkish auteur Nuri Bilge Ceylan in the way a intimate human drama unfolds against the vast immeasurable landscape. But you also think of Kaushik Ganguly, with who Ray has been a longtime assistant.
There is a nice looseness in the flow, which is compromised once the film changes course halfway. It casts a shadow of deep unhappiness on the film, of the morose kind; it labours to be Good Cinema. The film is more affecting when it was meandering and mysterious, not clear about what it’s exactly about: it’s in these later portions, when the Meanings emerge that you start fidgeting. (Oh, Biplab and his wife can’t have a child; Bhaskar and his wife can, but...; or, the recurring scene of Biplab seeing a couple going for walks in his neighbourhood in Kolkata, reminding him young love). The background score is overpowering, drowning scenes with sentimental piano.
Even Chatterjee is much less effective. You wonder if the stoicism is a crutch; it gets a little repetitive, especially since the actor does something similar in Mayurakshi, where he is similarly leadened with familial duties. In that film he had a father suffering from amnesia; here he has a wife who has fallen into an endless depression. Or maybe that’s the point: this is a man who is admittedly his better version when he is at work away from home. His nature of work sends him for outdoor trips such as the one shown in the movie. When he takes a holiday, he is at home, tending to his wife with a dour face. Ankita Majhi is very good as his wife. She brings distinct shades to the character, unreasonable in her mood swings but she has a commanding presence that demands dignity.
What stays with you, however, are some great moments, as in when Biplab and their driver find Bhaskar sitting on the edge of a hill staring into the range of mountains, transfixed, and they leave him alone in his quiet. It’s the kind of moment you may experience in your life that you don’t see captured in cinema, at least not in our mainstream cinema: the effect that nature has on man. Or when Biplab is told about a shattering news when he is taking a leak in the open near the bushes. At any other time he would have other things to latch on to in order to absorb the shock, but all he can do right now is finish what he is doing—the camera stays on his face.