Director: Anik Dutta
Cast: Sourav Chakraborty, Badshah Moitra, Koushik Sen, Paran Bandopadhyay, Chandrayee Ghosh, Barun Chanda, Sumanta Mukherjee
In his review of Tony Richardson's 1965 film The Loved One, Leonard Maltin described it as 'a picture with something to offend everyone'. He might well have been talking of Bhobishyoter Bhoot. Anik Dutta's bizarre concoction takes on so many holy Indian cows – religious, political, social – it's a wonder that this film actually made it past our censors in the first place, and nothing short of a miracle that it has managed a re-release nearly two months after being inexplicably taken off the theatres. And if viewers are eager to see what it is about the film that could have made Didi see red (pun intended), it is delicious to consider the possibility that here is one vehicle over which she could have made common cause with her arch-rivals both in the left and the right.
The film is so way out that one is at a loss even to begin to critique it. Does one start with the storyline or the structure? Or does one talk of the characters? It's pointless to do that because Bhobishyoter Bhoot defies everything conventional when it comes to the narrative. An aspiring filmmaker in the film's first sequence tries to explain to an obviously 'commercial' producer the Godardian principle of a film's beginning, middle and end not necessarily having to follow in that sequence. Dutta's film too does away with these three aspects – if there's a filmic equivalent of non-sequitur, it is this. In fact, there's no single story that binds the film together either. It's a procession of side-splitting gags that overflow with biting satire and often broad humour. And like the 'randomness' of the narrative, the characters too seem to appear at the whim of the film's writers (Dutta and Utsav Mukherjee) and exist primarily to engage in puns that take pot-shots at almost everything and everyone.
To call the film a surreal experience or an exercise in magic realism or even Brechtian alienation would not even begin to scratch the surface – and would probably invite the filmmaker's barb about the Indian penchant for engaging in dialectics/dialysis (yes! the film abounds in such wordplay – a TV debate has a hilarious take on defamation/deformation) that one of the film's ghosts hurls at another. This is an indescribable ride from its first, pre-credit sequence where Sabyasachi Chakrabarty announces, 'Friends, phantoms, country ghosts', the existential crisis staring contemporary ghosts in the face, and hence the need to engage in anti-social media like Bhootbook or Ghostagram to keep up with the times. The credit sequence croons about at least fifty varieties of ghosts (aristocratic, commonplace, socialist, capitalist, rich, middle-class, so on and so forth) while its outlandish climax has an army of ghosts (the seven samurai, no less!) coming together to save a village's land from being usurped by the government for a film city. And everything in between is just as whacky.
The film's real triumph lies in its writing. And there is nothing that escapes the writers' scalpel. So, you have a newspaper editor's computer screen emblazoned with the phrase 'journalism is organized gossip' even as he urges his young journalist to join the film mafia and give ten out of ten ratings to every film.
Consider this: there's a bunch of executives making plans to establish ghost tourism as an industry, complete with ghost walks and merchandise. There are a couple of nerds who build a mobile app 'Tyakosh' (tyak for pocket and 'osh' from rakkhosh) that will enable users to engage with virtual monsters on their mobile phones. And then there are the ghosts – a leftist, a boxwallah, a jatra actor, a bar dancer turned silver screen siren (who is shown as the actress in the cult 'photo negative' scene in Satyajit Ray's Pratidwandi), a journalist, a small-time hoodlum who was once a gatekeeper at a public urinal and who now dreams of being recognized as a painter given you-know-who gets paid crores for her paintings!
The film's real triumph lies in its writing. And there is nothing that escapes the writers' scalpel. So, you have a newspaper editor's computer screen emblazoned with the phrase 'journalism is organized gossip' even as he urges his young journalist to join the film mafia and give ten out of ten ratings to every film. There are references to farmers' suicides, to khaki shorts and Gau Satkar Samitis, even a portrait of Vivekananda speaking out vis-à-vis cow protection. There is mention of minority appeasement, maa-maati, and a film's title being censored from Bheeturam (coward in Bengali) to Bheetu because, of course, you can't use Ram and coward in the same breath. There's forcible land acquisition, sting operations, a Ghost Reality Show, even Tagore's 'Amra shobai raja' getting a 'ghostly' remix as 'Amra shobai baatil amader ei baatil ghorete' (we are all dead in this dead house of ours) in an abandoned theatre. And musical interludes that comment on the political transition with lines like 'haath gelo baam elo' (the hand has given way to the left)…
Dutta is a magician with words (the leftist ghost is called Shamyabrata Sarkar and 'left front' is described as an oxymoron – if it's left, how can it be front?) but that's where also lies his one weakness. He does not know when to quit – and the puns and wordplay keep coming so fast and furious that by the time you are in the film's last quarter, I for one was short of breath with the effort of trying to keep up and not miss something funny – and there's a lot of that.
But that's a small quibble in an otherwise genuinely funny and bold film which shows a welcome and total lack of reverence for anything we might hold sacrosanct. And particularly for the Bengali viewer there's a lot to savour with in-film references and homages, including Satyajit Ray's classic Bhooter Raja sequence in Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne.