Director: Birsa Dasgupta
Cast: Mimi Chakraborty, Nusrat Jahan, Priyanka Sarkar, Sohini Sarkar
A new day dawns over the Kolkata skyline. A band of musicians sets up its paraphernalia on the streets. It's obvious that the band is not going anywhere. But as its lead singer says – who knows, what the day holds, things might just turn around by the time the day is over. As the end credits roll, the band is performing its first paid gig at a party. Bookended by these two scenes unfolds Birsa Dasgupta's slice-of-life drama about a day in the lives of five young women coping with personal and professional crises, a day that might just turn things around for each of them.
Ira (Mimi Chakraborty), a photojournalist, is assigned a story on 'women in new-age Kolkata … powerful, successful, single…' For all practical purposes, it should be an easy assignment in this city of millions. Indeed, Ira has her first profile almost immediately in mind – Ms Sen (Jaya Ahsan), who runs one of the city's prominent advertising agencies. However, as the day progresses, it's clear that the story is not going to be the piece of cake Ira had imagined it would be.
For one, she herself is battling a crisis that needs to be resolved by the end of the day. Her live-in partner for three years, Archie (Arjun Chakraborty), and his family, and indeed her own family, have scheduled an engagement party at 9 p.m. and Ira is conflicted. Not only about the end-of-day deadline for the story but also the choice she might be called upon to make between her own professional ambitions and what people around her want of her. As Ira finds it increasingly difficult to make much headway with her assignment, scriptwriter Mainak Bhaumik opens the canvas to the stories of four other women – whose paths are destined to cross in the course of the narrative – battling their own personal demons.
The material isn't new, neither is the technique. An eternal seductress of a city, characters battling with issues of love, relationships, professions, alienation, tangentially linked to each other, all coming to a head over the course of a day. By Mainak's own admission, this has echoes of Woody Allen and Manhattan – of course without the legend's irresistible and irreverent wit or humour. Indeed, Bhaumik's directorial debut Aamra (2006) covered similar terrain.
To the credit of the director, the film maintains a welcome balance for the most part: despite the louts some of the men are, there's no en masse demonization. Given the subject matter, it would have been easy to go down that route. If anything, Archie is a heart-warming new-age guy who, despite the uncertainty of his place in Ira's life, is willing to give her the space she needs. At the same time, not all the women are victims and not all are sympathetic to each other – Ms Sen, in fact, has no qualms about dismissing single mother Suzy's (Priyanka Sarkar) desperate plea for monetary help. Ira describes Ms Sen as a 'bitch', to which she retorts, 'In this dog-eat-dog world, you have to be a bitch to survive.' And it's that word, 'survival', which sums up the essence of the film – as Meher (Nusrat Jahan), a struggling actor, tells Suzy: 'It's important to survive today to be able to dream tomorrow.'
What doesn't work is that Ira, Meher, Suzy, Miss Sen all look like they have been crafted from the same mould, all glamour and painted up. Meher and Suzy, struggling women who cannot afford the rent and the school fees, have impeccable makeup right through, not a hair out of place, even as they negotiate the city's grime and dust!
The performances are all uniformly good. Barring probably Jaya Ahsan, whose Ms Sen does not quite ring true, maybe because towards the end, her bitchiness is sought to be leavened by that hoary of clichés: it's lonely at the top. Mimi Chakraborty is luminous in what is the ensemble's pivotal character, with the maximum screen time. Sohini Sarkar as Rupa, a homemaker coping with abuse within the confines of her home, makes a strong impression.
What doesn't work is that Ira, Meher, Suzy, Miss Sen all look like they have been crafted from the same mould, all glamour and painted up. Meher and Suzy, struggling women who cannot afford the rent and the school fees, have impeccable makeup right through, not a hair out of place, even as they negotiate the city's grime and dust! And towards the end, as Rupa pawns off her jewellery to buy herself a long-cherished 'Western' dress, and ventures into a pub, she too ends up a clone of the rest. A few random flashes providing glimpses of back stories are needless expository digressions that slow down the narrative at crucial junctures, so that, for one, the resolution with Suzy and Meher finding their feet appears a rushed plot contrivance.
But what makes Crisscross work for me, apart from the performances, is the largely understated nature of the narrative as also its ability to make the characters relatable – these are people you might actually run into in the mad chaos of the city, people battling to prioritize the many challenges they encounter. As a random stranger tells Ira, in a delightful take on that bane of modern life: 'Mobile phone – the devil's gift to mankind, messing up all of life's priorities.' And it's refreshing to come across a film that rides confidently on the shoulders of five women without a male star worth the name needing to hold it up.