Director: Dhrubo Banerjee
Cast: Kaushik Ganguly, Anirban Bhattacharya
Streaming on: Hoichoi
Tiktiki is what we sometimes call a two-hander – a duel between two characters, usually men (generally played by charismatic actors), often engaged in a kind of psychological battle. This is the stuff of theatre but can also make for riveting cinema. Psychological is the operative word here, with characters messing with the others head – and in extension the audience's. This requires strategic set design, thoughtful use of spaces, camera angles that distort or trick our senses, sound effects – at the very basic level, they need to be anchored in words.
When Soumitra Chatterjee adapted Anthony Shaffer's Sleuth (1970) – in which a mystery writer invites his wife's lover to exact revenge designed as an elaborate prank – for the screen, he transported it into a believable Bengali milieu with the help of his rich prose and his grasp over the text. Given the limited resources of the telefilm medium, Chatterjee pared down the original's manor house into a drawing room setting. Every prop in this private menagerie said something about its disturbed inhabitant – a leather-bound collection of Edgar Allan Poe and HP Lovecraft, close ups of Goya's Saturn Devouring his Son: an elderly Bengali aristocrat with a fine taste for the weird, with his housecoat and that louche moustache, awaiting his guest like Count Dracula himself.
Dhrubo Banerjee, who has made the new Tiktiki, changes the setting back to a manor house equivalent, a rajbari, but doesn't seem to know what to do with all that space. There is a stuffed royal Bengal tiger and an ancient board game but the rest is just packed with fillers – showpieces and antiques that don't really say anything. It takes special talent to take a rajbari and render it so generic. The house in the new Tiktiki could be the house in REKKA, or any contemporary Bengali film for that matter. They use Bengal's heritage buildings because they think it's the short cut to making it look 'cinematic', without any effort to explore its architecture and textures to enhance the story visually. The cerebral nature of the piece demanded more complex lighting – instead, we have a flat bright yellow like it has been lit by chandeliers.
If the idea was to stage it like a jalshaghar, in which a jugalbandi of sorts plays out between the two actors, it needed better writing in the first place – the lines needed to sing. There is no coherence, in terms of costume or lighting in the reality of the world this story is set in. Bhattacharya's Milan Basak doesn't dress up like a guy who owns an electrical store in mofussil Bengal. Banerjee is either not the right director for this one or he was expecting Kaushik Ganguly and Bhattacharya – directors themselves – to sail him through. The only major change he introduces is laughable and has no business being in this story.
Which is not to say I was expecting Tiktiki to be a masterpiece. Surely my experience as a reviewer has taught me better. Still the prospect of a face-off between Ganguly and Bhattacharya seemed fun – how bad could it be? Some sparks fly when they first meet – perhaps more a function of the intrigue and mystery inherent in the first act of any story rather than anything else – and I suspect most of them are improvisatory. But the rest bored the f*ck out of me. Like the crumbling old mansions can seem cosmetic without able and precise direction, even the best of actors can seem clueless. Bhattacharya comes across as too casual, falling into a predictable pattern of speech with the ruffian twang he brings to denote his working class background; Ganguly's childlike obsessiveness is too in your face and nothing that you haven't seen him do. Their liveliest exchange comes in a scene where Milan is fooling around in one room and Ganguly's Soumendra Krishna Deb is scolding him from another. Arguably it's the show's best scene, and tellingly, doesn't feature the two in the same frame.