Make no mistake, this movie is gold, 22-karat, just right for ornaments!
Expectations were high for 3 reasons: one, the director was Aparna Sen and this was being dubbed as her dream project; two, the original story was penned by none other than Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay; and last but not the least, a stellar cast! The movie has not only lived up to the hype, but even exceeded it. And no, it is neither a feminist relationship drama, nor a children’s film, but rather a comedy, tragedy, romance, drama, history, society, fantasy all rolled into one superbly enjoyable film, both for the classes and the masses!
Okay, a brief plot outline first (no spoilers, guys). “Pishi” (Mousumi Chatterjee), of the Mitra family of
zamindars, inherits 500 ‘bhori’ gold in a “Goynar Baksho” (jewellery box). She is married off at 11, and
returns home widowed at 12! She lives occupying 3 rooms at the top floor of the palatial Mitra mansion,
and the jewellery box becomes her most precious possession and obsession. This was in the British era.
Now it is 1949, two years after independence. Somlata (Konkona Sen Sharma) arrives as the young bride
married to Pishi’s brother’s younger son (Saswata Chatterjee). One day, Somlata discovers Pishima dead,
and encounters her Ghost. The ghost (Pishima) hands over the jewellery box to Somlata, and orders her
to keep it safely, to save it from being taken away and sold by other members of the family, most
notably her brother’s elder son (Pijush Ganguly) and daughter (Aparajita Adhya). Pishima helps Somlata
protect the jewellery box, in hilarious ways. The Mitra family’s fortunes are on the decline, but their
profligate ways are not. And it is not only the sons, but also the father (Paran Bandopadhyay) to blame,
who is also fighting a long drawn-out court battle with his elder brother (Manu Mukhopadhyay) for the
ancestral house. Somlata mortgages some of the jewellery and gets money to open a ‘saree’ shop, and
slowly revives the fortunes of the family. And there is a mysterious stranger (Koushik Sen) who is madly
in love with Somlata, and stalks him regularly. In 1953, Somlata gives birth to a daughter named Chaitali
(Srabonti Chatterjee). Next we move on to 1971, when the Bangladesh Mukti-juddha (War of
Independence) is in full swing. Chaitali is a bright young woman of 18 now, and in love with one of the
Muktijoddhas. Somlata now hands over the jewellery box to Chaitali, who handles it quite differently
from its previous owners. The twists and turns of the plot, and ending, I better not reveal here.
The set design is simply superb creating a fine period-look – the old palatial mansion and furniture, the
stream-engine train, the horse-driven carriages, the bazaar, the lanterns, the attention to every piece of detail creates a magnificient setting and literally transports you back in time. The lighting and sound is just perfect. The cinematography is brilliant, and the special effects neat and restrained. Debajyoti Mishra’s music is good. The comedy mood sets in with the opening credits by Anindya-Upal, we have a terrific “baithak-khana adalat” score, and Rupankar’s soul-stirring song during the ending credits provides a fitting finale.
A sidenote. As the ending credits start and the song starts playing, the people suddenly stand up (as if it is our national anthem), and some of them start rushing out (as if they are going to miss a flight), and you can’t see the screen anymore! :-( This disease is spreading fast, and no movie show is being spared!
And the dialogues, what dialogues! Aparna + Shirshendu = Magic!
In the acting department, Mousumi is excellent as the dominating, scheming, yet sensitive, loving Ghost, and delivers absolutely hilarious one-liners and moving poignant moments with equal aplomb. The movie is centred on her bitter-sweet relationship with Konkona as Somlata, who is equally good as the timid, stammering yet intelligent, entrepreneurial wife. Saswata can inject life into any character, and tickle your funny bone like no other, sometimes even without saying a word. Paran Bandopadhyay is as good as ever. Pijush, Aparajita and Manasi provide able support. Srabonti is good, but does not have much of a role as Chaitali.
The movie works on multiple levels – on the surface, it is a light ghost comedy movie, with the ghost delivering most of the punchlines, sending the audience into peals of laughter. But as you dig deeper, behind the harsh (albeit funny) exterior is revealed her wounded soul longing for a little love and recognition, and you have some of the most touching scenes, where even the most hard-nosed professional would have a hard time keeping back his tears. There is romance, and a very cute one at that, between Somlata and her husband. And there is infidelity. If it is alright for men to keep mistresses, why should the women keep themselves back? And in the historical backdrop spanning three generations, this film is a microcosm of change in social outlook, reflected nowhere better than in the changing approach of the three generations of women protagonists towards the same jewellery box.
A few things could have been better, though. The romance between Konkona and Kaushik does not work so well on screen. And the Muktijoddha episode does not quite fit in, its treatment looks hurried, and somewhat disconnects and spoils the mood set earlier. The ending is good again, though.
Won’t get into debate here about which is better, the book or its movie adaptation, because I feel that reading the book earlier may be a bit of spoiler while watching the movie (and vice versa too!), and because …… well, er, ….. I haven’t read the book yet! ;-) But one thing I can tell you now. I can’t wait to get my hands on it!
This review cannot be complete without talking about the living legend whose dream project this film is. You cannot see her, you cannot hear her (okay, except when she lends her inimitable voice to the customary warning not to smoke cigarettes because it kills), but you can feel her genius in every scene, in every dialogue, in every detail. The passion and hard-work, the love and care with which she has got the entire cast and crew involved in her dream, and carefully re-constructed an era long gone by, and told this complex multi-dimensional story in such a easy free-flowing manner, and got us involved too with the agony and ecstasy of Pishima, Somlata et al, where we laughed and cried with them - hats off! And Thank You, Aparna Sen!