Being unconventional is never a difficult thing to do. As long as you don’t feel bound by the barbed wire fences of convention, you can soar as high as you want. What’s difficult is being unconventional and at the same time, being able to carry it off with style. Sudipto Chattopadhyay’s debut, Pankh is quite a leap that way. Aptly titled (Pankh is the Hindi word for wings and carries connotations of a bird’s flight), it is a wild flight of the director’s fancy. And while the flight is high and ambitious, it also ends up spraying some droppings on the viewers down below.
Jerry Da Cunha (Maradona Rebello), a young boy just out of his teens, is living his life on the precipice. He has two small turtles as companions, in front of whom he bares open his mind. His pastimes include smoking crack and fantasizing about a starlet, Nalini (Bipasha Basu). But Jerry wasn’t always so messed up. He was a filmstar himself. He was a 2 time National Award winner. He was Baby Kusum, the star child artist. Having grown up playing female roles, Jerry is facing an existential crisis. He can’t put a finger on who he is. He has no clue whether he likes to act or doesn’t.
The film takes a peek into Jerry’s psyche. It does so in an interesting narrative style that uses his interactions with the turtles, his dominating mother (Lilette Dubey), the muse of his fantasy, an acquaintance from his younger days and sometimes, himself. What unfolds is dark, bizarre & disturbing. The film intends to comment on the tribulations of child artistes in the film industry, but by going into the extremes, ends up positioning the subject of its content as a stray case rather than the norm, which ends up being just one of its undoings.
The other big undoing of the film is that it loses focus every now and then. Its duration being a short 90 minutes, it needed every minute on the main plot. But it tries to comment on too many things and ends up wasting almost a third of its running time. Special mention for two of the most unbearable character I’ve seen on screen so far – Mahesh Manjrekar as a lecherous shuddh hindi spouting scriptwriter (enough said). And Asha Sachdev as an unscrupulous mother trying to push her daughter into films at “all costs”.
Next in line is the dialogues, written by Sudipto himself. Ironically, one of the dialogues in the film goes…Lafz…sirf lafz. Sundar…lekin bilkul be maayne (Words…plain words. Beautiful but meaningless). I wonder if it was a Freudian slip that this line found its way into the dialogues…no other description would have done justice to 60% of the film’s dialogues. The other 40%? Well…that comprised of the cheapest film & crassest of abuses one can sneak past the censors…which itself is a subject for another debate.
Add to that some way over the top performances and some that simply fail to start. Lilette Dubey (Mary, Jerry’s mother), Mahesh Manjrekar & Asha Sachdev belong to the first category while Ronit Roy (a film director), Sanjeeda Sheikh (Asha Sachdev’s daughter) and Bipasha Basu adorn the second. Debutant Amit Purohit (Salim, a stuntman & Baby Kusum’s childhood friend) tries hard but looks lost. And not to forget the choppy editing that looked like having been performed on a butcher’s stool.
If a viewer has the patience and guile to dodge this rain of droppings, he can see the couple of positives that the film can derive some respect out of. Sudipto Chattopadhyay shows good promise in terms of his narrative style and choice of subject. Though he needs to go a long way in matters of execution. Debutant Maradona Rebello is spunky and confident. A little polish on his acting and a good choice of scripts could see him go a long way.
Sudipto Chattopadhyay & Pankh are very good examples of seeking to be different just for the sake of it. That, IMO, just creates an illusion of cinematic progress. True progress will happen only when the potential is translated into solid films. Otherwise, it won’t be long before the promise turns into a mirage.