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Upperstall Review




Bengali, Drama, 2009, Color

Abhik Choudhury (Rahul Bose) is an IPS officer based in Kolkata. Having lost faith in real relationships from his experience of his near-and-dear ones, he tries to seek some kind of emotional bond from the virtual world by striking up an e-chat connection with "raat jaga tara" or, 'the night-star who keeps awake.' He, "the boy in the Box', is not really interested keen on finding out who she is, what her name is, what she looks like, and so on. He seems satisfied with his e-chats with this net-friend till things seem to go a bit out of control. Ranjan (Kalyan Roy), Abhik's first cousin, is separated from his high-flying wife Paromita (Aparna Sen), but they still share a deep empathy for each other. Moni Pishi (Sharmila Tagore) is Abhik's single aunt he lives with. Shalini Mehra (Mita Vashisht) suffers from phases of depression and migraine and has a bad relationship with her husband (Souvik Kundogrami), an industrialist. Does Abhik try to turn his Internet relationship into a real one that could lead to emotional stability? Or, does he, along the way, find Brinda Ray Menon (Radhika Apte), the fiercely persevering young investigative television journalist more interesting than his "raat jaga taara"?

Has the technological revolution and the information highway redefined the parameters of love between a man and a woman? Can love transcend the needs of physical presence? Is sex mandatory in love or can love survive merely through the urgency one feels to be in touch with the person one finds solace in. "At times, a stranger is a better friend than people you know because you can open your heart out to the person you do not know at all," says Abhik's unseen chat-friend to him. As Abhik wanders through Brinda's flat towards the end of the film, he watches, with amazement, Mexican painter Frida Kahlo's paintings hanging on the walls, a torn red kite flittering away in the breeze caught in the antenna of the terrace, he recognizes them as experiences from another source. He discovers, with shock, that the love he thought he had finally found, has escaped from his grip just as he was about to grasp it, that it has remained as elusive as it was in the beginning. As he drives back through the Kolkata streets looking out at similar scenes, which now assume new meaning, he realizes that love might have eluded him in its common-sense meaning, but it has left behind a heavy residue of its quality of eternity.

Death plays a cathartic role in Aniruddha Roy Choudhury's beautiful celluloid poem. Paromita, a top executive of the television channel where Brinda works, has separated from her husband because she feels he holds her guilty for his father's death. She had gone on a photographic expedition to Tibet. Ironically, she neither paints nor photographs any more. A 'mountain of sentiments' has kept them apart though one can actually see them desperately trying to pick up the remains of a fragmented relationship, to begin again. Shalini Mehra blames her husband for the accidental death of her daughter from an earlier marriage. It breaks their relationship for good. But the dead girl's photograph rests on his office desk. He confuses Brinda's determined crusade against his diabolic ways of uprooting locals for his industrial needs by telling her of the tragedy. Once, when Shalini is down with migraine, he tells the servant to give her a pill for the headache. Moni Pishi lives with fond-sad memories of a relationship that lived and died with the ringing of the telephone, without her ever knowing, or even wanting to know, who the caller at the other end was. "Do you still wait for his telephone call?" asks Abhik and the telephone begins to ring. That marks the end of Moni Pishi's love story.

The screen, painted, rather than 'cinematographed' by Abhik Mukherjee's magic camera, is soaked with technological innovations of contemporary urban life such as the cell-phone, the television set, the laptop, the internet connection, the chat-room, juxtaposed against the poetry of a surprise birthday party organised by Paromita for Ranjan, the home lit with candles of all shapes and sizes, Brinda's home a picture of aesthetic blends of Frida Kahlo, artifacts, odds and ends and a beautiful, slightly opaque glass screen with a love-poem by the Persian poet Rumi scribbled across, awash with the rains when she sings out lines of poetry beautifully penned by Chandril and Anindyo of Chandrabindoo. Moni Pishi's home is simple but artistic.

The seamier side of the city is hinted at and left at that. Ranjan lives in a skyscraper that offers a completely different perspective of the city of Kolkata from the one the film opens with Abhik and his colleagues climbing up the steps of a building under construction to capture a cache of arms along with the culprit. Roy Choudhury places his characters deeply within Kolkata, offering brief glimpses into the varied faces of the city. The rain washed streets as Abhik drives through them, the drunk tottering off a cab every night near Abhik's place, the flyover where Brinda steps out of her red car when she discovers the identity of her chat-friend, the white-kurta-pyjama-clad man who sits lazily on his motor-cycle every day on Abhik's way to work, the Golf Club peopled by the rich and the famous, the uprooted slum people threatened to keep their traps shut, the boy threatening his brother with the gun because he thinks the man is responsible for his girlfriend's suicide, all fit in neatly into the jigsaw puzzle called Life.

Roy Choudhury's characters are shaded, not stark Black or White. They are rounded off with romance, poetry, music, subtle lines of dialogue seeping out of every pore, reinforcing the director's belief that love does not know age, looks, position or status, except some intellect and a lot of feeling. The most sparklingly natural performance comes from debutante Radhika Apte who is fresh and lovely and everything a star would never have been. Rahul Bose compliments her like two rhyming lines of a poem. Kalyan Ray's Ranjan is spontaneous while Aparna's face is too famous and starry to slip under the skin of Paromita though she puts in her best. Sharmila Tagore proves yet again that age does mellow one's performing abilities stripping off the mannerisms one acquires with stardom.

The film insists, through its few characters and their interactions with one another, that love is eternal and eternity can define love in every conceivable situation. Roy Choudhury invites his audience to participate in the love stories of his characters. Mita Vashisht's Shalini is as bitter, cynical, angry and sad as expected to be while Souvik Kundogrami as her suave, diabolic husband who covers his pain with his no-nonsense professionalism is wonderful. Arghyakamal Mitra's editing is as lyrical as the low-key, romantic musical score of Shantanu Moitra who does a complete turnabout from his louder Hindi scores. Chandril and Anindyo's lyrics are against their regular beat and prove their ability to infuse mood. The final scenes shot inside Brinda's home, with her mother shot in the shade, are more telling because they do not have any dialogue. This film is several notches above Roy Choudhury's first film Anuranan.

Upperstall review by: Shoma A Chatterji

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