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Upperstall Review





Bengali, Drama, 2011, Color

Radhika (Rituparna Sengupta) is a young woman who is not afraid to express her physical desires and her sexuality. She deserts her first husband to begin life with a younger and stronger Shambhu (Rajesh Sharma), who is a renowned snake charmer drawing an audience with his tricks easily in villages. But over time, snake charming is no longer a viable profession. The villagers now have alternative choices of entertainment - television, cinema, video shows and more importantly, the circus. Besides, Shambhu is unwell and is not able to perform with the expertise and the grace he once had. He cannot perform in bed either, making Radhika very frustrated indeed. When Pyarelal Circus arrive to pitch its tent in the village where Radhika and Shambhu have come to perform, they find they are steadily losing their audience. But the sexually frustrated Radhika feels a physical pull towards Kesto (Indraneil Sengupta), the manager of the circus. However, Kesto already has a female partner (Rimjhim Gupta). Will he surrender to Radhika's seductive charms? Will Radhika leave Shambhu to elope with Kesto and begin a new life when the old holds neither charm nor livelihood?

Bedeni marks a distinct departure from the predominantly urban/rural orientation of Bengali films, mainstream, mid-mainstream or off-mainstream. The entire film, shot on location, is placed against the arid, isolated and distanced backdrop of Purulia district's Dungri village in Akharpur, 20 kms away from Purulia town. This invests the film with an ambience of dryness drawing parallels with the arid lives of Radhika and Shambhu who come to pitch their small tent there to make a living out of their snake-charming trade. Veteran cinematographer Ashim Bose makes ideal use of the panoramic expanse of the dry scenario, capturing a crying Radhika in the distance, as husband Shambhu walks away from her in disgust after having bashed her up for having rescued Kesto from the long arm of the local police. The night shots outside Kesto's tent where Radhika stealthily comes to peep through a hole to watch him making love with his partner, or, the interior of Radhika's tent lit by a single gas light highlight the tragedy of the helpless Radhika who is aware that their snake charming act has lot out to the competition from the circus brilliantly. The panoramic view of the horizon, shots of Radhika taking a dip in the lake, offer an alternative vision of the country we live in but are not aware of. The climactic shots of Radhika coming to set Kesto's tent on fire and then surrendering to his masculine charms, begging him to run away with her are beautifully shot. At the same time, the core message of the story with its underpinnings of the tragedy of one form of folk art losing out to another on the one hand, and a wandering family cracking up under pressures of poverty and deprived of sex on the other comes across loud and clear.

The film is very dark and depressing because that is how the writer conceived of it and as director, Anjan Das decided to stick to the original story by and large. Unlike the original however, he keeps the last frame open to interpretation by the audience. The original story had a closed ending with Radhika and Kesto running away into the uncertain and the unknown. In the film, Radhika, bent over the throbbing and scared body of a supine Kesto, turns around to face the camera in close-up and the film freezes on that open note of uncertainty.

Rituparna Sengupta in one of the most radical roles of her career adds a dose of freshness to her performance and does extremely well. She laughs, cries, gets angry, uses slang freely, drinks along with the men who step in, hawks her 'magic' herbs, feels insulted and humiliated by her 'husband' Shambhu, expresses her intense physical pull towards the handsome, strong and macho Kesto and parries with Kesto's circus partner coolly without losing her temper. The script adds a touch of dignity to the character which Rituparna lives up to when she refuses to sell hooch for a living instead of showing her snake-charming tricks. On the other hand, when she switches loyalty from Shambhu to Kesto and sets his tent on fire, we discover that she is a woman who does not bother about the ethics of her actions. But the dark make-up on her face to give her the mandatory tan of a gypsy woman is very inconsistent. The other lack is the absence of a single snake show for the gathered audience. She simply takes out one snake after another in one scene and introduces each one by name, then pulls back a slithering number before she rises to leave. The brief flashback into her first marriage does not match her present status as a gypsy snake charmer because she used to weave baskets for her husband to sell.

Rajesh Sharma as Shambhu is his natural self and is becoming a bit too predictable from one film to the next. It is probably because he has too often been stereotyped into a given negative slot. Why as a snake-charmer gypsy, he plays on the dholak and not on the traditional been remains a mystery that defies logic. Indraneil as Kesto, the circus master looks too polished to match the semi-literate dialect he speaks in, not helped at all by his lines dubbed by Shankar Chakraborty. His face is expressionless while his partner in bed is panting away in ecstasy. Rimjhim Mitra as his circus partner is okay in the brief cameo she has.

Jyotishka Dasgupta's musical score draws liberally from original folk numbers of the area. This adds to the film's authenticity. Anup Mukherjee's sound design adds a special quality of the real and the mystique to the film's sad mood. The sound of a speeding train in the distance, nocturnal sounds of heavy breathing, sounds of a couple making love, mingling with the noise of bats, frogs and other such living beings sometimes dotted with music on the soundtrack is imaginative and realistic at the same time.

The film offers an insight into the unknown lives of an unknown people, whose profession has been rendered illegal first in 1972 by the passing of the Wildlife Protection Act and then in 1991 though the country still has around two million snake charmers performing beyond the law. However, because of too many lapses in significant detailing, such as the circus costumes the leading couple wear are too purely white for the not very affluent circus team, or, the total absence of the snake charmer's been throughout the film one cannot truly label Bedeni a great film by the farthest stretch of critical acceptance. But it scores in terms of the director's originality of choice, Rituparna's performance, the cinematography and the sound design.

Upperstall review by: Shoma A Chatterji





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