The flavour of Kolkata

The flavour of Kolkata
The city is known for its old alleys. One such is shot by Atanu Pal.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Film review: Maacher Jhol

Language- Bengali
Cast- Ritwick Chakaraborty, Mamata Shankar, Sumanta Mukherjee, Paoli Dam, Sauraseni Maitra, Kaya Blocksage and others.
Director- Pratim D Gupta
Release date18th August 2017

We show our love for food by shooting and posting food pictures on social media, discuss food with friends and colleagues, take pride in the identity of Bengali being a foodie community but never think of paying a fitting tribute to food in our cinema. And here, finally, we have a food film! Thanks to Pratim to start with, just for the choice of subject (See his interview to this blog here. He said a food film was brewing in him for quite some time).

Dev D is an internationally acclaimed MasterChef running his Michelin-starred restaurant in Paris. He lives in with his French girlfriend but is reluctant to commit to marriage. His mother's illness brings him to India after thirteen years and he is given a task by his mother- to cook the same 'Maacher jhol' (A light Bengali fish curry with a subtle flavour) that he had cooked for her in his teens. He devotes himself to come up with a flawless dish and learns precious life lessons in the process. Whether he succeeded in cooking the perfect 'Maacher jhol' is what the film unfolds.

What is endearing about the film is that it lives up to its name. Like 'Maacher Jhol' is a simple dish rustled up by Bengali mothers for family members (it's not a dish to treat guests to), the film follows a simple plot and stays loyal to it. There is a sub plot but that has been given only as much importance as it deserves. The dialogue has a succinct quality that's rare in today's Bangla cinema. The characters speak in our language, only as much as needed, and the message is conveyed perfectly. A sprinkle of humour at places adds flavour to the storytelling. A thumbs up to Pratim's writing and making, in that order. A good film starts with a good script, it reminds yet another time.

The setting in France (apart from Kolkata) where the film opens, has given the film a fresh and classy feel. There are a lot of French lines in the beginning and thereafter and the first eleven minutes have only French but it doesn't feel out of place because of the simplicity of the story and the Bengali and English subtitles.

Ritwick has brought out the persona of a successful professional who is a caring son and a Bengali at heart successfully. His look is apt for a simple and brilliant Bengali student from an orthodox family who ended up as a global culinary celebrity. As Dev D he exudes a quiet confidence which stands in contrast with Debdutta Sen- his younger phase when he was into a job after studying engineering to meet his father's expectations but was not liking it at all as his passion lay in cooking. Debdutta was unhappy and unsure. Ritwick has created this range of personality traits with his face, eyes and physical acting that displays the mastery of his acumen. I shall remember his gaze at his mother on the hospital bed when he saw her for the first time after thirteen years (see picture below). It explains why after working with him in Shaheb Bibi Golaam Pratim wanted to make an entire film with him.

Source: Maacher Jhol trailer on YouTube

One good thing about the film is that the protagonist is revered for his craft, but flawed as a human being. This makes Dev D all flesh and blood.  Through the film he evolves as a human being and this growth curve elevates the film.

Maacher Jhol is well cast and the actors have done complete justice in their roles. It has helped that the characters are etched out well. Perhaps only Mamata Shankar could have brought Dev's mother to life. It's a treat to watch her become such an endearing character on screen after long and justifies her admirable  body of work with important directors of Bangla cinema. Paoli (playing Dev's wife from a loveless marriage who he left to pursue his passion in France) has limited screen time but her Sreela binds the film. The growth of Dev as a human being is all thanks to her. Sumanta Mukherjee is perfect as the 'bonedi' north Kolkatan patriarch who is proud of the blue blood of the family.  Kaya Blocksage is likable as Dev's French girlfriend. Sauraseni Maitra, a newcomer in Bangla cinema, is good as chef Maggi who is the satellite to the planet called Dev D. Her gen Y vibes are spot on. She was impressive in Meghnadbodh Rohoshyo too (Read the review here). Bangla cinema is in serious need of young talent like hers.

Source: Maacher Jhol trailer on YouTube

Anupam Roy is commendable in the limited scope of just three songs (Two in the film and one playing with end credits). The Rabindrasangeet 'Je tore pagol bawle' beautifully sung by Shaheb Chattopadhyay has been applied well in the montage of Paris early in the film. 'Dawttok' is a gem of a melancholic number built around Dev's nostalgia sung by Anupam. Young DoP Subhankar Bhar is an established name in cinematography now and he has shown Paris, north Kolkata and the modern Kolkata in the right hues. I particularly liked Paris on his camera- classy but not overwhelmingly attractive. Subhajit Singha, who works with Kaushik Ganguly, has done a swell job in editing that has ensured the story is well told in a length of less than two hours (108 minutes).

Not that it doesn't have its share of blemishes. A few scenes are weak, like the drunken scene and the one of procurement of 'bori' (sun dried and fried lentil dumpling) for cooking. Also a few shots in the cooking scenes look straight out of TV ads of spice brands and appear out of place. The similar cooking shots are played again and again, so after a point they feel like stock shots and bring a monotony. This is a flaw hard to ignore in a food film. Showing the chef in action and an interaction with his assistant would perhaps have added the desired seasoning. Dev and his girlfriend are not shown getting intimate except a hug even in private. A romantic kiss in Paris where the film comes back at the end would have been the perfect freeze frame but all we are left with is a hint of it. And finally, such a nice and peppy title track in the lovely voice of Nikita Gandhi got wasted in the background play with end credits. However, these that do not take away much from the overall experience.

Overall, a simple and taut film which has 'Bangaliana' at its core. The aftertaste of the 'jhol' will last long just like mother's cooking.

#Cinema #BanglaCinema #RitwickChakraborty #Paoli #MaacherJhol

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