The flavour of Kolkata

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

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Review: Zulfiqar

Language- Bengali
Cast- Prosenjit, Dev, Parambrata, Jisshu, Ankush, Rahul, Koushik Sen, Nusrat, Paoli, Kanchan, June Maliah, Kyra Dutt and others
Director- Srijit Mukherji
Release date- 7th October 2016

After the very first action sequence it becomes clear what pitch this film is going to have. That, no, this is not going to be Bengali cinema’s answer to Satya or Company. It’s an unabashed mainstream attempt of the director known for his brand of sensible cinema with the support of two famous Shakespearean plays providing the lifeline missing in today’s Bengali mainstream cinema- content.

There isn’t much to say about the story as the film is an ambitious joint adaptation of Julius Caeser and Anthony and Cleopatra which have some common characters, the same backdrop and the latter follows the former chronologically. The world of dock mafia in Kolkata forms the backdrop in this tale of power, greed, friendship, love, betrayal and revenge. Zulfiqar (Prosenjit, based on Caeser) is the leading man in the umbrella crime racket known as Syndicate which operates on the collective decision of its members. The members are varied in nature, for example, there is a promoter- Kashinath Kundu (Jisshu, based on Cassius), the son of the local councillor and two government officers (Sujan Mukherjee and Srijato, the poet). Syndicate is the representation of the senate in Julius Caeser. It runs on a common principle- no one member can become exceptionally powerful or popular with the people, in other words, bigger than the syndicate. When that happens, he is eliminated.

The first half (and the beginning of the second half) of the film is based on Julius Caeser, essaying Zulfiqar Ahmed's rise in mass popularity in the area and a parallel fall from grace in his best friend's mind as he got addicted to grabbing the credits of group accomplishments himself, which eventually leads to his end, and the second half is Anthony and Cleopatra which traces Zulfiqar’s nephew Akhtar's (Ankush, based on Octavius) joining the business and taking over complete control of it. It's an exceptionally intriguing story indeed.There’s a gap of twenty years between the timelines of the plays which has deliberately been erased here.

The prominent members of Zulfiqar’s own gang are his closest friend Basheer Khan (Koushik Sen, based on Brutus), Tony Braganza (Parambrata, one half of Mark Anthony) and Markaz Ali- the brawn of the gang (Dev, the other half). Markaz and Tony are best friends forever to the point of being “brothers not from the same mother”, as Tony puts it. Markaz is dumb, so Tony puts words to his expressions to others.

Srijit has given the film a realistic backdrop (the dock area- Kidderpore and Metiabruz) that has largely been ignored in Bengali cinema, thus giving the story a fresh look and feel which is one of its strong points. It’s the old Kolkata that we not only don’t get to see on the big screen but also know very little about. The action sequences are smarter, at par with national standards and much more realistic than average Bangla mainstream cinema not only for the action direction but also for the way they are shot. The drone shots need a mention.

However, there are certain noticeable excesses for the temptation to play to the gallery in certain sequences. The blast in the ship after the successful counter operation by Zulfiqar’s gang following his kidnapping and the kickboxing match featuring Markaz and a foreign opponent (the WWF type) are instances. There is lack of detailing in the action sequences too- Thunderous punches landed in the kick-boxing bout failing to cause visible injury to the face, no blood squirting even when someone is forcefully hit by sharp weapons, while an exception is- Rabindranath's framed photo is coloured with blood spray when bullets are fired into one's head point blank, just for the visual effect. There’s a chase by toughs with firearms without a single gunshot fired!! It’s obvious that Srijit wanted to reach out to a much larger audience with this film, including a big new audience who would watch the film not for Shakespeare, or to catch a Srijit Mukherji film for the first time but for the sheer star power and a new story. Such excesses should be lapped up by it and such lack of detailing overlooked.

The first thing to strike me was- Why is Koushik talking in a fake voice? Well, apparently to bring a certain gravity to the persona of Basheer, but that doesn’t work as his modulation works mostly at a higher pitch as we see it through the film. A measured modulation would’ve worked well, like it has worked for Jisshu.

The language is a bit of a mess here. Because of the setting, the script demanded a lot more Hindi. But characters whose mother language is not Bengali are seen speaking in the language when conversing among themselves. The oddest was Pariza, Basheer’s wife (June, based on Portia) talking to him in chaste Bengali. Hindi and Bengali frequently alternate in the dialogue, taking away the essence of the setting. And Tony talks in and toggles three languages- English (his mother language), Hindi and Bengali with almost equal ease! He delivers a speech to the localites at Zulfiqar’s funeral in a weird hotchpotch of all the three languages.

The first half is better than the second and has more drama. The director has skillfully blended high-octane thrill with drama while bringing out one of the disturbing trends of the city youth these days- bike racing in the night.

I just wish the director kept some screen time establishing the aura and leadership of Zulfiqar and not depended on the elaborate narration of inspector Laltu Das (Rahul, based on Lepidus) in the beginning of the film as he was handing over charge to his successor. The director has premeditatedly played to the gallery in Zulfiqar’s assassination scene as Prosenjit does an Amitabh Bachchan (a la Coolie or Agneepath) taking bullet after bullet from the syndicate members yet refusing to collapse. He falls on his knees once but, no, stands up again before Basheer fires the last bullet! If gunshot has to replace stab (as in the play), the scene called for a different composition.

The revenge of the death by Akhtar (Ankush), the foreign-educated, calm, young nephew of Zulfiqar up to his taking complete control of the crime kingdom by eliminating challengers step by step forms the second half. The drama gets a bit weak in this part. Akhtar’s moves hardly face challenges, as if he has become a master strategist in just a few days.

In performances, Koushik and Jisshu stand tall in the ensemble cast. I assume the fake voice of Koushik was a director’s call, but otherwise he competently brings out the strong character of Basheer who is able to win audience empathy despite eliminating his best friend by falling in the trap devised by the power-greedy Kashinath. He has worked on his body for the first time in his film career and looks fit for all the high-voltage action. 

Jisshu has essayed an uncouth, pan-chewing, scheming, delightfully sinister Kashinath Kundu with a pockmarked face flawlessly. We rarely get to see understated  villains in Bengali cinema. Thanks to Srijit for consistently offering the right roles to this highly talented actor who didn’t get a fair deal for the most part of his career. 

The next to mention is Dev, who surprised with his silent portrayal of Markaz. It was indeed a masterstroke of Srijit to take away Dev’s voice (which could have backfired too) as the actor had to focus on physical acting. Dev has learnt sign language, not used some of his stock expressions and made use of his eyes, which put together have worked wonders. To me, after Bunohansh, this is the next milestone of his acting career. The deep hurt in his eyes after he discovered the betrayal of his lover (Rani, played by Nusrat, based on Cleopatra) is one of the defining moments of the film.

Prosenjit is apt as Caeser but for the way the character is written, it doesn’t offer remarkable scope for him to emote. It’s his charisma and screen presence that the director has chosen to use in this film. The characterization of Tony is a disappointment and I found Parambrata miscast in the role. He was obviously chosen for the cerebrality of the character and his English-speaking skill which is rare in Tollygunge, but I didn’t find a single scene where Tony’s strategizing power is established. He never seemed the brain of the crime syndicate which he was supposedly, as articulated in one of the pre-release interviews. This is one of Srijit’s major weaknesses in the film. On the acting part, a criminal in that kind of a setting, no matter how intelligent he is, should not sound as cultivated as a young lecturer. The weird wig didn’t help as the face and the eyes weren’t supporting it. And it’s high time Param gets rid of certain expressions, like his typical eye movement, as they suit a college boy more and not a crime mastermind. Just to mention, I have appreciated Param in two diametrically different characters earlier this year in Kaushik Ganguly’s Bastushaap and Cinemawala and it’s understandable that the diector was responsible for smoothening out these rough edges.

The role of Akhtar was too heavy for Ankush’s well-built shoulders and the director has not been able to groom him as much as needed for this key character who leads the second half. I understand his limitations as an actor, but his efforts to rise to the career-defining role was lacking. Also, the director apparently put in more effort on getting the transformation of his look from the suave, Bangla band-loving youngster to a cold-blooded strategeist right than on being ruthlessly demanding of his actor’s emoting skill (which he is famous for).

Nusrat is glamorous and sensuous without doubt, but Rani lacked the killer charm and enigma of Cleopatra, the traits she is famous for. Zulfiqar’s wife Karishma’s character also lacked depth (Paoli, based on Calphurnia) as she is mostly found drugging, smoking or hallucinating. Srijit probably balanced out by paying disproportionate attention on the male characters after his women-centric Rajkahini last year.

This is indeed the most versatile score of Anupam and his lyrics touch the soul. All the songs are good and some stay in the mind like the romantic Katakuti khela (by Shaan and Shreya), Amader ghawrbari (by Anupam) and Ayak purono masjide (by Nachiketa) but the former looks forced in the flow and I so wish the last one was used in the first half to build the character of the area which remained stereotypical throughout the film. Soumik’s camera brings out with the dark and shady world competently (the action scenes are already mentioned).

Overall, Zulfiqar is a strong mainstream product which is better not seen as an ambitious double adaptation of Shakespeare. You shall probably enjoy it better if you don’t have expectations as you go to the theatre.

#Zulfiqar #BanglaCinema #SrijitMukherji #Dev #Shakespeare #JuliusCaeser #AnthonyandCleopatra #BengaliCinema

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Sunday, October 09, 2016

Pujo 2016

Here are some moments from Pujo (as Puja is called by Bengalis) which is going on from
7th (Shasthi) to 11th October 2016 (Dashami).

A pandal (marquee) made of grass in Talbagan, Barrackpore in north suburbs of Kolkata

 A pandal designed like an old, decaying mansion in Nonachandanpukur, Barrackpore

The pandal in Nonachandanpukur, Barrackpore

Human models in the pandal in Nonachandanpukur, Barrackpore

Puja is now being referred to globally as 'World's largest art gallery' thanks to the incredible popularity of theme in creating the pandal (marquee) and the idol of goddess Durga among thousands of pujas organised in Kolkata. Let me also say for the records that Puja, without doubt, is one of world's largest and greatest festivals which draws several lakhs of crowd in the city in just the five days.The themed pandals that mesmerize the visitors are actually huge art installations created by qualified and self-taught artists over a long time. The districts have followed in the footsteps competently and have been drawing crowds as well. The picture of the pandal below from the adjoining district of North 24 Parganas is representative of the fact. Many pandals in suburbs and districts can give those in the city a run for their money.
The pandal in the puja of Anandamath, Ichhapur in northern suburbs of Kolkata. 

Loved the classical form of idols of goddess Durga and her two sons and daughters in this puja in Ichhapur. Since as per Hindu mythology Durga killed the monster Mahishasura in a fight, her face is supposed to look feisty and angry. This is aptly expressed in the right degree in this idol.

 No Pujo is complete without khichhudi bhog

#Puja2016 #Bhog #WorldsLargestArtGallery

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Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Food Blogging Workshop by Social Bong

Wannabe food bloggers picked up innumerable tips and guidelines from experienced bloggers to help themselves get started on their blogging journey in this recent food blogging workshop organized by Social Bong and presented by Zomato. It was well timed as we are approaching the gastronomic quarter of the year (October-December, the time of the year when we look forward to eating to our heart’s content much more than anytime else). It was held at Aauris, the new hotel at Robinson Street, off Rawdon Street.

Anindya Sundar Basu and Madhushree Basu Roy, the blogging couple behind Pikturenama, a food and travel blog, kickstarted the workshop with a fun-filled and highly interactive session on why blog, tips on good blogging and setting the expectations of a new blogger right. They generously drew from their blogging journey of about one and a half years. The common queries like how one can monetize the blog were handled well. 

Madhushree Basu Roy and Anindya Sundar Basu

It was followed by Debjani Chatterjee Alam’s informative session on the technicalities of starting and maintaining a blog with a lot of useful and actionable guidelines (like getting the size of the pictures right for the blog to load on a smartphone screen which is the increasingly used medium to read blogs). Debjani’s blog is named Debjanir Rannaghar and she’s a recipe and review blogger. She, among other things, discussed search engine optimization (SEO) and buying a domain name for a blog to create its own identity and shared costs of the online tools for a blog. The audience was kept entertained by her wisecracks. The session had an informal approach and the audience felt free to place their queries.

Debjani Chatterjee Alam. Photograph by Subhadip Mukherjee.

The lunch spread in Bengali cuisine was extensive. I liked fish chop and devilled egg, though missed the mustard sauce. The Sorshe Machh (Mustard Fish) with a sweet twist was decent too and the Chhanar Payesh (Creamy dessert with small cottage cheese balls) was impressive.

Post lunch, Samridhi Singhvi (Marketing Head-East, Zomato), gave an overview of food reviewing and bloggers’ opportunities on Zomato. It was a useful session in terms of understanding Zomato better for those who were not much familiar with it. She importantly explained the dos and don’ts of a good review on Zomato.

 Samridhi Singhvi

It was followed by ace food photographer Sayantan Sarkar’s session where he taught food photography on DSLR and mobile camera and his wife Rani Sarkar taught food styling before shooting. They shared a lot of pointers and tips for everyone to improve their photography skills for food. The practical part of the session where Sayantan shot the lunch spread was quite effective.

 Sayantan Sarkar in the practical session

Poorna Banerjee (of the blog PresentedbyP), a lifestyle blogger and one of the most experienced as well as leading names in Kolkata blogging circuit, took the last session in her no-nonsense style with valuable tips on writing and promoting a blog effectively on social media. Further queries were cleared in the panel discussion before the wrap-up. The panel comprised of Sammya Brata (blogger and founder of the Calcutta Instagrammers group on Facebook), Dolon Dutta Chowdhury (of the lifestyle blog Pout Pretty) and Anindya. This should serve as the starting point and Kolkata needs many more such workshops in near future.

Poorna Banerjee. Photograph by Subhadip Mukherjee.

#BloggingWorkshop #FoodBlogging #FoodPhotography #WorkshopKolkata

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