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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Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Film Review: Meghnadbodh Rohoshyo

Language- Bengali
Cast- Sabyasachi Chakaraborty, Gargi Roychoudhury, Abir Chatterjee, Vikram Chatterjee, Sauraseni Maitra, Sayoni Ghosh, Anindya Banerjee and others
Director- Anik Dutta
Release date- 21st July 2017

After two social satires including the impactful debut with Bhooter Bhobishyot I was keenly waiting about Anik Dutta's third film. The genre is expectedly different.

Meghnadbodh Rohoshyo starts with famous English science fiction writer and Oxford University teacher Asimavo Bose (Sabyasachi) who is presently in his hometown Kolkata on annual vacation and is attending the launch of his latest book translated in Bengali. Asimavo's second and present wife Indrani (Gargee), who is much younger to him, is a national award-winning actress who is past her prime and now keeps herself busy with an NGO. The film takes us into Asimavo's life. He is having long meetings with Elina (Sayoni) who is the translator of his book which was launched in Kolkata and is penning down his biography. Asimavo is also writing his first novel in Bengali that revolves around some young freedom fighters of Bengal. Indrani chances upon Kunal Sen (Abir), a national award-winning filmmaker for whose film she was feted with the national award. Indrani sets up the meeting of her daughter from her first marriage- Guli (Sauraseni) who stays in Bangalore for studies and has come over to stay with her mother for a few days, with Rik (Vikram), Asimavo's son from his first marriage. So far, so good! The mystery starts as Asimavo gets the famous Michael Madhusudan Dutta book 'Meghnadbadh Kabyo' from an anonymous guest on his birthday. As we come to know, he received another copy of the book by courier sometime back in Oxford. The book received on birthday had a certain page bookmarked with a certain line highlighted. It breaks the peace and rhythm of Asimavo's life and leads to his sudden disappearance. Indrani refuses to be a mere sufferer as police investigation makes no headway and she is joined by her good friend Kunal in an attempt to unravel the mystery. As we get into it gradually, we realise that the book is a clue to a murder traced back to Asimavo's youth when he was a Naxal leader. The film is a  whodunnit herefrom leading to the solving of the mystery of the murder of the real life 'Meghnad'.


I relished the unhurried pace Anik takes in developing the mystery in the first half and the whodunnit that has been crafted with a faster pace the second half. The first half was needed to be built carefully with the plot points to make the backdrop for the mystery. It's in the second half that the film picks up pace and weaves in a political angle as the plot draws from the Naxal era and establishes link with the Maoist movement of the present times.

Anik's signature pun and delightful sarcasm is peppered all over, like in this line of a retired cop to Kunal who said he wanted a make a film set in the Naxal era, "Apnaader Naxalgia konodin shesh hawbena, na?" or in the coinage 'Dhandamulawk bostubad' derived from 'Dawndomulawk bostudad'. There are witty jibes aimed at the ruling parties both at the state and the centre.

There are certain intellectual bits like a few clips of the play 'Meghnadbadh Kabya' showing Gautam Halder performing which may not go down well with a large section of the audience but the film can be enjoyed even if they are ignored.

The cast is apt and the performances are commendable. Sabyasachi is perfect as Asimavo. Gargee's Indrani becomes the perfect foil to het cerebral husband, as she basks in his fame and accomplishment. I only have reservations for Abir as I think he couldn't quite bring out the demeanour of a national award-winning filmmaker known for his brand of meaningful cinema. However, hr is good when out on the field solving the mystery. This is the first Bengali film of Sauraseni who is a model and has acted in two Hindi films including 'Chittagong'. She is impressive as the gen Y girl Guli for who the environment in her stepfather's home is alien. This is an ensemble cast and there are many actors who have been used wisely in small characters (Like Nimu Bhowmik as a retired police officer from the Naxal era).


Debajyoti Mishra's musical score has been used judiciously and the handful of songs fall in place with the flow of the story. The last song brilliantly penned by Debajyoti and equally well sung by Nikhita Gandi leaves a mark and brings the story to the end. The cinematography by the ever dependable Avik Mukhopadhyay, background score and other technical departments deftly support the storytelling. I only feel the police investigation dragged a bit and could be trimmed by a few minutes.

Overall, a rich mystery to relish.

#Cinema #BanglaCinema #AnikDutta #MBR

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Friday, August 04, 2017

A chat with Pratim D Gupta

If Dev D is his Masterchef on camera, he is playing the Masterchef behind it, giving all he can to cook the perfect Maacher Jhol to please his audience later this month. Paanch Adhyay (2016)- the first outing of this long time film journalist, well known for his reviews on t2, didn't cut much ice with the audience, but his second serve Shaheb Bibi Golaam- an edgy thriller set in Kolkata- filled the theatres for weeks last year and won several Filmfare awards too. It was also a musical hit. In the thick of the post-production for Maacher Jhol nowPratim took out some time to have a chat for Kolkata Curry.

Anirban: You were known as a film journalist and film critic till 'Paanch Adhyay' happened. What got you interested in filmmaking and screenwriting which means moving to the other side of the fence?

Pratim: I always wanted to write and direct films. I used to be involved with theatre from my school days. Later I was an active member of the theatre group Komal Gandhar. I did bit roles and a lot of production work. I was also a very good student and got a very good rank in WBJEE but I chose not to become a doctor or engineer because I was always artistically inclined and didn't want to join the herd. (Maacher Jhol also deals with this.) I studied films and English and got a job in a newspaper but I always wanted to make movies. Thanks to my day job, I spent a lot of time on film sets and also watched tons and tons of movies. And then I wrote a script called Vanish which got selected in the NFDC Screenwriter's Lab. That was the start of the journey.

A: Coming to 'Maacher Jhol', it's food film as the name suggests. And that's a brand new genre. Now, Bengalis are known for their devotion for food but I don't think it has ever been really explored in our cinema. What prompted you to make a food film? Also, for those who know you, you are a big foodie. How much of your philosophy of food is there in the film?

P: It's an out-and-out food film where food is a character. I have always wanted to make one. And when we are dealing with food and us Bengalis, I was always sure it would create a new motion picture experience. Because food for us is so much more than just food... memories, culture, state of mind... Of course, there is a very interesting yarn also spun around food. But it is the food factor which makes the film unique. And I've gone really deep into food. Not just Bengali films, I think Maacher Jhol is one of a kind when it comes to food films.

Pratim D Gupta on the sets of Maacher Jhol

A: A big surprise for the audience possibly is casting Ritwick as a Masterchef based in Paris. We know of his powerful acting acumen and you've briefly spoken in the media about how he has been stereotyped in Tollygunge. But what exactly made you think him in the shoes of Dev D?

P: After Shaheb Bibi Golaam I wanted to do a full film with him because I found him phenomenal in a film with such powerhouse actors. He created a performance texture which no one could come close to. And at the same time I was thinking of doing a food film. So the two came together. I never thought a second time about whether Ritwick will be able to pull off a sophisticated character. He can do anything. And to make him look the part, I was confident I could do it. Not just Tollygunge, even Bollywood cannot think beyond certain stereotypes for certain actors. Nawaz plays the same character in every other film. That makes my job all the more challenging and I love that. No one saw Anjan Dutt like a Jimmy Luke, no one saw Swastika in a twinplay like Jaya and Shuktara and no one saw Ritwick as a Masterchef Dev D.

Ritwick Chakraborty in a still from the film

A: We, the audience, miss a screen persona like Mamata Shankar these days. Characters with the kind of sensibility she exuded on screen aren't written anymore. What made you think of her in that role?

P: She is of a different league altogether. I am really honoured that she is the Maa of Maacher Jhol. The scenes with her and Ritwick are so special, that they really hold the film together. I am actually glad that she is extremely picky about her roles and doesn't do whatever is offered to her. We feel so sad to see Soumitra Chatterjee and Madhabi Mukherjee be part of such shoddy films.

A: What's your take on using music in your cinema?

P: Shot taking and using of music are how you can really make out the craft of a director. And I take a lot of active interest in these two departments. Right background music can really uplift a scene to an unforgettable moment. That both my DoP and background music director in Shaheb Bibi Golaam were applauded from all quarters make me very happy. I've got two new partners in Maacher Jhol. Subhankar Bhar has done some incredible work with the frames and Avijit Kundu making his debut as the background music director is my surprise weapon.

A: Lastly, what has the success of 'Shaheb Bibi Golaam' taught you?

P: That my ideas and treatment are audience friendly. That Bengali cinema doesn't need to be restricted to bouts of pseudo intellectualism and unnecessary chatter. That visuals can draw young audiences. That nothing, repeat nothing, is more important than good performances in a film.

Here's wishing the audience savours the steaming hot Maacher Jhol on 18th August.

#TollyDiaries #MaacherJhol #BanglaCinema #Cinema

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