Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Thayee Saheba & The Bong Connection

Kasaravalli says Thayee Saheba is probably the best film he’s made. I don’t recall what he said to substantiate that, but if I am allowed to conjecture, I would probably put it down to the movie being very, very close to being flawless. I sat through the entire two hours of the film, thought about it long and hard afterwards, though about it again later while skimming through the Internet on write-ups about the film (close to zilch actually); I couldn’t think of a flaw.

It starts in a straightforward enough manner, with the story of the feudal set-up in Kannada-land, where the man of the house – Appa Rao – is a very serious freedom fighter and messiah for the farmers in his acres of cultivable land. His wife is Narmada - Thayee Saheba to the masses – stuck at home along the lines of Charulata, but in a much less bourgeoisie set-up.

There are a series of twists and turns as Narmada moves from being the opinionated but subservient woman of the house to the person in control of the script. A lot of storyline is along general lines, with differences cropping up courtesy the scheming second-in-command of the house, Appa Rao being bumped off and so on and so forth. But it doesn’t get loose even for a second. Right down to the end when Thayee Saheba chooses to go against the law to make sure her adopted son is allowed to marry the woman of his choice – daughter of Appa Rao’s mistress and therefore the adopted son’s sister.

Also interesting is Narmada choosing Chandri – her husband’s mistress – as her comrade when she goes out to set the wrongs right. And the last shot is heart-wrenchingly gripping as Narmada sits down on the stairs of ‘her’ manor, and the old housemaid Radha-akka switches on the lights one by one to place her in a circle of lights– all as Narmada waits for the police to come and arrest her.

On the other hand, I had zero expectations from The Bong Connection, having seen Anjan Dutt’s Bada Din when it released. But The Bong Connection is actually absolutely brilliant. The humour – especially if you can follow the different Bengali dialects being used – is irreverent and educated; and some excellent acting seeps through from totally unexpected quarters.

Did you, for example, think that Shayan Munshi can actually be watchable? He is, as the America-born Bengali coming to Calcutta to make music with his American accent and affected Bengali strictly in place; scrapping with his opportunistic relatives and getting into a non-relationship with Raima Sen. Emerging quite the success story in the end.

Raima Sen is terrible. She can’t help it I guess. It was a role – the hard-nosed, hip modern Bengali woman – that even a moderately capable actor could have done wonders with. Raima cocks it up.

Parambrata Chattopadhyay is very, very good as the shobhyo, educated Bengali boy who reaches Houston to make a career. He leaves his girlfriend behind, but gets close to Rita, played by Peeya Roy Chowdhury…. The confusion, the culture shocks, all the brand new ways of life he is exposed to…it’s all very well done; and he looks even better because of Peeya’s absolutely mindblowing acting. We knew she was Shayan Munshi’s wife, so expectations were rather low from her as well. But she is totally wonderful, extremely watchable and lie I said, makes Parambrata look even better than he is.

And the effect of the freeflowing, rat-a-tat humour is made even better by a number of really competent members of the support staff. There isn’t a lot of time spent in fleshing out these characters, but Dutt touches the important aspects of their characters in the context of the film, and therefore people like Hasan the Bangladeshi taxi driver, Rakesh and the rest of the Bengalis in Houston, Munshi’s relatives in Calcutta, Victor Banerjee as the homophobic entrepreneur in Houston, etc all become memorable characters.

The only disappointment, however, was the complete wastage of Soumitro Chatterjee. Surely there’s no point in choosing him to be the wordless, comatose grandfather who dies midway through the film!