Rituporno Ghosh may have his naysayers, but I have always had this conviction that he is the best Bengali cinema has produced ever since Satyajit Ray. Now, that’s a big accolade and of course people have criticised that Ritu Da has tried to emulate Ray a bit too much in his films. Well, may be. But then which Bong film-maker hasn’t? People have made films purely as tribute to Ray: the much-hyped Srijit Mukherji made his debut “Autograph” as an ode to Ray’s cult “Nayak” while Sujoy Ghosh put ample inspirations from Charulata for Vidya’s behaviour in “Kahaani” (one hears his next is an adaptation of Ray’s “Aranyer Dinratri”), and even the much talked about recent Bengali blockbuster “Bhooter Bhobisyot” by Anik Dutta had its reference set in Ray’s path-breaking political fable “Gupi Gayen Bagha Bayen”.
Yes, Rituporno has his own limitations – the biggest one is his handicap of not being able to move out of relationship dramas, but then so have many others across the world. But within the ambit, I would dare to say that he has made films as great as Ray did. His take on relationships have been starkly real, his ladies have received some of the choosiest of roles, and his sense of dialogues is possibly better than that of any other director in India. Though his first film “Heerer Aangti” (“Dimaond Ring”) never had a theatrical release, Ghosh left mark with two consecutive films post that. “Unishe April” (“19th April”, an adaptation of Bergman’s “Autumn Sonata”) and “Dahan” (“Fire”, based on a real incident and a novel of the same name by Suchitra Bhattacharya) both fetched National Awards and rightfully so. His slew of good films continued with “Bariwali” (“Landlady”, starring Kirron Kher), “Utsab” (“The Festival”), “Shubho Mahurat” (“Auspicious Mahurat” – the beginning of a film, based on a Miss Marple story by Agatha Christie) and peaked with Aishwarya Rai starrer “Chokher Bali” (“Sand of the Eye” or better called “Eyesore”, based on Rabindranath Tagore’s novel of the same name) which brought him national recognition. However, post Chokher Bali, his career saw a slowdown with the widely criticised “Antarmahal” (“The Interiors”) which preceded some of his less accepted or acclaimed films like “Raincoat”, “Sob Choritro Kalponik” (“All Characters Fictional”), “The Last Lear” and the debacle kids film “Khela” (“Game”). Though his “Dosar” fetched some critical recognition, especially because of Konkona Sen Sharma’s and Prosenjit Chatterjee’s amazing performances, and SCK, Raincoat & TLL received National Awards as Best Films in Bengali, Hindi and English films (not a mean feat though), his name lost the reverence it was associated with.
And then he came with “Abohomaan”, produced by Reliance Big Pictures and supposedly based on Satyajit Ray’s life and relation with his “Charulata” heroine Madhabi Mukherjee. A little birdie tells me that Sandip Ray objected to the idea and that’s why Ghosh was forced to make an indirect representation of the same through Abohomaan. The movie was originally planned in Hindi (“Kya Haseen Sitam”) with Amitabh Bachchan (some reports wrongly refer to Naseer Saab), Shabana Azmi, Farhan Akhtar and Madhuri Dixit / Vidya Balan in lead roles, but may be the producers didn’t see the commercial feasibility in the language or Rituporno took lesson from Hindi disaster “Raincoat”, but they dropped the idea and made the film in Bengali. And what a fruitful decision it was! More than anything, the result showed in the dialogues and the performances.
Before delving into further details about the story, I shall start with a small extract from the film, a brief conversation between Apratim and his father Aniker, the protagonists of the film, near a cliff overlooking the foggy Kanchenjunga.
Aniket: What is a film all about?
Apratim: Depends… moments, may be.
Aniket: Moments! You know we all catch fleeting moments and call them “Capture”. Not fair, not fair at all!…. (points at the horizon) The sky is tinged in such a bluish grey colour.
Apratim: It’s been foggy for a quite a while now.
Aniket: Look, as you said, the blue gradually changed into a dull grey.
Apratim: It will get dark now, and dewdrops are going to precipitate. We should go inside.
For the uninitiated, the above piece of conversation might look like just another piece of meaningless banter from just another verbose film. But the lines above perfectly represent the theme of the film. ABOHOMAAN means “Like Weather” – something that’s Eternal and yet never Constant. Like weather that’s interspersed by streaks of sunlight and sudden bursts of rain, life is never a uniform journey of either happiness or grief. Ritu Da presented the same ephemeral quality of life through the non-linear reels of his film that traces the life of an ageing filmmaker and the repercussions of his ‘scandalous’ affair with a young actress, on his life and his family.
The point to be noted here is that though the word ‘scandal’ has been used many a time during the course of the film, there is nothing really blasphemous about the relation. In fact, what could have been another film about infidelity from Ritu Da’s armoury turns out to be a subtle tale of an artist and his muse – reflecting on the fact that our society is often myopic enough to misconstrue this relation to being an amorous one.
The story seamlessly links three layers of incidents: the aftermath of Aniket Mazumder’s death, his earlier days with his family and the straining relation between him and his wife Dipti & son Apratim, and his pioneering film “Noti Binodini” that starred debut actress Shikha, escalating her career to fame and nurturing rumours of Aniket’s affair with Shikha.
Heralded as the man who brought global recognition to the alleys of Tollygunje (the den for Bengali cinema), Aniket Mazumder (Dipankar De) passed away after a prolonged phase of illness. He is survived by his wife Dipti (Mamata Shankar), son Apratim (Jisshu Sengupta) and mother (Shobha Sen). The story starts with his death and arrival of Shikha (Ananya Chatterjee) for his funeral, interlinked with her arrival for the first round of audition for Noti Binodini. Shikha is a lowbred, unkempt, chawl girl, who forms a perfect antithesis to the world of sophistication where Aniket belongs. However, it’s the young girl’s defiance that charms him. Surprisingly, it charms Dipti even more. Dipti, now Aniket’s most vocal critic as well as support, was the original choice for the role of Binodini when Aniket had thought of making it. However, the two got married and Dipti sacrificed her career, took care of his senile mother and reared their only son Apratim (“Beyond Comparison”). So, when she sees Shikha, Dipti decks up the latter in her own image and presents before Aniket. Not only does Dipti train Shikha further, but she also confers the name “Srimati” (another name of Radha) to the starlet; mentioning that Aniket had bestowed that name to Dipti when she was selected to play Binodini. Shikha gets the role and the movie starts rolling, albeit with her still receiving occasional taunts from her director, for her lack of modishness. A mute observer of the entire scenario is Apratim – an aspiring musician and an unkempt young guy. In a very filmy metaphoric way, Apratim refers to Shikha as “trouble” when she appears for the audition.
Things start getting ugly when the rumours of Aniket’s alleged relation with Shikha start making rounds. The most potent reason of the same is Aniket’s frequent visits to Shikha’s “North Calcutta” home. [For those who don’t know, the ostensible division between “North” & “South” Kolkata is almost like that of Manhattan & Queens]. Obviously, the first person to be affected by the rumours is Dipti, who not only feels betrayed by her man but also used by the woman she placed at the altar herself. The other person who feels victimised is Apratim, who is anguished at the sight of his mother’s sufferings and feels gradually alienated from his father. Soon after, Apratim sacrifices his career as a musician to become a film-maker. But instead of assisting his father, he takes up the offer to write for a Bengali magazine BINODON (Entertainment), supposedly to improve his writing skills. His first assignment is an article on his father, and Apratim writes a sacrilegious post (titled “Aniket-er Noshto Niketan” – The Broken House of Aniket) on his father’s personal life.
Now, this is the first line of differentiation that Rituporno Ghosh draws between Aniket & Apratim. While Apratim, an earnest human being, writes this unabashed essay without caring for its effect on his father’s life, Aniket accepts it heartily instead of taking it as his son’s insolence. It is said that a great director uses small tools to show his mastery. Look out for the scene where Aniket receives a call during dinner from BINODON’s editor, apprising him of the post and her decision to nullify it. Aniket justifies his son’s stand and pledges the editor to publish the same. Now, like many people with their idiosyncratic behaviour, Aniket has the habit of taking the cordless receiver and going to the bathroom to talk. Dipti, who presumes the call to be from Shikha, shows her ire by turning on the fan in the bathroom. As she comes back to the dining table, seething in anger, Aniket’s mother greases it by expressing concern about her son’s health. Apu, who could sympathise with his mother’s condition, doesn’t accept her uncalled for wrath on the woman who is anyways not in a state to comprehend everything. Now, in our cinema, we see characters either as “Good” or as “Bad”. The betrayed wife is still the ideal bahu who would spend her life in the seva of her mother-in-law. But here’s Dipti who gets irked up at the comment of her mother-in-law and blasts at her, even while Apu tries to play the hapless referee. Sample this:
(After Dipti returns to the dining table)
Mother: Why did Khoka (pet name for sons and young boys) go the washroom now? Is he unwell?
Dipti: Ask him when he gets out.
Mother: He works so much. God knows what he eats throughout the day. He needs to be taken care of. He needs some attention, Bouma (a way of referring to daughter-in-law).
Dipti: Who takes care of him? You?
Apratim: (to Dipti) Mom, what are you doing!
Mother: I have neither health nor the strength to do it. God has taken everything. I can’t say anything to you these days, Bouma. And I am also such a parasite. (She takes support of her stick and gets up. Apu rushes in to help his grandmom). Dadubhai (the most common Bengali way to call a grandson), you go and eat or else you will get scolded.
Dipti: Mom, don’t you ever think that I also need some attention, I also need some care?
Apratim: Maa, why you are you doing this?
(Aniket comes out of the washroom).
Dipti: (to Aniket) Listen, your mother thinks I don’t take care of you. Bring the one who does, will guide her with your medicines.
When we get angry in our family conversations, do we really care who is old, young or senile? Guess not! Yes, the aspiration model of cinema often forces filmmakers to segregate the Good & Bad in two sharply divided categories, forgetting that the two qualities are often two sides of the same coin.
Another master-stroke comes from the director as a conversation between Dipti and her mother-in-law, after the demise of Aniket. The old lady, oblivious to the death of her son, finds the house horded by people and assumes it to be a party. Dipti knows that it’s better not to let her about it.
Mother: You have become very disobedient these days.
Mother: Earlier, whenever there was a party, you used to tell me the reason, the foods being served. Now, you ignore me altogether.
Dipti: It’s not a party. They have come to meet your son. And I haven’t prepared the food. What do you want to eat? Tell me, that’s what I will get prepared.
Mother: I want to eat chowmein & pulao.
Dipti: It’s not good to eat chowmein & pulao together. You rather have chowmein today.
Mother: Ensure the chicken pieces are not un-cooked.
Dipti: They won’t. I will ensure.
I wonder if any Indian film-maker will think of incorporating a scene like this in their film. But it’s so starkly real that I am sure we would have seen a similar scene being played out in our families at some point or the other.
Though Aniket maintains an irreverent attitude towards Shikha in the beginning, he is mesmerised by her attitude during a song sequence. Though she does her part, she winks at the camera at the end of the song, something she was never asked to do. The editor is repulsed by the brazenness of the girl, but Aniket decides to keep it. As Dipti later confesses, though Aniket had always epitomised her for the role of Binodini, she would have never been able to pull off such an uninhibited and spontaneous pose. May be that was the reason why Shikha caught the director’s fancy and he took it upon himself to mould her to sophistication. In fact, all those days, when his car’s tyre got allegedly punctured in her lane, he would sit with her discussing literature, only postulating how beautifully Dipti would have done the female roles in them. As Shikha laments in one portion of the film, during her conversation with Apratim, that when she had returned from hospital after a failed attempt to commit suicide, only Dipti had phoned to check on her, while Aniket had remained painfully apathetic. In this regard, one can see a faint similarity between Ritu Da’s very previous work “Sob Choritro Kalponik”, where the wife discovers after the death of her husband that the muse in all his poems was none but she herself. Ritu Da takes the note of realisation and symphonises it to a crescendo in the climax of Abohomaan.
Chandrika (Riya Sen, yes she is there in the film in a cameo as Apratim’s wife) informs Dipti that Aniket wants to meet Srimati. In his last stage, Aniket has turned delusional and thinks that he is shooting a film with Srimati in the lead. To the world, Srimati is Shikha, but to Aniket, Srimati is still his wife. And the only person aware of this is Dipti, who realises that the call is for her and not Shikha and that’s why she turns up. The conversation that follows is one of the most brilliant ones in the film.
Dipti: Were you calling me? I am here. Srimati!
Aniket: Haven’t you done your make up?
Dipti: No, you don’t like make up, do you?
Aniket: (touches her cheek) Good girl. Come on, I want to take a shot.
Dipti: Wait, the lights are not ready yet.
Aniket: You didn’t say how you like working with me.
Aniket: Just good?
Dipti: (misty eyed) Great, amazing!
Aniket: Won’t you ask me how I like working with you?
Dipti: How do you like working with me?
Aniket: APRATIM… beyond comparison. Tell me one thing, is Apu taller than me?
I had goosebumps while watching the scene; I still have while writing it. Really, what else is the biggest creation of a man and a woman? None, but their child. And that feeling is really Beyond Comparison. That is really APRATIM. At the same time, doesn’t every father keep wondering whether his son is a better man than he is? The allegory of “taller” is taken here only to elucidate the quality of being a better artist. Is Apratim a better filmmaker than Aniket?
The analogy between Apratim and Aniket is another brilliant link of the film. It is often said that Sandip Ray is a more well-behaved, sophisticated and affable human being than what his father Satyajit Ray was. But it is no mystery that Sandip Ray could never surpass his father’s artistic dexterity and has lived his life only as a reflected glory (Chandrika calls Apratim that in one of the scenes) to the maestro. Pretty much on a similar line, Apratim could never leave a mark for himself as a film-maker. And in one of the portions of the film (after Aniket’s death), he confesses that to his mother, while she lists a few pointers for a documentary filmmaker and he has a scotch.
Apratim: No one else is going to make a film on Dad except me.
Dipti: Show me your script then. Let me decide who wrote better – that man or you.
Apratim: I am not going to make a documentary. It is going to be fictional.
Dipti: Fiction? You mean it will have his personal life?
Apratim: May be only about his personal life.
Dipti: Have you gone completely mad Apu? For years, we have been trying to hide this scandal…
Apratim: I don’t consider that to be a scandal.
Dipti: Doesn’t matter, others do.
Apratim: You are late Maa. You should have stopped me when I wrote that article on Dad. (Refers to the defamatory post in the magazine).
Dipti: I didn’t ask you to write any post.
Apratim: But you sent me to their office.
Dipti: That’s because I wanted you to improve your language. If you want to write a screenplay, don’t you need to have a command on the language?
Apratim: Rubbish! What do you feel? Do you think I could have really written the screenplay on my own?
Dipti: There’s nothing that can’t be done if you put in effort for it.
Apratim: Relax Maa. Calm down, for it’s all over. There is nothing left any further. He is gone. You don’t have anyone to whom you can prove that “I made my son a better filmmaker than you”. Why don’t you accept that I couldn’t have made the film?
Apratim was indeed not taller as a filmmaker. But as a man, he was. He could accept his own shortcomings unlike his father. However, Ritu Da brings in an interesting angle by getting Apratim to visit Shikha’s house a day after his father’s death, just the way his father used to. May be a part of his research on his father, or may be out of his curiosity about the woman, Apratim couldn’t hold himself back from arriving at her doorstep and uncovering a part of the “scandal”. Shikha is intrigued by his idea to make the film on Aniket and wants to know who will play her character. Apratim has no answer, for he knows that no one but Shikha can do that role, but casting her would be too risky.
Shikha: Who will do my part? I don’t think anyone can do it better than me. What do you say?
Apratim: I guess so.
Shikha: Do you like my acting?
Apratim: (nods) Yes… I do.
Shikha: Do you feel like loving me?
Apratim: (smiles) No.
Apratim: Why don’t you tell me the reason? …… Forget Maa, forget my wife, forget the society, you know why I won’t be able to bring myself to it? Because you will love me, but will never be in love with me. May be I would have done the same had I been you. But the even bigger thing is that you will act so well that I’ll feel you really love me.
Apratim discovers that Aniket never adored Shikha. As if the maestro had taken it upon himself to just Shikha stand up to the image of Srimati he had in mind. May be he couldn’t accept that the girl he had finally placed as the protagonist was a pale shadow of his original choice, when it comes to elegance. More than Dipti, more than Shikha, Aniket seemed to be in love with Srimati – someone who never existed but inherently inspired him to do all his works. However great an artist Aniket may be, his preoccupation with his fictional character more than the people around him, rendered him an inhuman touch. Apratim, on the other hand, could never wash his hands off the relations he shared with everyone, not even with Shikha.
While he was definitely protective about his Mom and Grandmom, he turns out to be a patient cum compromising husband and even an ideal son-in-law when Chandrika’s mother (and his mother-in-law) Hansi gets unnecessarily insulted by Dipti. However, where his triumph as a human lies is the act of forgiveness to his father whom he attended to, during the latter’s recuperative days in Kurseong. While he feeds Aniket with his own hands and helps him swallow the medicine (with Dipti’s instructions over the phone), the scene that touches your heart the most is when he opens the bathroom door to see Aniket standing inside, befuddled, unable to tie the pajama string. As Apratim holds his father and brings him to bed, or when he bends down to take the keys off the ground (his first action of acceptance), you know he is indeed “taller” than his father.
Among the cast, everyone excelled in his or her parts. Dipankar De showed why Ritu Da likes casting him again and again in his films. No other current Bengali actor could have played the role of Apratim with such dignity and poise as Jisshu did. Riya Sen is effective in her brief role. Shobha Sen (wife of late actor Utpal Dutt) as Aniket’s mother and Laboni Sarkar (I haven’t mentioned her in the post, but she plays Shikha’s mentally challenged sister) are extremely natural and adorable. Ananya Chatterjee won a National Award for Best Actress for her portrayal of Shikha. So, that leaves very little to talk about her performance. However, for me, the star of the show was Mamata Shankar. As the upright woman whose frankness borders on rudeness but made vulnerable by the act of dishonesty of her husband, she is brilliant as Dipti.
Arghyamal Mitra did an exceptional job as the editor of the film and pretty deservedly got the National Award for Editing. The way he mixes the different layers of the screenplay without getting abstruse or overly lucid is commendable. Indranil Ghosh’s production design is apt in all the different requirements – whether it’s the Mazumder’s elegant apartment, Shikha’s old decrepit building or the period setting in Binodini the film, Indranil does justice but doesn’t get obtrusive. I wouldn’t consider Abohomaan as DOP Abhik Mukherjee’s finest work but he does what’s required for him. The camera doesn’t move much. That is anyways a style of Ritu Da’s film, plus an excess of movement would have killed the mood and sensitivity of the film. However, if there is one man who should walk away with the glory, that’s Rituporno Ghosh. Though he has mostly adapted stories for his films, Abohomaan remains one of his more “original” works – where he could wield his creativity to the full extent and come out with flying colours. When you make films about relationships repeatedly, it gets very difficult to ensure that you don’t get repetitive. And here’s a man presenting an absolutely fresh perspective about inter-character duels – a view so fresh and so appealing that you wonder why people don’t think so much about relationships as he does! Ritu Da, you take a bow for making Abohomaan.
PS: Given the length of the post, I doubt how many people will end up reading the entire thing, but if you haven’t seen the film and like watching intricate relationship stories, please do watch it. ABOHOMAAN is a film not to be missed.
During my IIFT days, I wrote and directed an adaptation of Ritu Da’s “DAHAN” which we performed at MICANVAS (popular cultural fest conducted by MICA, Ahmedabad) and was judged 3rd. Recently, I guided my friend’s team from SIBM and they won at XLRI Jamshedpur’s vest Valhalla. May be someday, I would buy the rights to make a Hindi version of Abohomaan:-)