The Neglected Natural
Film: Shukno Lanka (Dry Red Chillies), 2010
Story and direction: Gaurav Pandey
Cinematographer: Mahesh Aney
Music: Debajyoti Misra
Editor: Mahadeb Shi
Art director: Indranil Ghosh
Cast: Mithun Chakraborty, Sabyasachi Chakraborty, Debasree Roy, Emma Brown, Shaheb Chatterjee, Angana Bose and the late Kunal Mitra
People watching this film will fall in love with Kolkata even more, especially the Kolkata at night. At the outset we see a struggling extra, Chinu Nandy (played by Mithun Chakraborty), trudging his way to and back from a studio at Tollygunge. Since he lost his job at Coal India, he has been at his present selfsame job for three decades. He, too, once had dreams of making it big in the film industry. But, by nature’s preordained course he has ended up as a bit-role player in the industry. Suddenly comes the bolt from the blue! He is handpicked by a world-famous director, Joy Sundar Sen (played by Sabyasachi Chakraborty) to play the protagonist’s character in the film rendition of ‘Parashpathor’ authored by another noted film director, Ritwik Ghatak. Now comes his inhibition which grows at first as he has never left the cocoon of a 250-per-day-bit-actor for 30 years. He communes with God at night when his wife is fast asleep and we come to know that he never complained Him about his long-lost, unrealized dreams of becoming a superstar and a father to a child. But, avenues to dreams come to some in the most unexpected of ways. He has remained as a man without dreams, day in and day out with the support of his wife, a potato couch, a woman with nominal demands; with the support of his local youths, though in an indirect way, who rag him or, at times, cajole him to perform an act from a scene whenever they meet him on the way; and lastly, with the support of his self-satisfied instinct which grows to shelter oneself from the gnawing awareness of unrealized dreams. He, finally, garners up his strewn hopes and gets ready for the blast. But, his treatment at the hands of Joy Sundar Sen as a junior actor leads to his modest outburst which, in a way, humbles and imbues life in the self-aggrandized director.
A beautiful tonga ride on the roads of Kolkata at night with his wife, who pontificates on trifles, is one of his craved design to pour his heart out after Chinu Nandy has pulled off the role of a protagonist in a recent Joy Sundar classic. On that exotic and expressive ride he tells her what he has never said; forgives her misbehavior; shows his eternal love for her; and tells her the most important thing: his role as the protagonist of a film – his dream. Angana Bose, Chinu’s wife, is a discovery indeed. In flashbacks we are shown the under-the-skin realizations of Chinu and other sub-plots handled with equal finesse. His mistreatment at the hands of actors who dismiss him from a role on an impulse; directors who don’t pay him; and even the tea-boy who bypasses him with cups of tea forces out of him the words, ‘I shall show one day how I can act.’ But, when the time comes, he seeks solace in God without everyone’s notice. Even his new director looks down upon him as a junior actor though his performance is good till the penultimate scene. In the last scene he speaks his heart out when, even after 16 takes, he cannot perform accurately, as it were, and Joy Sundar wants to investigate the problem. A complaining, but imploring, Chinu says, ‘You are my problem. To everyone in this unit I am the protagonist, but not to you. You still regard me as a junior actor even after the film is almost finished. If you cannot change the way you look you will not find what you want in me. I am trying. Please change your eyes and see.’ Joy, enlightened by the extra, hugs him tightly and the film within the film becomes perfect. A dig at famous, but arrogant, directors has been made through this scene. In another scene where Chinu asks Joy, ‘Will the public accept me?’, Joy looks down upon the extra with a smile of omniscience. Joy’s rejoinder (‘Nope! They will accept me’) makes Chinu reflectively uncertain, but, just after that he says, ‘If they accept you, they will have to accept me. Isn’t it?’ Then, Joy’s reply, ‘Is that so?’ makes the extra submissively content. Chinu finds in Isabella (played by Emma Brown) a good friend and admirer – unlike others who shrug him off as an extra – who tells him, ‘Your face is a landscape of emotions.’ He stops her short saying, ‘It requires a lot of labour, ma’am’ to which she says that ‘It shows, you know.’ They discuss on life which he thinks to be a horse-race, but she thinks life to be ‘life’ itself. She even says that she can never forget him in any way: ‘You will always be remembered.’
Running in an exact opposite direction is the life of Joy Sundar Sen, the director. He may be a director of world repute, but he is an imperfect husband and an arrogant man of few words. Gaurav Panday makes him his mouthpiece as Joy comments on films, criticizing American films, saying, ‘To be international you have to be intensely local.’ He further says, ‘My cinema is a rebellion against a form to which I have to conform, but cannot believe in.’ We see the flippant side of creativity at work through the character of Joy every time he pays no or little attention to his wife’s advances. But, quite amazingly, Gaurav Pandey does not turn Joy into an inhuman beast. Joy may neglect his wife and her overtures and amorous advances, but, then, Joy has outgrown the silly fripperies of romance. Jhilik (played by Debashree Roy) may be supportive and docile, but she has to suffer, like other wives of creative people, as a neglected and unhappy wife. Her acting, except inside the studio which seems rather forced, also makes for beautiful cinema. She envies Isabella, but Isabella does not, apparently, envy Jhilik. Isabella’s performance is well-controlled, low-key and subtle. When Joy, at the crossroads due to the fact that his producer has ‘vanished’ all of a sudden, call her and says, ‘Can you tell me something? Imagine a forest, a dense jungle. In the jungle the deer can go to cry, the hyena can go to cry, the pigs, the sheep, the birds, they can all go to cry. Where would the lion go to cry? Please tell me Isabella, can a lion not cry?’ She replies, ‘I’ll come.’ Such a beautiful relation – which goes far more distance than Jhilik’s keeping the clock of the house tick – and the fact that people at respectable positions, being afraid of being seen, cannot cry freely – which was also made vocal in William Wyler’s ‘Roman Holiday’ – are touched upon by Gaurav through this conversation between Joy and Isabella. The director shows that like-mindedness is very much needed between couples, be they creative or general. The director Joy, ensconced in the world of parallel films, has little time for his uncreative wife. His cloistered life gives him more food for thought. How whimsical creative people can be has been suggested by Gaurav. This is Tollywood, off the trodden path. These things are shown as flashbacks with the enchanting tonga ride as the mainstay. In an idyllic way the sound of the horses’ hoofs keeps time. When, at dawn, Chinu shows his wife his blow-up hoarding at the Metro theatre and says, ‘Do you want to see who I am? Look, up there, close to the skies, there. Tell me, does anything else matter? Isn’t it wonderful! Just wonderful, this leaving!’, we see pent-up dreams and concomitant emotions in the form of smiles and tears well out as volcanic eruptions from their face, eyes, mouth and body. Such a revelation calls for plaudits.
Other issues that have been discussed as passing references, relating to Tollywood and any other film industry in general, in the film are as follows: the rude behavior of the lead actors; the commercial inclination of directors and their rehashed stuff for films; the depravity of women trying to gain favour of the actors or directors; the self-lauded, south-Indian choreographers and their overbearing nature; the film industry with all its trappings of superfluous negativity and nominal positivity.
Mahesh Aney’s cinematography has made the Kolkata at night a heaven on earth. Such subtle use of colours and light is rarely seen in Bengali cinema. Debajyoti Misra has put in restrained music to let the scenes do the talking. Nominal usage of songs and their recurrence at several places in the film have aggravated the overall aura of the film. The art direction per se speaks volumes. Be it Chinu’s one-room abode or Joy’s sprawling apartment, Indranil Ghosh has again created plausible imagination on screen, as he often does. Above all, Mithun’s acting as Chinu is a treat to watch; he assays, and successfully achieves, his role as a common man – Chinu – till there is no Mithun left. Chinu grows on us as a man with dreams which he is afraid to dream of. Little do we find the vestiges of the actor Mithun at the end of the film as Chinu has become a part of us and, also, a projection of our unrealized selves.