August 01, 2020
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Arekti Premer Golpo (Bengali)

A welcome whiff of fresh air for Bengali mainstream cinema

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Arekti Premer Golpo (Bengali)
Arekti Premer Golpo (Bengali)

Starring: Rituparno Ghosh, Indraneil Sengupta, Jishu Sengupta, Raima Sen
Directed by  Kaushik Ganguly
Rating: ***

Arekti Premer Golpo disturbs you at many levels. For one, there’s always the sense of a deeper film lurking in the background, even as the screenplay struggles to keep several life stories and two different time-frames in balance. Gay director Abhiroop Sen (Rituparno) is in a relationship with his cinematographer Basu (Indraneil Sengupta). Together, they set out to make a docu on yesteryear jatra actor and female impersonator Chapal Bhaduri (who plays himself in the film). As the film begins, the two stories become entangled. While Chapal’s narrative  builds slowly in the film-within-the-film, Roop’s own life unravels as his relationship with Basu begins to fall apart. The irony of Roop’s situation is driven home when he, apparently much more in control of his life and sexuality than Chapal, finds himself equally emotionally ravaged by similar betrayals. ‘Has anything really changed?’ the film seems to quietly ask. The emotional reality of the lives of Chapal and Roop forms the core of the film. Their growing isolation, even from each other, highlights the failures of communication between generations and marginalities. But sudden, poignant moments of empathy succeed in shaking up both the status quo and the audience. It is one of the strengths of the film that it does not romanticise either the bond between Chapal and Roop, or Roop and Rani (Basu’s wife, Churni Ganguly).

Rituparno’s brilliant acting, aided by sensitive performances by Churni, Raima and Jishu, carries the film. Jishu surprises with his intensity, especially in the Tarapith sequences with the young Chapal (Rituparno). Indraneil hardly lives up to what could have been a brilliant opportunity to explore his range as an actor. If only the screenplay had aided the actors more: it seems to struggle to hold too much together. In spite of the rough edges, however, Arekti is a welcome whiff of fresh air for Bengali mainstream cinema, one that breaks the ice on a difficult subject in the right ways.

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