Starring: Anjan Dutta, Ritwik Chakraborty, Swastika Mukherjee, Vikram Chakraborty, Parno Mitra.
Dir by Pratim D. Gupta.
Pratim D. Gupta’s Saheb, Bibi, Golam, like the earlier two movies of the same name (Bimal Roy’s Bengali and Hindi versions) explores the web of unconventional relationships that lurk just beneath the surface of polite society. But the comparison much stops right there, with the director of the current film turning it into a spoof—if not a laugh riot—of everything from modern marriages to the police-politician nexus.
A contract killer with a heart—he refuses to eliminate women and children—finds himself in a tight spot when a powerful politician demands that he kill a girl fighting for life in an ICU after being raped by his son. “Before she regains consciousness and identifies him, finish her off,” he pleads. Only, the parents of the girl too get in touch with him, urging him to take up their case. “He will go scot free unless you get rid of him. The police will do nothing. He is the son of a powerful politician.”
Gupta takes this rather serious narrative, hinged on society’s abysmally inadequate responses to crime, and turns it into a comical delineation of social follies, mainly through a technique of heightened reality.
Everything that happens is ostensibly real. A murder in the washroom of a nightclub. A search for gratification outside marriage by a dissatisfied homemaker. A precarious dream building up in the heart of a poor taxi driver, only to be brutally shattered. But each situation is explored through an illusory light. An unreal calm descends on the disturbed mind of the church-going, cello-playing contract killer, for instance. Or there appears in the horizon of an impossibly dull life—in which groups of mothers sit around outside their children’s schools—a flashy housewives’ club. Gupta weaves an entertaining tale, infusing it with detailing that is sometimes real, at other times magic-real.
Performances, like candies sprinkled on a kitschy cake, are delectable. Anjan, Parno, Ritwik, Sohag, Swastika and Vikram are outstanding. The cinematography is not spectacular, nor is the sound, but then Anirban Sengupta is consciously unobtrusive here, compared to his award-winning craft in Shobdo (in which sound itself was a character).
Unlike the Saheb, Bibi, Golam of Bimal Roy, Gupta’s film does not stir up the depths of unfathomable psyches. No empathy or sympathy is evoked. Curiosity forms, but quickly evaporates. What lingers is distaste. For a decadent, decaying world.