Imagine a cosy, private adda (gossip and chit chat) over drinks where everyone present belongs to the same line of work. Obviously, a number of common topics are raised, memories and experiences are shared, certain possibilities are speculated upon and few scandals are passed along. And by dinner time, no one bothers about these anymore. But Kaushik Ganguly on his latest release Chhaya O Chhobi has decided to turn this into content of a film.

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The entire film feels like industry insiders talking among themselves during a break, about things which the rest of the world couldn’t care less about. Among the issues raised are things like timely payments and their importance, how the outsiders might misjudge the valuable contributions made by Tollygunge film industry, the essential values and merits of macha (low budget and possibly low-brow stage shows) and most importantly why KoelMullick is disappearing from the scene. The last one is particularly curious. Since her debut in 2003, she had been regularly acting with anywhere between one to five releases every year till 2015. While she didn’t appear in any film in 2016, this year she has got at least two releases by September. So why is this question of her disappearance or her being selective about roles, cropping up in the first place?

The film unfolds in the context of demonetization in 2016 when a NRI filmmaker is trying to wrap up her shooting schedule in Darjeeling. When the producer fails to pay the lead actress on time, she takes off without informing anyone, away from the town. Accompanied by her driver she ends up in a desolate forest bungalow and returns to Darjeeling after one day, once the financial crisis has been sorted. However, the incident of a stolen phone from the shooting location throws into sharp relief certain intents and motives, revealing that her finance who’s the main actor in the film has been unfaithful to her while she was away. And in between all these, there are plenty of self-realizations, soul searching, existential crises, love lost and found, etc. etc.

While this film suffers from all the usual aesthetic and ideological symptoms of the ailing mainstream cinema in Bengal. It also brings back an old and familiar disease. The case of the ‘cute stalking’. The character of the lead actress in the film, Raihad spent her adolescence studying in a convent school in Darjeeling which made this shooting schedule a kind of nostalgic trip (nostalgia…yea!) for her. But ever since she set foot in town, she is continuously stalked, her privacy invaded regularly, she is made to experience serious mental stress as she finds random mysterious objects associated with her school days in her hotel room. It finally turns out that Rai’s driver Jeetu is the introvert classmate who had a crush on her, a creepy tendency which has now developed into manic obsession including covering the walls with photograph’s or carving her name on the chest. But the film is conveniently oblivious to all these and likes to pretend that a sugar syrup background score will make things right; as if!

Furthermore, the film really has no qualification or right to deal with an adult world or adult issues. If one thinks about it, at the core of the plot, there is one instance of infidelity and all hell breaks loose in an apocalyptic fashion. No one makes any effort, no one tries to sit and discuss and everyone is too busy passing judgments and playing holier-than-thou. While no one is trivializing the issue of infidelity, but the way the film moves on, you’d think that an adult human relationship begins and ends at the genitals!

Once again, there is no point discussing the technicalities of contemporary Bengali films, because it is a non-entity. The filmmakers don’t care about it and everyone else seems to be fine about it. The saddest part is that it couldn’t even stray far away so that there can be a possibility of a new aesthetic or a form. It merely left the cinema to make room for Bengali television, only with a bit more money spent on grading and post-production ‘touch-ups’. However, one can’t help mentioning a pair of things regarding the cinematography. First, Bengali cinema seemed to have suddenly grasped the idea of a long take. It was used during the opening credits following Rai’s car travelling to Darjeeling. It was considerably a fresh experience to see a Bengali film spend some time with nature, uninterrupted. But then they overdid it during an unnecessarily elaborate scene at a shooting location, filled with pointless facts and details because the film had decided to be smart and ‘mysterious’ for a while, as a phone is being stolen from the location. Well, whatever goes around, comes around too! The other thing which was a sore to the eyes was the set of outdoor shots, especially those against the snow-capped mountains. Due to some flaw in lighting, the background appears like an artificial screen and characters in the foreground are looking like two-dimensional stickers pasted on the background. But then, maybe it’s intentional. Maybe the cinematographer wanted to capture the essence of these paper-thin characters in a cosmetic backdrop, and succeeded at that. (Yea, once again!)

Arup Ratan Samajdar
A student of cinema, completed his master's degree in film studies from Jadavpur University. A keen admirer of Classical Hollywood, the many New Waves and Japanese cinema, he has been writing film reviews, criticisms and essays and articles on various cultural topics.

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