Right from the first images of the trailer, Praktan by Nandita Roy and Shiboprasad Mukherjee came across as a mediocre film. The very idea of a Prasenjit-Rituparna comeback seemed like a cocktail of generic stereotypes in characters and narrative tropes, filled with cliché elements and extremely sentimental approach. What one was NOT expecting was this ill-bred, moralist and judgmental piece of right-wing dogma that’d perhaps make Smriti Irani proud and mark an all-time low for contemporary Bengali Cinema.
The film deals with Sudipa (Rituparna Sengupta), an architect by profession who was once married to Ujaan (Prasenjit Chatterjee), a tour guide in Kolkata. However Sudipa’s modern outlook and way of life clashed with Ujaan and his family’s conservative values and they got divorced. Years later, on a train journey from Mumbai to Kolkata, she shares a coupe with a happy and plump homemaker called Malini (Aparajita Adhya) and her daughter Udita. As the women strike up a conversation, it is revealed that Malini is now married to Ujaan and Udita is their daughter. In the wake of Malini’s infectious happiness about her married life, Sudipa dwells on her own past looking back on the factors that steadily destroyed the relationship.
A combined abomination of Nayak (Satyajit Ray, 1966) and Ijazat (Gulzar, 1988), Praktan is atrociously anti-modern, anti-woman and anti-intellect. While the narrative is literally carried forward by the moving train, much of the backstory is presented in the series of flashbacks as Sudipa recalls her married life with Ujaan. And to cut a long story short, Ujaan is one of the most obnoxious characters one has encountered in a long time. He is a patriarchal male chauvinist pig if there was ever one! His drive to control every aspect of his wife’s life, perhaps stemming out from his weak sexual prowess as alleged by Sudipa, put their marriage on the rocks right from the word go. When he realizes that Sudipa is planning a visit to her father, he creates a massive issue not so much about her leaving but the fact that she dared to buy her own tickets. He often returns home 3-4 days later owing to pressures at work but when Sudipa is a couple of hours late or getting a promotion, he immediately alleges that she is sleeping with her boss. And then there is the mother-in-law and the family with their ultra-conservative ideals, which prohibits Sudipa from wearing certain, dresses, speaking in a certain manner or ever sneaking out to the terrace to have a smoke. And the final nail in the coffin was driven when the mother-in-law, out of her superstitious beliefs, wanted to keep Sudipa’s pregnancy a secret and made her go about doing all the usual chores which resulted in a miscarriage! One has seldom seen an urban woman in a contemporary Bengali film in such plight!
And contrapuntal to Sudipa, the film flaunts Malini, the ideal wife who had made a success out of her marriage. Clearly an asexual being, she proudly flaunts limited education, manipulation of the in-laws and low taste in art! As she keeps on about her successful marriage, the entire film turns into a trial for Sudipa for coming out of her own. The film keeps persecuting till it is one step away from crucifying her, inflicting unspeakable cruelties on a woman’s psyche who had an opinion of her own and made some choices accordingly. And very predictably it manages to arrive at the Sanghi discourse when Malini says “for a married woman, compromises are the essential steps to victory” or something like that. Wow! Full marks of misogyny…. slow clap!
Praktan also has a few sub-plots about the characters in the other coupes. One of them is about an elderly couple played by Soumitra Chatterjee and Sabitri Chatterjee. Another coupe is occupied by a band of musicians played by their real life counterparts, Anindya, Upal, Anupam and Surajit. And the final one is occupied by a honeymoon couple played Biswanath Basu and Manali Dey. This last one managed to generate a few well-timed laughs thanks to Biswanath’s acting skills. Other than that all of these strands are highly under developed and redundant, adding nothing to the film. The only thing they perhaps managed in contributing is to turn the entire compartment into a metaphor of the contemporary culture with fair share of Nostalgia, Bangla Band and Mega serials, if one can consider the train to be a notion of Bangaliyana itself.
PS: The review is glaringly lacking in cinematic aspects. Unfortunately, so was the film!
Arup Ratan Samajdar
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