Films have a life of their own, a conscience of their own. The role of a filmmaker shouldn’t be perceived as some kind of a Biblical Creator but rather a sensitive mentor. Films should be nurtured and allowed to grow and even take directions of their own. The role of the filmmaker, and this holds true for any artiste, is to get out of the way. Pratim D Gupta has clearly taken the opposite approach in his latest film, Saheb Bibi Golaam, forcing a template based on his personal favourites like Inarritu, Tarantino among a host of others, unto a narrative which didn’t demand the said treatment, the style of storytelling and hence the editing pattern.
The film is about three character oriented and interconnected narrative strands comprising of a veteran assassin Jimmy Luke, an upper middle class housewife Jaya and a taxi driver named Javed. The story sets off the mark as Javed’s girlfriend Rumi is brutally raped and left almost dead on New Year’s Eve, the perpetrator being a notorious son of a powerful minister named Zico. Jimmy is approached by Rumi’s parents seeking justice for their daughter. However, after much stalking and planning when Jimmy finally decides to act, he ends up shooting Javed by mistake and the incident is witnessed by Jaya who also moonlights as a prostitute. Jimmy sets out on his task to rectify his mistake and is helped by Jaya who lures Zico, who apparently has a libido the size of Mount Everest! And finally Jimmy kills the rapist, which is perceived both as a revenge as well as redemption.
One of the highlights of the first segment, which follows, Jimmy till the moment of shooting Javed by mistake, is Anjan Dutt’s performance as the assassin with a strong moral code. While the character of a killer with a lonely and reclusive life and a scarred past is a pop culture staple, it was Anjan Dutt’s precise and understated performance which made the character as well as the plotline more poignant. He has trimmed down his otherwise animated mannerism to a bare minimum and made use of his physical characteristics to make the character of Jimmy Luke both believable as well as endearing. His stooped figure, his gait and his eyes hint towards a sense of melancholy which the film otherwise fails to address.
However, right where the ‘Jimmy’ strand ends, a number of problems with the film become uncomfortably clear. To begin with, the second strand about the housewife who ends up in the world’s oldest profession has a wider exposition and features more characters. Consequently, the narration becomes considerably cluttered and the screen writing often loses precision and focus. Even the idea of the narrative device which goes back in time every time one of the main characters is introduced on screen, results in a tedious redundancy. In a number of promotional interviews, the director has claimed to be influenced by films like Pulp Fiction, etc. But he has probably missed out one or two essential points. When Quentin Tarantino is presenting the narrative in a nonlinear fashion, he is certainly exercising a critical decision about the overall emotional curve of the film. Therefore the sequence from which he is cutting from and the sequence to which he is arriving has significant aesthetic/cinematic logic. In Saheb…, it is almost like there is a priority preceding the screenplay about the individual narrative strands to be connected. As a result each time the narrative goes back in time, there is a dreary sense of predictability since the final point of arrival is already known. And when a narrative revisits a timeline of a few days thrice in the film, depending basically on a rape/murder and revenge plotline, the connections and character mappings become too clear in the course, which ultimately spoil the denouement. The decision to go for this elaborate narrative device ultimately ends up looking like a gimmick instead of a creative decision. Adopting a simple cross cutting technique would not only have sufficed but also would have helped with the economy of narration which is THE most important aspect of a thriller.
The rest of the film looks and feels exactly like any other urban contemporary Bengali film. Even though there is a scene where Javed boasts to Rumi that he will show her a different, unseen Kolkata, what follows is basically an empty auditorium, the front steps of an old North Kolkata mansion, the Second Hooghly Bridge and a song by Anupam Roy. Considering this to be a filmmaker’s vision of “unseen glimpses of Kolkata”, it doesn’t really leave much to be desired, expectation-wise! Random quotations from different films, and there are quite a great deal here ranging from The Godfather, Forrest Gump, Charulata to The Conversation, cannot justify a film unless one is getting into a serious dialogue with them. But then, the film in question never seemed serious about anything other than attempting to pull the wool over the eyes of the audience, riding on the filmmaker’s personal knowhow about Hollywood and World Cinema.
Arup Ratan Samajdar
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