There’s a predominant tendency noticeable in the student’s films during the early semesters of film and media schools. The young students who are freshly introduced to the exciting world of filmmaking along with the techniques and theories, have a propensity to pour in everything they know within the 5 or 10 minutes of their semester films. And usually in the following years of learning, both as a student as well as a professional, this tendency is gradually negotiated. Usually. But if one finds a director who’s already a senior citizen with 20 years of filmmaking and 35 years of film acting behind him and still not only maintaining the aforementioned tendency but thriving on it, questions are obviously raised about his career choices. Anjan Dutt is surely aware of the fact that a film must devote itself in asking pertinent question rather than providing solutions; but he takes the whole idea to such a level that his films start resembling a reverse encyclopaedia. And it’s not that he restrains from providing solutions but in their desperate attempt to sound out-of-the-box and cool, even those fail to take the shape of a uniform discourse and instead sound like rejected one-liners from ad agencies.
— kaahon (@kaahonwall) December 31, 2016
The Bongs Again deals with the story of two different girls (girls because Bengali Cinema has got no idea about imagining a woman!) in two different cities searching for the true identity of their parents. Oli is a Kolkata based girl whose father abandoned her mother when she was a baby. Now that she is engaged to a successful London based professional, Oli makes a UK trip with the intention of searching for her father. Sarah on the other hand is a low born from Kolkata whose mother gave her to an orphanage due to poverty. She was then adopted by a UK based NRI couple and now she is back in Kolkata looking for her biological mother. While Oli stumbles upon a washed out Bengali man called Jerry singing in a shady club in Soho, Sarah gets acquainted with a warm and helpful young man called Jishu, in their respective pursuits. But the film hardly takes off. It just keeps on rolling and rambling; the UK scenes ride on Jerry’s pick-up truck along the Kent countryside while in Kolkata riding piggyback on Jishu’s motorcycle one gets rare glimpse of the city such as Southern Avenue, Gariahat, New Market, Howrah Bridge and well decorated upper class drawing rooms! A lot of words are exchanged; conversations, whispers, screams, threats, arguments and lessons. And all of these are punctuated with mellow guitar chords by Amyt Datta and nightmarish renditions of songs from a wide repertoire including Tagore, Lalon and American Folk.
What is essentially wrong with the film? To be precise and polite, everything. Right from writing, direction, cinematography, editing, the film attempts to address history, culture, gender, identity, sexuality, relationships, immigration issues, family norms, third world conditions among various other things and hits everything off-the-mark every time, without fail. The whole thing is an aesthetic, ideological and political catastrophe which is too insipid and uninteresting even to be offensive. A scene flow can go on even after it has delivered all the information or might just get abruptly interrupted even before a conversation comes to a proper conclusion. Given the picturesque English countryside with the greenery, cottages and seaside, the cinematographer suddenly seems to have a great time composing interesting frames or using contrasting colours or recreating random images from his reference bank ranging from Manet’s paintings to Antonioni’s films. But they have a life of their own without any association with the content or the narrative. As for editing, this kind of films can lead to new names for the job like assembling or something like that. While narrating two threads of a plot, one of the most essential aspects in cinema (even in writing too!) is the consistency of time. It doesn’t necessarily have to be unilinear but while cross cutting between two sequences and especially aimed at establishing a spiritual connect between the two, the notion of time in this film seems to flow on its own. It switches on between a few hours here and a few months there while the relation between the respective space and character continues to remain flat, not changing either this way or that.
And beneath the entire exasperating cinematic experience of The Bongs Again, lies the confused, convoluted and contradictory ideological premise of the film. The film seems to have suddenly woken up to the idea of strong and independent woman and hasn’t quite grasped the nuances of portrayal. So one moment Oli spits on societal norms and stands up about her independent identity and is even ready to almost walk out on her fiancé. But the very next moment everything is fine when Jerry turns out to be her father and her fiancé (a man who can’t stop talking about having a house in London!) is relived about Oli’s chastity and decides to assist her in her quest. Oli has no qualms about accepting. Then there is the globetrotting Jerry who tries to tell Oli that some people just follow their passion and wanderlust and adventure, etc. while explaining about his possible reason for abandoning his family. However his homosexuality obviously has a much more straightforward story. And what’s the implication? Family and being gay doesn’t work? Gay people are cool? Kolkata is not safe for gay people? Nobody is quite sure! In fact, the film’s understanding of the two cities as two different spaces is not just problematic but extremely stereotypical in attitude. The city of London comes across as a materialist heaven and the countryside look like a fairy-tale land. Kolkata on the other hand is crowded, poverty stricken but filled with warm and loving people. UK is the Promised Land where prayers are answered. Kolkata will surround you with problems but will surely give a humane purpose and meaning to life. And this just keeps getting worse especially with the character of Sarah whose only salvation happens because of being adopted by rich parents despite being born a destitute as opposed to the other poor character who dies a horrible death.
And even if one forgets everything, you’d realize a film is just not working when even someone like Dhritiman Chatterjee tends to get on your nerves!
Arup Ratan Samajdar
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