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Guldasta: It’s All Going to be ‘Okay Dear’

26 Oct, 2020 | Reviews by Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri
A scene from Arjunn Dutta's Guldasta (2020)

After the much-deserved critical success of Abyakta, Arjunn Dutta returns with a feel-good fable of hope and empathy

Director: Arjunn Dutta

Cast: Arpita Chatterjee, Swastika Mukherjee, Debjani Chatterjee, Anubhav Kanjilal, Ishaan Mazumdar, Anuradha Mukherjee, Chhanda Karanji Chattopadhyay

Insomnia? Anaemia? Frigidity? A doped-out son? A cheating husband? A mother-in-law with bowel issues? Here comes Dolly Bagri – healthcare product salesperson who likes to underline her name in every conversation, who puts an earbud to the most innovative use I have seen – as a panacea for all ills. 

Srirupa (Arpita Chatterjee, in an affecting performance) is battling multiple ailments – arising primarily from low self-esteem. Having sacrificed her potential as a classical dancer, she now lives in the hope that having a child will address all her problems. Of course, that’s not easy when her husband Arnab (Ishan Mazumdar) is having an affair with a colleague, and accuses her of being ‘frigid’. Arpita’s friend Renu (Debjani Chatterjee) has her own set of issues, with a young son Tukai (Anubhav Kanjilal) who lives in a perpetual dope-induced haze and a mother-in-law who is not all there. Enter Dolly Bagri, purveyor of hope, empathy and faith. Evoking memories of Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Bawarchi, right down to the missing valuables towards the end, Guldasta’s seller of healthcare products proceeds to set things right for Srirupa and Renu. 
 

 
Evoking memories of Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Bawarchi, right down to the missing valuables towards the end, Guldasta’s seller of healthcare products proceeds to set things right for Srirupa and Renu. 
After the creative high of Abyakta, it is easy to pick issues with Guldasta, even if comparisons are odious. For one, despite the intangibles Dolly has to offer, I could never get over the fact that at the end of the day she does sell health products. At the same time, while it’s never a secret that despite her sunny disposition and endearing ‘Okay Dear-s’, Dolly has her own share of miseries, does it need to be spelt out in as many shots? The strength of Arjunn’s first film lay in the economy with which he evoked the relationship between two men. That is what is lacking here. Consider, for example, the film’s most dramatic sequence when Rhea (Anuradha Mukherjee), Arnab’s lover, comes visiting Srirupa and Arnab. Arjunn has the cinematic intuitiveness to keep this sequence superbly understated, only to go for a longish coda marred by verbosity and melodrama. Then there are the underdeveloped strands that seem rushed and convenient – the resolution of the Arnab-Rhea affair, the way his mother’s illness transforms Tukai almost overnight into a caring son, even the way Srirupa gets back to a semblance of normality with Arnab – a visit to the IV clinic, a dinner out included.
 
If despite its shortcomings, Guldasta manages to touch a chord, it is because of Arjunn’s feel for the minutiae of life – a look here, an observation there.
If despite these shortcomings, Guldasta manages to touch a chord, it is because of Arjunn’s feel for the minutiae of life – a look here, an observation there. Nowhere better exemplified than the reconciliation between Tukai and his mother (as he breaks down, the mother makes a reference to his first day at Montessori that is as evocative as it is unexpected). Or the faraway, wistful look on Dolly’s face remembering her tryst with singing in her native home, while the exquisite ‘Bairi duniya hai’ comes on the soundtrack. Finally, however, what holds the film together are two strong lead performances by Arpita Chatterjee and Swastika Mukherjee. In the less flashy of the two roles, Arpita consistently hits the right notes, suffusing every scene she is in with the sense of having little control over her life, her sense of resignation with the way things are – without ever becoming maudlin. Swastika is too consummate an actor to not understand the pitfalls of a role that’s easy to go over the top with. She gets the accent and the body language just right – watch her having nariyal pani or negotiating an orange ice-cream bar in one hand and an umbrella in the other or the despair she communicates walking down a pavement towards the end. It is these quieter moments involving two seasoned performers that make Guldasta worth a watch even if it breaks no new narrative or cinematic ground.  

 

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About the Author

Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri is either an 'accidental' editor who strayed into publishing from a career in finance and accounts or an 'accidental' finance person who found his calling in publishing. He studied commerce and after about a decade in finance and accounts, he left it for good. He did a course in film, television and journalism from the Xavier's Institute of Mass Communication, Mumbai, after which he launched a film magazine of his own called Lights Camera Action. As executive editor at HarperCollins Publishers India, he helped launch what came to be regarded as the go-to cinema, music and culture list in Indian publishing. Books commissioned and edited by him have won the National Award for Best Book on Cinema and the MAMI (Mumbai Academy of Moving Images) Award for Best Writing on Cinema. He also commissioned and edited some of India's leading authors like Gulzar, Manu Joseph, Kiran Nagarkar, Arun Shourie and worked out co-pub arrangements with the Society for the Preservation of Satyajit Ray Archives, apart from publishing a number of first-time authors in cinema whose books went on to become best-sellers. In 2017, he was named Editor of the Year by the apex publishing body, Publishing Next. He has been a regular contributor to Anupama Chopra's online magazine Film Companion. He is also a published author, with two books to his credit: Whims – A Book of Poems (published by Writers Workshop) and Icons from Bollywood (published by Penguin Books). 

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