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The Best of Bengali Cinema 2019

03 Jan, 2020 | Reviews by Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri
Poster of Suman Ghosh's Basu Poribar Picture courtesy: bookmyshow.com

THE BEST OF BENGALI CINEMA 2019

The Best Films
The best thing to emerge out of my stint reviewing Bangla films for Film Companion has been getting to know the industry a little more than I had cared for in years. One is still learning and the logistics of getting to watch a Bengali film in Delhi remains nightmarish. One is likely to have missed a really good one (like I did Mukherjee Dar Bou, Kedara and Rajlokhi O Srikanto). One has to depend on the production house or directors to share the film’s preview link or information on the film’s release, which many film-makers and mainstream production houses do not bother to. It remains a very insular industry with little appetite for reaching out beyond the confines of Bengal. 

With that disclaimer, here’s my list…

Basu Poribar: For me, this was the film of the year – an ensemble cast at the top of its game powered by Suman Ghosh’s layered take on, yes, believe it or not, James Joyce’s ‘The Dead’. A triumph at all levels, few film sequences all year was as moving as Tublu (Saswata Chatterjee) wandering around the mansion, breaking out into ‘Bhromor kohiyo giya’ to Bickram Ghosh’s sarod strains.

Basu Poribar: For me, this was the film of the year – an ensemble cast at the top of its game powered by Suman Ghosh’s layered take on, yes, believe it or not, James Joyce’s ‘The Dead’.

Vinci Da: I enjoyed Srijit Mukherji’s dark psychological thriller immensely. Inspired by makeup maestro Somnath Kundu, the film had riveting performances (Rudranil Ghosh, Ritwick Chakraborty and Sohini Sarkar, with Riddhi Sen mesmerizing in the briefest of cameos). And, of course, no one does the swag and the dialogues as good as Srijit. 

Kia and Cosmos: Debutant film-maker Sudipto Roy’s free-flowing adaptation of Mark Haddon’s novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, was a richly rewarding experience with a wonderful debut performance by Ritwika Pal at its core. 
Poster for Kia and Cosmos
Picture Courtesy: moviebuff.in
 
Debutant film-maker Sudipto Roy’s free-flowing adaptation of Mark Haddon’s novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, was a richly rewarding experience with a wonderful debut performance by Ritwika Pal at its core.

Jyesthoputra: Kaushik Ganguly’s interpretation of Rituparno Ghosh’s last story ‘Onyo Nayak’ benefited from two powerhouse performances by Prosenjit Chatterjee and Ritwick Chakraborty, with strong support from Sudiptaa Chakraborty and Gargee Roychowdhury. 
Poster for Kaushik Ganguly's Jyesthoputra
Picture Courtesy: timesofindia.indiatimes.com


Ahaa Re: Ranjan Ghosh’s film left me conflicted on first viewing, but subsequent viewings of its festival cut made a deep impact. It’s always a learning experience to discover a film’s merits over repeat viewings and this one provided many, none more so the bravura performance by Rituparna Sengupta and a delightful one by Paran Bandopadhyay.  

Honourable mention: Soumik Sen’s Mahalaya, Churni Ganguly’s Tarikh, Pratim D. Gupta’s Shantilal O Projapoti Rohoshyo, Anjan Dutt’s Finally Bhalobasha.

The Best Actors
With the variety of roles he got to essay, Ritwick Chakraborty was by far the actor of the year. From the wickedly warped in Vinci Da to the weather-beat-weary reporter with a penchant for watching porn who turns detective in Shantilal, his was a class act, outshining his co-stars in each outing. 
With the variety of roles he got to essay, Ritwick Chakraborty was by far the actor of the year. From the wickedly warped in Vinci Da to the weather-beat-weary reporter with a penchant for watching porn who turns detective in Shantilal, his was a class act, outshining his co-stars in each outing.


Close on Ritwick’s heels was Paoli Dam, his co-star in Shantilal. In two diametrically opposite characters – the glamourous star in Shantilal and the garrulous house help in Sanjhbati (the film’s sole saving grace), Paoli demonstrated her acting chops in ample measure.
Paoli Dam in Sanjhbati
Picture Courtesy: sangbadprotidin.in


While Abir Chatterjee was a standout in Mainak Bhowmick’s middling thriller Bornoporichoy, Saswata Chatterjee, always dependable, was particularly brilliant in Basu Poribar, while delivering it in spades in Tarikh

Rituparna Sengupta brought an aching dignity to her character, a widow with a gift for cooking, caught between the past and her inability to embrace the present, in Ahaa Re
Rituparna Sengupta in Ahaa Re
Picture Courtesy: timesofindia.indiatimes.com
 
Rituparna Sengupta brought an aching dignity to her character, a widow with a gift for cooking, caught between the past and her inability to embrace the present, in Ahaa Re.


Subhasish Mukherjee portrayed the unassuming persona of the legendary Birendra Krishna Bhadra in Mahalaya with unerring precision. Ishaa Saha (Sweater) and Ritwika Pal (Kia and Cosmos) stood out among the new crop of actors, while veteran Sudiptaa Chakraborty shone bright in a cameo in Jyesthoputra.

The Big Misfires: Kontho, Mon Jaane Na, Bibaho Obhijaan, Bornoporichoy, Gotra, Sanjhbati.
Then there was Haranath Chakraborty’s Bhootchakra Pvt. Ltd, a silly potpourri of horror-slapstick-satire, which wore its irreverence on its sleeve, with Tagore’s classic song ‘Aaj jyotsna ratey’ getting a treatment few of us would dare envision.

The Ho-hum Guilty Pleasures: Dev’s Kidnap and Jeet’s Shesh Theke Shuru released on the same day, and if one were to close one’s eyes and listen to the seeti-maar dialogues orchestrated to techno-beat background score, one could well mistake one for the other. But, hey, how can you not like Dev beating a battalion of goons while the background score goes ‘Hey! ‘Hey!’ ‘Hey!’ or Jeet’s SUV coming to a screeching halt, with him wiping a speck of blood off his nose, stepping out, his feet hitting the ground in slow motion. Then there was Haranath Chakraborty’s Bhootchakra Pvt. Ltd, a silly potpourri of horror-slapstick-satire, which wore its irreverence on its sleeve, with Tagore’s classic song ‘Aaj jyotsna ratey’ getting a treatment few of us would dare envision. Then towards the end of the year, there was Sagardwipey Jawker Dhan: take a pinch of Raiders of the Lost Ark, add a dash of ET and Close Encounters, stir with a whiff of Lara Croft, and voila! And if it’s hard to envisage Koel Mullick as a decorated scientist, well, think of Red Mercury, which lies at the core of the film!

(Note: Kaushik Ganguly’s Nagarkirtan and Arjunn Dutta’s Abyakto had a run of festival circuits all year but these were films made in previous years, while Atanu Ghosh’s Robibar released on the year’s last Friday and I could not catch it.)

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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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