Friday, December 29, 2006

Review: Aamra

A movie for the youth, about the youth and by the youth. That's precisely what the makers of Aamra proclaims it to be. It is about six characters from diverse backgrounds and their take on love and sex. In fact its also officially the first sex comedy in Bengali.

Amit (Jisshu) is a telefilm director who has just had her girlfriend (Pallavi Chatterjee), older than him and a wife and mother, walking out of their relationship. On a chat site he meets Shreya (Ananya Chatterjee). Shreya, young, pretty and sexy, is a teacher in a junior high school. She has just dumped Raj (Parambrata) who is a wannabe rockstar struggling to make it big. Raj hooks up Sunny (Debutant Momo), an undergraduade student in the same college/university, who has a secret relationship with Tapas (Kaushik Ghosh), her English professor. Bhasha (Nilanjana) is the professor's wife with an aspiration for acting. She meets Amit for a drama audition and starts liking him in subsequent meets. Except Tapas who is 39, all others are in their early to late twenties.

The film has deliberately not attempted to answer the quest for true love. At the end some of the characters find themselves better placed in the new relationships while some don't know what awaits them, yet they are satisfied with their decisions.

The director has done a damn good job of casting of most of the characters. Almost all the actors look their part. Param, Momo, Kaushik and Nilanjana have delivered extremely credible performances. So have Rudraneel and Rajatava in small roles. The realistic and easily identifiable characters helped, especially Param, Momo and Rudra. Momo hardly looks a debutant. Nilanjana, with a bit of motherly weight gain, looks the age and persona of Bhasha. Ananya is good too, except that her fluent English sounds a bit rehearsed sometimes. But though Jisshu looks a complete dude, his character should have been given a different background more suitable with his look and persona, and not that of a telefilm director. He is a mismatch.

Mainak Bhaumik, based in US, having made two international award-winning documentaries, debuts with feature film in Aamra. He has used a documentary style and non-linear narrative. The characters introduce themselves to the camera and talk about themselves throughout the film. Around these monologues Mainak weaves a story where they cross the paths of each other and come across new realisations of life. Treatment and style wise the film is a docu-feature on the youth's take on love and sex in contemporary urban society.

The film is urban, cool and chic in feel. A fare share of the dialogues are in English and justifiably so. It looks oven fresh and brutally honest on the take on love. Sex has been dealt with in a natural, straightforward and candid fashion, as a natural element of love and none of the characters are fussy about it. Most of the comic scenes are built around sexual encounters or discussion or banter. Interestingly, the director didn't show any sex scene to make a point as it was not called for by the script. It was pretty evident the makers had a struggling time with the censors as many a time words have been replaced with a beep.

About the visual experience there is one limitation though. Being a digital film, since all outdoor shots have been taken in natural light, many frames look dark on big screen. Most of the film is smartly edited by Shamik, though I feel jump cuts could be used less in some scenes, like the showdown of Pallavi and Jisshu. Such a scene distracts the viewer. Samik Halder's cinematography is minimal and realistic. Among other things the jerky camera movements made the film look candid and very different from the usual fare.The role of handheld camera movement to make the scenes look candid is well accepted, but the degree of it must be intelligently set, else it can make the audience lose focus on the story, like it has done to this film at some places. The dialogues need a special mention. They are extremely real and one can relate to them completely. There are some extremely funny one-liners with a sexual tone, and a fair share of them has gone to Rudraneel. The background score matches the mood.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Adlabs sets foot in Kolkata

Adlabs has set foot in the city with their film-processing and post-production business. The processing lab is coming up in Salt Lake and the high-end post-production set up has started in Moore Avenue, closer to the heart of the film industry in Tollygunge.

As Kapil Bagila, corporate head, strategic Planning, Adlabs Films told The Telegraph (Edition 21.12.06), "There are only three regions (In India) which actually and consistenly produce film content- the west, the south and the east." So after winning over the first two, it was high time they came to east. According to him they've already received a very positive response.

The processing lab will host a state-of-the art Dolby preview theatre, a first in Kolkata.

Someone clued in to Tollygunge film industry knows that even in Satyajit Ray's time he would go to Prasad in Chennai for the processing of films. The trend is much bigger today with every producer who wants a good technical quality in his film going to Chennai and Mumbai (Adlabs Mumbai has many clients from the city). All this despite the existence of government-owned Rupayan which has some of the modern equipment but is yet falling out of the race because of poor-quality technicians and a sincere urge to keep updated.

Now here is the buzz from two people from Tollygunge. Riingo, a talented maker of ad films and telefilms, with his first feature film Kranti released in Puja this year, is still not finding it exciting as yet. As he says, the machine was never a problem, the men behind it was. So he will wait and watch. Oona Ghose, an assistant director in feature films, including the upcoming Aamra, is not hiding her excitement. She was waiting for such facilities for long and was in fact one of the people from Kolkata who were pestering Adlabs to consider the city as the next destination.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Finally...... a youth film

Finally we the Bengali film audience is going to have the youth film of our generation (The past generations did it too. Remember Ekhoni by Tapan Sinha). Well, to be precise it is in Benglish (Bengali and English) so that the characters sound real.

Aamra , aptly named (Aamra means 'Us'), is aimed at the urban youth. Produced by this smart, daring, risk-taking producer from Kolkata- Nitesh Sharma of Bangla Talkies and directed by a debutant young NRB (Non-resident Bengali) Mainak Bhaumik, is a film that is officially 'By the youth, about the youth and for the youth'. The film is going to have a December 22 release majorly in multiplexes (Priya is the only single-screen theatre to screen it).

It's a story of the love, heartbreak, attitude, aspiration, relationship, frustration of generation X and young-at-heart (Only one lead character is 40-plus) comprising of six protagonists of diverse backgrounds.

Mainak is US-based and trained in film school. He's made two international award-winning documentaries.

Nitesh has made Raat Barota Paanch, the debut film of Saron 'Shikar' Dutta. A horror film made with mostly TV actors it was a different attempt of 2005. His next creation is Padakkhep by Suman Ghosh, a US-based director with a background of Economics apart from film school. It is currently doing the rounds of international film fests. Nitesh has a single-minded aim- to make sensible, meaningful Bengali cinema and to take it to national and global arena. I salute the spirit and vision of Nitesh and wish all the very best in his journey to make and market better cinema.

The film is also modern in its marketing, a small budget notwithstanding. It's producer has created a nice website ( After Anuranan, I came across this second Bengali film to have a well-designed website. The look is somehow similar to a scrapbook. That Bengali films are nowadays including internet in their marketing plan is indeed an intelligent and new age sign. Intelligent especially because Bengali films that merit a website generally have modest to small budgets.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Review: Shikar

I once read Abhik Mukhopadhyay, the talented, national award-winning cinematographer, in a newspaper interview that one just needs a decent camera, and not an ultra-modern, expensive one to do great cinematography. What he meant is that the other tools are the cinematographer's imaginativeness and innovation that pair up with the camera to create magic on screen.

The same way a what a director needs to make a good mainstream film are not a line-up of big stars, expensive locations, fashionable costumes, and a lavish budget to mount the film. What he needs is a fresh story, good script and dialogues, good actors who are not necessarily stars, the right casting and yes, imagination. Shikar has most of that. It is indeed heartening to see a young director attempting something that breaks out of the painfully monotonous run-of-the-mill fare in Bengali cinema.

After a misfired horror flick Raat Barota Paanch last year, Saron Dutta gets better with Shikar. He has a neat, small and simple story to tell. The value-additions are good actors, right casting, properly defined and fleshed-out characters and treatment. The format this time is a thriller, a time-tested genre.

It tells the story of a contract killer Saaheb (Amitava Bhattacharya) and Baburam Panja (Shantilal Mukherjee), an astrologer who he works for. The story is familiar. Contract killer turns his gun to his assignor as he has rubbed him the wrong way. Adding flesh to the story are Kyapa (Kanchan Mullick) and Hero (Sagnik), his partners in crime, a police officer on the trail of the three criminals, Seema (Koel Mullick), the girl in distress, a prostitute (June Maliah) etc. The climax is interesting and fully justifies the name of the film. A trap is set by police to nab the gang of three just like the way a hunter lays a trap for a tiger.

Shot entirely in Kolkata (One song in South Bengal) and on a shoestring budget, the audience never misses the so-called gloss that is necessary to hook the audience. The city has so many interesting locations to show that a hundred films can be shot in it without looking repetitive. The city as a character has been blended well into the story. The song Ekti meyer, shot at the riverbanks, looks beautiful.

The costumes and look of the characters have been handled very well. Only I wish Koel realised her brand-new perm is not making her look better. Honest speaking, it sucked!

Shikar is certainly not for the audience of MLA Fatakesto, the blockbuster of this year. It is for pure Bengali film audience who is fed up with Haranath Chakrabortys, Swapan Sahas and Prabhat Roys and look for well-made Bengali films that are realistic, stylish, performance-oriented. On that count Shikar delivers.

The casting is brilliant. All the actors fit their parts like a tee (Except Tapas Pal with his awful wig as the Police chief). And they have done their job well. Special mention goes to Shantilal as Baburam. Kanchan as Khyapa, cast in an entirely unusual role vis-a-vis his image, is impressive. Rajesh Sharma is brilliant as the psychic, trigger-happy police officer with a disturbed past. Amitava portrays the restrained Saheb well and this is a role tailormade for him (After his similar portrayal in Bengali debut Raasta).

The film is yet another instance that there is in fact no shortage of character actors in Bengali cinema, a point often frustratingly raised by some of our successful mainstream film directors. TV is clearly a goldmine for casting the character roles. What is actually missing in those directors is a sincere casting effort. Saron has cast familiar faces of telly such as Sagnik, Kanchan, Kharaj and Shantilal to put to good use.

The film has an item number too but fits the story just perfectly. The song sung by Kharaj Mukherjee in it and another one (Ekti meyer aaj khushir din/ Aar ekta swapner jal rongin) stay with the viewer after leaving the theatre. Ashok Bhadra showed he is capable of good work when there is a demanding director. Saron also doubles up as the lyricist.

Shamik Halder (Also the assistant director) does a good job at cinematography as usual. He gives the film the right look and feel for a thriller.

Not that the script is flawless. For instance I didn't understand why Saheb managed to have a conversation with Seema standing in the dark over and over again and Seema never got curious enough to check out his face. Koel's laughter has been overused to the point of being painful. Her restlessness in the absence of her husband who was arrested by the police and no update was available has not come out well. Saron should have taken care of such nuances. The twist of the story, i.e. Amitava's second role (He plays a double role) as Seema's husband looks too naive to stand. The end dialogues of the climax should have been mature.

But a good film must be excused of such flaws that don't necessarily bring the film down. Saron deserves a pat on the back. Finally we have a young director in the mainstream arena who is capable of making films that suits the long-neglected educated urban audience. While watching the film at Bharati, where the premiere took place too, I saw a middle-aged couple saying they didn't remember when last they saw the last Bengali film in a theatre, and an old, middle-class lady who had probably come with her grand-child. Such faces are rare in the contemporary Bengali mainstream film audience.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Digital cinema debuts in Bengali

The first digitally shot Bengali feature film Kranti saw a September release. Directed by Riingo, a familiar name on Bengali television for his telefilms and produced by Shri Venkatesh Films, the largest and most progressive production house of Kolkata, this film possibly gave birth silently to a revolutionalising technical trend- digital cinema.

The film was shot on a high-definition digital format, got colour correction done and finally converted to film format. Hence the texture, hues were refreshingly different from others. The highpoint of shooting in this style is that the film can be given the desired look in terms of colour at a much lower cost. The director can use this technique to stylize his film and raise the quality bar.

Kranti also is the most stylishly shot Bengali film ever. Since cinematography was handled by Riingo who has a strong hold of the craft, the frames looked very different than average fare and at par with current Hindi films. Also most probably for the first time, three people from a band Hip Pocket (Som, Rishi, Samidh) scored the music (You must not consider Neel Nirjane by Subrata Sen where the band Cactus featured as part of the story and hence had songs specially composed for the film).