In the present context, one can never be sure that puja releases offer an advantage over films released at other times of the year. The success graph in recent years suggests that even the gruelling heat of Bengal’s summer is not a deterrent provided a film can find its way into the hearts of the masses. On the other hand, the record of films seen during the festive season last year may not be very inspiring.
Attempts to manufacture a rosy picture may be part of the promotion that often takes aggressive but not too credible turns. Real success can be felt in the theatres rather than in the claims that are often unrelated to the ground realities and, in any case, can never be confirmed. But more than the debate on whether the festival offers assured returns, there is the larger question of how many of the puja releases are remembered. Does anyone recall the films said to have achieved remarkable success last year?
Those who were behind the making of Cockpit, Projapati Biscuitand Yeti Obhijaan, released with the usual fanfare in 2017, are returning this year with Hoichoi Unlimited, Manojder Adbhut Bari and Ek Je Chhilo Raja more out of fresh expectations rather than building on last year’s performance. There are three more films lined up this year. One of them is the now predictable experience of Byomkesh in a new setting while another seeks to cash in on the enormous popularity of Kishore Kumar’s musical journey. The selection has been completed with another of the colourful concoctions that have made Bengal a busy centre for mindless fantasy. Filmmakers themselves claim that content now means more to audiences than faces on the screen except when actors like Jeet and Ankush join their female co-stars on a boisterous romp on foreign locations.
For directors like Kaushik Ganguly and Srijit Mukherjee, the originality of the script is of greater consequence. The latter presented what he felt were original ideas in Uma and Rajkahinithat may have sold in sections of the urban market. Whether they appealed to thinking audiences was another matter. He is now taking a bold step with a fresh version of the Bhawal Sanyal mystery that has seen an enormously successful interpretation in Sanyasi Raja, directed by Pijush Bose with Uttam Kumar in the title role. The thespian’s stunning performance and the songs composed by Nachiketa Ghosh and taken to great heights by Manna Dey revive wholesome memories. Ek Je Chhilo Raja is said to be a modern interpretation in keeping with the director’s interest in adding fresh twists and turns to historical episodes. Much will depend on the visualisation of the character of the king-turned-hermit who returns to his kingdom years after he is said to have died. With so many versions of the case that had gone to the Privy Council doing the rounds, there is enough scope for imaginative treatment with the cinematic skills that some of these directors, including Srijit, can claim. This is what could finally matter
It is a different story with Kishore Kumar Junior where Kaushik Ganguly weaves fiction into a real-life story. He had done much the same thing with Apur Panchali where the script revolved around the actor who had disappeared from the scene after playing the child in Pather Panchaliand had reappeared when the completion of 25 years since the making of the universally acclaimed classic was celebrated. After that, Subir Banerjee again went into hibernation till Kaushik Ganguly rescued him from the shadows to make one of his most successful films that went on to win several awards. This time, he tells the story of a copy singer who has personal conflicts that add a footnote to the popularity of the songs. The drama should include a good deal of fictional elements. What will eventually matter is the reinterpretation of the songs that Kishore Kumar had turned into lasting pleasures. It remains to be seen how these songs will be handled by Kumar Sanu who himself had been indebted to his senior before finding a place of his own in Bollywood. But one can rely on a director who is capable of adding sensitive treatment to interesting narratives except when he is drawn into mundane work in films like Chhaya O Chhabi and Drishtikone. He is supported by Prasenjit who has begun to breathe new life into characters created especially for him.
The other promising experience will be the modern fantasy, Manojder Adbhut Bari which Anindya Chatterjee has adapted from the Sirshuendu Mukherjee story. Not many films reach out to contemporary literature these days. But this is a widely read story that should be enriched by a talented cast led by veterans Soumitra Chatterjee and Sandhya Ray along with their younger contemporaries. The director has revealed a flair for adding a vibrant touch to ideas rooted in the soil. Hoichoi Unlimited, on the other hand, relies heavily on the Uzbekistan locations selected for what is believed to be a boisterous comedy on the lines of director Aniket Chatterjee’s Bye Bye Bangkok. Producer-actor Dev is meant to be the obvious attraction much like the thrills one has come to expect in Arindam Sil’s smart treatment of his Byomkesh series. Whether all this will finally add up to a puja bonanza is a question that has no ready answers.