Debarati Gupta began as an assistant director to the late Bappaditya Bandopadhyay. She turned independent with Hoi Choi (2013), which explored the world of street theatre and its practitioners, their joys and sorrows, successes and failures. Her second was a thriller called Kalki Yug (2015) that didn’t create a stir.
Gupta’s third, Kuheli(2016) was different. Marking a first in Indian cinema, Kuheli tackled a little-known psychological ailment called Porphyria through a story that blends the thriller genre with the horror not really allowing the psychological element to dominate the narrative yet making a point.
But Gupta’s recent film, Onek Diner Pore strikes a distinct note in the sense that it has four protagonists and all of them are beautiful young women in and around their thirties. It is not easy to make a film with an all-female cast given an environment where men call the shots, in production, distribution, exhibition and also in the cinematic technicalities including the actors, who generally pull in the crowds. But the young director has always been quite gutsy in picking themes that are different and challenging.
Gupta says, “After my first movie Hoi Choi, I got the chance again to tell my own story and work in my own domain. And it was an absolute pleasure was to work with such wonderful actors! Swastika, Sudipta, Palomi and Rupanjana made my characters come alive… They made them more real and believable. As a writer and director, I wanted to tell a story of my womanhood! I am happy to see that viewers are appreciating our efforts.”
Onek Diner Poreis about four women namely Swagata (Swastika Mukherjee), Debalina (Sudipta Chakraborty), Sayantini or Sini (Rupanjana Mitra), and Kuhu (Poulomi Ghosh) who were in the same convent school and wish to catch up after years. They went their separate ways and decided to meet at the school. Whether any of them met at all in the years in between is a grey area, so we assume that they are seeing each other perhaps for the first time, many years later. The get together cuts back and forth between the past and present and offers glimpses into their lives in school uniform. Swagata was always in fierce competition with Kuhu in academics yet manages to keep her first rank. It is ironical to see her leading the life of a contented housewife and mother, who does not carry any hangovers of her academic brilliance. These four young women are the only ones who turn up from the 150 who are messaged to attend the reunion.
Kuhu teaches at Stanford University in the US, is a single mother and leads a sexually “liberated” life. Debalina appears to be an unhappy and bitter young woman though she works in the corporate sector. They all have their secret pains except Swagata who seems to be the only one who is happy. Sini dreamt of a successful career as an actress that began when she was in school. But her dreams crashed somewhere along the way and she found herself exploiting young girls with false promises of a career in films. This journey towards a meeting among four friends who were once together in school actually turns into an inward journey for all of them, a purging of feelings, good and bad, sad and sweet and ends with looking towards perhaps a future meeting.
There are a few cameo characters that add variety and colour to the unfolding proceedings. One of them is Kuhu’s son who comes along with his mother and befriends two local kids, obviously belonging to a class lower than his own and the kids initiate him into the wonders of cricket that he is not familiar with. This underscores the innocence of kids who are insular to class schisms and blend smoothly through play. Swagata’s husband is good but does not fall short of taking pot-shots at women getting together for old times’ sake. The school complex and its neighbouring mansion filled with beautiful antiques, furniture and marble statues has an old and short-tempered caretaker who does not like the children playing in the compound especially because there is a pond inside. But the children turn a deaf ear to his warnings and keep playing. The question that keeps poking at one is how do the women gain free access to this beautiful house, which is not a part of the school?
The film is enjoyable for the most part because the four characters are fleshed out well and the actresses give great performances. This not much of a surprise because three of the four — Mukherjee, Mitra and Chakraborty — are outstanding actors but the surprise package is Palomi Ghosh, a model who performs really well, much like in her debut, Kuheli. She is a natural and even when she breaks down, revealing her loneliness, she is convincing. Their costumes are designed in keeping with their lifestyles and they carry them off with élan. Mukherjee is cast against her screen image and she fits into the mould perfectly. Chakraborty balances her inner pain and naughty antics really well as does Mitra, who purges her guilt for exploiting young girls. The game of “Truth or Dare” brings out some skeletons unwittingly out of their secret cupboards and adds to the story.
The musical score by Raj Narayan Deb is kept subtle and low-key while Raktim Mandal’s cinematography captures the mixed mood of the scenario. Shoubhik has taken on the reins of editing smoothly. But the sudden “twist” in the tale is completely unwarranted and one would want the director to know that not all stories need melodramatic “twists” because they stand quite well on their own. Onek Diner Porewas recently released on ZEE5.