Ablend of the real world we live in and the surreal world that we believe exists somewhere beyond is a challenging area for filmmakers to explore. But there are so many outstanding films made around this form and content that to present something unique is not easy. Christopher Nolan’s Inception(2010), for example, is both a film and a metaphor on the very film itself.
Directors Sudeshna Roy and Abhijit Guha have been exploring completely different subjects over their long tenure as joint directors in contemporary Bengali cinema. They understand the pulse of the youth well and their films till now, which deal with young people, have been extremely successful. They have come out of this niche some time back and have been reasonably successful there too but with Samsara, they have stepped on a potentially fragile territory.
The basic philosophy of the film deals with friendship and betrayal not necessarily in that order. One could have dubbed it a “relationship” film but it reaches far beyond that. It is rooted in how guilt can wreak havoc in lives and so, “guilt” is the operative word here.
The word “samsara” means the journey that overlaps with both life and death and the world that lies somewhere along these two polarised points. It all begins with three long-lost friends Atanu, Chandan and Vicky meeting after two decades suddenly. Their personal lives are unhappy and they try to drown their woes in the bottle but nothing really happens. Vicky’s wife has gone missing during a Dubai business trip and a funny detective follows him everywhere but does not hesitate to pinch a glass of single malt at his expense. Atanu is a self-proclaimed writer who is currently suffering from a writer’s block and cannot finish his latest novel. His wife has walked out of the marriage and is living in with another man. Chandan runs three jewellery shops but cannot consummate his relationship with his wife because he is wrought by feelings of deep guilt.
They share their back stories but we have no clue whether they are telling the whole truth or dotting their stories with a lot of cooked-up junk. This makes for the first half of the film, which is a bit of a drag because the actors — Indrajeet Chakraverty (Vicky), Ritwik Chakraborty (Atanu) and Rahul Banerjee (Chandan) do not generate that feeling of being close friends from school even when they are together. The spark that ought to have come when three school friends meet after 20 years is missing.
However, Vicky who is a very successful real estate person and Chandan who owns three jewellery stories do not seem to be interested in their respective lines of work because we are never given a glimpse into their working world. Atanu is a good-for-nothing guy who is always broke and does not balk at asking his former wife for money or his friends for the taxi fare. What is striking about the characterisation of these three young men is that they have not been fleshed out as good people but ones who are only interested in small talk and drinking till they collapse. One feels no sympathy for them as all three are anti-heroes in whom violence is ingrained. That impacts not only their lives but also the lives of others who they are in some way linked to them.
The film changes track radically when the three friends hop into Vicky’s car and set out on a trip to this place called Samsara. This is a different world full of intrigue and it would be wrong to divulge what happens there. But questions remain. Does the journey to Samsara purge the three young men of their hidden feelings of guilt? Or do they live on with guilt haunting the rest of their lives?
The props that are ingenuously created by the directors and the script by Padmanava Dasgupta at Samsara spell out the world that is distinctly different from the world we inhabit. There is scaffolding in one corner of a hillock. One can glimpse a cemetery across a field. The bungalow in which they stay looks ghostly and the characters who work in the “resort” scare the three young men because they remind them of others they knew at a different time and place.
The acting, especially by the three friends, is quite good notwithstanding the lack of chemistry in their on-screen bonding. Sudipta Chakraborty in a dual role is exceptional as usual but her make-up is quite an eyesore in the second half. Tanusree as Atanu’s estranged wife is quite good in a cameo while Ambarish Bhattacharjee as the detective is funny and intelligent at the same time. Samadarshi Datta as a metaphorical character performs according to the script while Devlina Kumar is alright. The music is not much to write home about and I am saying this because a film that moves from realism to surrealism offered ample scope for magical music. Sujoy Dutta Ray’s editing, especially in the second half, is really good and the same goes for the cinematography.
All said and done, the twist in Samsara is something any intelligent viewer would be able to predict easily because it is neither unique nor original.