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Salvaged by winning performances

Based on a Samaresh Majumdar novel, Ei Aami Renu is an uneven but assured debut by director Soumen Sur.

SHOMA A CHATTERJI | New Delhi |

Samaresh Majumdar, a Sahitya Akademi Award recipient alongside other prestigious honours, is a renowned post-colonial author of Bengali literature. The recent Bengali film Ei Aami Renu, directed by Soumen Sur, is based on one of his novels.

Some of his works have been effectively adopted for cinema before. Among them are Kaalbela, directed by Goutam Ghose; Buno Haanshdirected by Aniruddha Roy Choudhury, and a film based on the detective character Arjun from his series for adolescents and young readers. In a few novels, Majumdar opens the story on a thrilling note and the narrative is filled with suspense, even though it may not be a thriller at all.

Ei Aami Renu begins with some goons breaking into protagonist Sumit’s room in the mess in which he lives and leaving it in tatters in search of some letters. What letters? Who has written them and whom are they addressed to? Why are the letters so important? The story begins to unfold as the plot goes back and forth in time and place between the heartbroken Sumit and the married Renu on one hand, and the escapist Ashok who has no intentions of marrying Jhooma, on the other.

The story revolves around a pretty girl named Renu, played by Sohini Sarkar, who is pursuing a Master’s degree at Calcutta University. One of her classmates, Sumit, essayed by Gaurav Chakraborty, is smitten by her and slowly, she begins to respond to his extremely subtle feelers.

But only up to a point. She seems unwilling to take the relationship to any destination by rebutting all his suggestions to marry with the intriguing excuse, “I am a very bad girl.” They have two close friends – a couple Ashok (Anindya Chatterjee) and Jhooma (Alivia Sarkar) – whose values about love and sex are much more permissive but they are always ready with a shoulder to cry on.

Since nothing more happens between Sumit and Renu, one finds that she has been married off to Barun, played by Soham Chakrabarty, a successful businessman. When Sumit hears of this, he is devastated.

The thrill those hidden letters create do not really form the crux of the main story, but it helps to keep the suspense running. Viewers watch with bated breath to know what those letters are all about but in the end, they are not worth half the trouble. That said, they offer an insight into the unbridled loyalty of Sumit and his undying love for Renu while she, in turn, grapples in the relationship with her gentle and sophisticated husband Barun, who is slowly angered by her repeated rejections.

The technique is faulty in places. First, too many songs disturb, rather than take the story forward, and second, the overuse of tight close-ups, especially in the beginning of the film, spoils the perspective.

The third drawback lies in the fact that Sumit is not given a backstory at all. He was surely not born in the mess, was he? Without a backstory, the character seems to exist in a vacuum. The colour palette, on the other hand, is a bit too bright but the interiors of Sumit’s room are designed quite well, including the messiness common among bachelors like him.

The cinematography tries to focus on the glamour more than grittiness of the story. The script is alright, but the performances take the cake with a cherry on top.

Sarkar is brilliant to say the least. Her character has enough depth to invest it with the mystique of her “many affairs” with different men, which she refers to in passing to Sumit but never actually articulates in so many words. If it is true, it presents a leading lady who has, at some time, been blamed for her promiscuity but based entirely on hearsay. Sumit does not believe in her repeated claims of being “a bad girl” from beginning to end. Gaurav Chakraborty, usually relegated to bit parts, gets a meaty role at last in Sumit which he essays with perfection.

The penultimate frame in Digha, when one learns of the letters’ fate, is an absolute visual treat. Chakraborty’s lack of fear is well brought out through low-key expressions and body language. Soham Chakrabarty as Barun has a multi-layered character and he handles it well with the right touches of anger, betrayal, will for revenge and retribution for his wife.

Chatterjee and Alivia Sarkar are great in small parts of a slightly different kind, which are much more than mere cameos. Kaushik Ganguly as BBC has a role that is neither fleshed out, nor is a solid rationale given for his actions. Ei Aami Renu is a good film and comes across as an assured directorial debut from Sur.
The writer is a senior film critic