One doesn’t have to research much to realise that 2016 has been quite uninspiring for Bengali cinema.
The year-end rush of detective thrillers may be a desperate effort to reverse the trend. Feluda has a perennial appeal though it is getting increasingly difficult to cast someone with a credible look for the character created by Satyajit Ray. The original choice, Soumitra Chatterjee, is in his eighties and has been ruled out after Joi Baba Felunath. Sabyasachi Chakraborty filled the breach for a number of the Feluda stories adapted by Sandip Ray. But there was an age factor that neither the director nor the actor could ignore.
It was then that Abir Chatterjee played Feluda in Badshahi Angti with the prospect of having a lasting attachment to the role. Trouble erupted when the actor chose to play Byomkesh as well — a development that became more embarrassing when both detectives with the same actor appeared on public screens the same day. It looked like a contest in which there could be no winners. But the Satyajit Ray and adindu Bandopadhyay creations were much too closely associated with the people’s love for crime thrillers to disappear from the screen. The avoidable complexities posed some hurdles but these were surmounted with adjustments that have had mixed results. Anjan Dutt was keen to build on his early success with the Byomkesh stories but, clearly, his choice of Chiriyakhana, which had already been filmed by Ray back in 1967 and had fetched Uttam Kumar a National Award, didn’t work as well as his earlier Byomkesh films.
Besides, Jishu Sengupta who had replaced Abir Chatterjee appeared to have been cast under some kind of pressure and has now stepped aside again for Abir Chatterjee’s return in Arindam Sil’s Byomkesh Parbo. The Dooars backdrop lends some interest to the story of arms smuggling. But there is not much else in terms of plot or performance to make it a thriller that one would remember. There is also a matter of excess in the handling of the detective by two directors whose styles are different. The earlier film suffered by comparison with Ray.
The new film offers an amazing cocktail of cerebral and martial arts skills for Byomkesh with his assistant Ajit and wife Satyabati having precious little to contribute. Earlier, more complications were added by the Byomkesh films made by Rituparno Ghosh (his last feature film), and Dibakar Banerjee who may have realised that the detective is too strongly rooted to his cultural identity to be handled credibly in any other language.
The same is true of Feluda whose copyright is tightly held unlike that for Byomkesh. If the Saradindu creation is now in danger of running to excess on the screen, the difficulty with Feluda lies in presenting a credible face. The double bill finds the actor breaking the age barrier. But it should not be long before Sandip Ray will be running out of options just as he has been compelled to select stories that don’t have Lalmohan Ganguly only because there is no actor to match Santosh Dutta. He has done the best he can with the two stories in Double Feluda – Samaddarer Chabi and Golakdham Rahasya – primarily to celebrate the 50th year of the creation of Satyajit Ray’s detective. But even after the tight handling of the carefully chosen stories, it remains to be seen whether Sabyasachi Chakraborty will fit into later projects.
The closing thrills of 2016 were clearly out of sync with the lacklustre results achieved throughout the year. Three films that could claim serious attention were Shankhachil,Cinemawala and Vastushaap but they may not have fetched the response that they deserved. This was unfortunate in a situation where good films were hard to find. Some came with enormous hype that left audiences and observers quite stunned. One of these was Zulfiqar, which had a sprawling cast that took the film nowhere.
Equally disappointing was the stream of co-productions with Bangladesh. While Sankhachil, an Indo-Bangladesh venture, stood out for its tragic realism, there were potboilers that could never hope to leave any impression. There was, at one point, an attempt made to explore the possibilities of regular exchanges. But quality is clearly missing. Why should average entertainers made in one country find a market in the neighbouring country when random copies of hits from other regions offer better options. One can only hope that 2017 will have better things in store for Bengali cinema.
The cash crunch may have taken a toll with fewer units flying out to Italy, London or Turkey. That is no real loss. What is more important is the need to look for sensible subjects rather than attractive ingredients that will possibly sell only for a limited period. The responsibility lies with directors who have both technical skills and artistic sensibilities. The weaknesses of so-called stars may finally have been exposed. However, there is talent enough to be exploited for sensible and professional work. That could help restore the climate of honest entertainment, if not the cerebral qualities that had distinguished even popular films made in Bengal.