Review: ABOHOMAAN – FUSION BETWEEN THE PAST AND THE PRESENT
Abohomaan is rooted in the fragmenting of a ‘happy family’ situation comprised of Aniket (Dipankar Dey), a famous director of ‘art films,’ wife Deepti (Mamata Shankar), growing son Apratim (Jisshu Sengupta) and Aniket’s old mother (Sova Sen.) The family falls apart from inside though to outward appearances, everything remains as it was. Shikha (Ananya Chatterjee), gatecrashes into their lives with a self-scripted, self-styled audition that is as arrogant and self-indulgent as it is defiant. Though Aniket does not care for her brash ways, Deepti feels she is just right for the role of Binodini for the film Aniket is planning to make. Her grooming of the unsophisticated, loud and crude Shikha prepares the younger girl to step into this difficult ‘period’ role based on the true story of Nati Binodini, a famous theatre actress of the Bengali stage, whose relationship with her mentor and director Natasamrat Girish Chandra Ghosh is legendary. The film-within-the-film spills over, in some way or the other, into a real life relationship between Aniket and Shikha. Deepti feels betrayed both by her husband and the young actress. Aniket shrugs off everything and does not once confirm the scandal making the rounds of the gossip mills even as he moves from the dining table into the rest room to talk for hours to her on his cell phone. He does not stop the editor of a film glossy from publishing a lead story on the scandal authored by his own son.
ABOHOMAAN FILM RATING: 7/10
The film opens in Kurseong. A grown and married Apratim, who makes video films, has rushed from Kolkata to tend to his father who has suffered a heart attack. The short stay brings the father and son closer through their work, which also defines some of the philosophies they believe in. But they rush back to Kolkata as Aniket’s condition worsens and he passes away. Abohomaan constantly moves between and among Aniket’s dying condition and his death, defined in the present, the past that shows the process of a scandal and what it leads to, and the film on Binodini being shot. Among these time zones, the characters begin to take shape, evolve and go through mutations. So do the relationships between and among them.
Ghosh prefers to imbed this film’s basic idea – different ways of looking at a ‘scandal’ by the very people involved – through dialogue, music and action, avoiding explication, and using fragmented, impressionist structures that encourages the audience to read between the lines and draw its own conclusions. This leads to some confusion about narrative clarity but for Ghosh, it is designed. He employs stylistic fusion through interpolations into the period film being made by breaking into the ‘real’ characters in the past and the present. Abohomaan is a blend of the linear directness of the mainstream and the ambiguity of the art film, more of the latter than the former.
The characters are distinguished by their acting styles. Aniket is quiet and low-profile despite his fame, subtly sarcastic yet forthright and confident. He has an air of amused tolerance towards everything and everyone. This brings dimensions of Dipankar Dey we have never seen before. Deepti changes the most over the film. She is a happy housewife who has willingly given up her career when she fell in love with the film’s director. She confidently volunteers to groom the young girl, teaches her to dance gracefully and even dissuades her from quitting when the younger girl is disgusted with her director’s silence about her shots. When she is older, her hair is cropped close to her head, wears thick, black-framed glasses and wears grey-coloured khadi silks. Her face is rigid, unsmiling and almost tells one to keep a distance. Mamata Shankar delivers the performance of her life. Sova Sen as Aniket’s mother, Riya Sen as Apratim’s heavily pregnant wife are very good too. Ananya injects life and blood into Shikha with her seductiveness, her sensuality, her lack of sophistication and her crude, brazen approach. Jisshu is very good in every moment – when he winks at his father as he steps into the son’s room while he is singing, when he helplessly watches his wife sparring with his mother, when he feeds his dying father, when he visits Shikha to get her version of the story and learns more about his mother too, etc.
The film is filled with beautiful moments. There is a touching moment when Aniket comes out of the bathroom and tells his son that his pyjama string has slipped inside. When Aniket asks Deepti if she will leave the house, she angrily retorts that she will not. “I will still wait with your dinner every night like I have done all these years, still wait on you and no one will come to know, not even Maa.” The old mother, not aware of her son’s body lying in the next room, asks for “chow mien and pulao” for dinner.
Avik Mukherjee’s cinematography, Arghya Kamal Mitra’s editing and Indraneel Ghosh’s art direction transcend the literary needs of the script to reach out and merge with the shifting moods as the film moves from picturesque locations in Kurseong soaked in fog – a metaphor for the relationships, to the Kolkata home of Aniket, to Shikha’s verandah-bordered old home in North Kolkata, into the studios where the film is being shot. The touch of the screen black-outs to underscore the black-outs within the audience as Ghosh deliberately conceals things he does not wish the audience to see, or, to symbolize the black-outs Aniket encounters within his delirious state, are imaginatively conceived. One flaw is that in some scenes, the film being shot looks more like a play being staged. The music rightly runs secondary to the film and the lyrics are very good.
One would rather a director like Rituparno Ghosh sustain the unpredictability that is the wont of most good directors. He remains brilliant in most departments. But he is becoming predictable in the structuring of his films and in his obsession with death and dying to open the film with. He did it with his second feature film Unishe April. He then went back to the narrative mode only to come back to open a film with the physical reality of death and dying in Dosar, The Last Lear, Shob Charitra Kalponik and now Abohomaan.
His unconventional structure within the narrative works well with critics and serious film buffs but not with the mass audience left to grope with cinematic markers between and among the time-zones. Lastly, audiovisual references to texts and cultural performances of bygone eras the audience might not be familiar with, leads to a lack of understanding the links and therefore, a failure to draw parallels with the main story. It is difficult to invest a story that revolves around an adulterous scandal with dignity. It is nearly impossible to let it go without being judgmental. Abohomaan succeeds on both counts.
Shoma A. Chatterji