THE FUTURE OF THE PAST
RAZOR-SHARP AND INTELLIGENT
Shoma A. Chatterji
- Story, screenplay, lyrics and direction: Anik Dutta
- Production: Joy B. Ganguly
- Music: Raja Narayan Deb
- Cinematography: Avik Mukhopadhyay
- Art Direction: Indraneel Ghosh
- Editing: Arghya Kamal Mitra
- Cast: Paran Bandopadhyay, Sabyasachi Chakraborty, Biswajit Chakraborty, Parambrato Chatterjee, George Baker, Swastika Mukherjee, Kharaj Mukherjee, Samadarshi Dutta, Mumtaz Sorcar, Anindita, Monami, Mir, (late) Bibhu Bhattacharya and others.
- Rating: 08/10
Have you ever heard of a foot soldier in the army of Siraj-ud-Daulah killed in the Battle of Plassey grouped with a snobbish British officer called Ramsay humbled in different company alongside Kadalibala, a famous singing actress from the Black-and-White era, or Koel in 2011 who jumped off the tenth floor because her millionaire father would not allow her to marry her boyfriend? The mansion belongs to Darpanarayan Choudhury, killed by a gang of dacoits when he went to collect tax from his subjects. He wanders about in search of shelter. He steps back into his own mansion when everyone has died or has moved away. There are others – a poor rickshaw puller who slept on the pavement and was mowed down by a speeding car; a Naxalite leader who was killed in 1972 while trying to flee; a military man martyred during the Kargil war; a Hindu East Bengali who died during the communal riots; and a Bangla band singer who died of an overdose of drugs. The common thread that binds them is that they have all died an unnatural death.
Anik brings across the entire socio-political history of Indiathrough the history of the ghosts. This begins with the Battle of Plassey (1757) through the Sepoy Mutiny (1857), the Naxalite Movement (1967-1970s) the communal riots in East Pakistanto the Kargil War (May to July 1999). Other cultural and technological changes come across subtly but powerfully through small incidents in this collage of characters. Ayan, the director-within-the-film, has a ring tone that belts out the first lines of the ghost-king’s song from Satyajit Ray’s Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne. It rings so often that it annoys everyone including himself. We learn that ghosts also have a social networking site called SpookBook. They use the laptop and the internet to search for a ghost named Haatkata Kartik, a famous contract killer killed by his rival gang after he lost an arm while making bombs.
Koel explains to the confused Kadalibala that today, words like ‘hot’ and ‘cool’ mean the same thing unlike depicting rise of fall in moods and warmth like it used to in earlier days. The arrogant singer tells Koel that music is an attitude and must be ‘thirsted for’ before belting out a very loud number strumming his guitar. Haathkata Kartik is hired to scare off the live promoter out to grab the mansion to use the land to build a shopping mall. Darpanarayan is scandalized by the word ‘mall’ because it means ‘shit’ in Bengali. The modern youngsters hastily explain that this is not the ‘mall’ he thinks it is but is a proper shopping ‘bazaar.’ This surprises Kadalibala who laments that she was labelled a ‘bazaari woman’ in her time and now they are celebrating ‘bazaars’! The ghosts become friendly over time and even go on picnics and celebrate festivals. But they are scared of the promoter throwing them out. Haathkata Kartik asks the promoter for a ‘cut’ of Rs.20 lakh and invites him to a ‘pooja’ in the mansion. ‘Pooja’ here signifies a booze party with a song-dance number thrown in. The skimpily clad, prettily-shaped woman’s face is covered with a veil. When he sees her face, he finds that it is the ghost of Lakshmi he had burnt to death many years ago. Lakshmi has been summoned to take her revenge and Kadalibala has trained her to perform the ‘item number.’ The promoter takes to his heels but the rickshawpuller ghost is not willing to take him back home.
Bhooter Bhabishyat is hot-shot ad-film maker Anik Dutta’s debut into feature films. He has written the story, the screenplay and the lyrics. Bhooter Bhabishyat has two strands. One strand comprises a story-telling session between Ayan (Parambrata Chatterjee), the listener, an aspiring director who makes ad films and needs a big mansion for his first film and the narrator, a man called Biplab (Sabyasachi Chakraborty) who tells him a ghostly tale filled with spooky ghosts for a possible script. The live characters are wonderful cameos but not as interesting as the ghosts in this film. The narrator too, who smoked a brand that does not exist anymore, is the Naxalite leader Biplab who was once a film buff. He helps Ayan make the film. How? That would be giving the game away for those who are yet to watch the film.
This is one of the most entertaining ghost films one has seen in Indian cinema in recent times and the stress is on “Indian” not on “Bengali.” This is a laugh-a-minute story that intercuts the collage-like narrative with snippets from history, from politics, from technology and from the corrupt appropriation of space as seen through the eyes of a dozen ghosts who died at different points of time overIndia’s 255 years of evolution. The political angle is brought about when the ghosts lament in chorus that the government, never mind which party is in power, has ever thought about a rehabilitation package for them. The opposition does not organize agitations or hunger strikes. Civil society or the ‘intellectuals’ do not hold protest marches. The media stays away. Their only shelter comprises of dilapidated old mansions and buildings of the city currently entangled in legal disputes. Even Ramsay had to take shelter in Darpanarayan’s mansion becauseImperialMansionin Alipore where he lived, had been demolished for some new multi-storied complex.
The live characters are a microcosm of the socio-economic scenario in today’s Kolkata – the director’s assistant smoking away to her heart’s delight but not in front of her boss; the production executive trying desperately to please everyone and get things going; the caretaker who, somewhat reluctantly, is forced to hand over the keys of the mansion to the director; the cameraman (within the film) is stuck in a rail roko agitation; the local counselor who cannot pronounce his name correctly approaches the promoter with his goons for his ‘cut’; the stammering promoter’s assistant hates his boss and is ready to join the demolishing squad of ghosts to pull the ugly boss down.
Bhooter Bhabishyat is a character-centric, episodic story that belongs to the world of ghosts who keep lamenting the lack of a place to hide their heads in within a land-grabbing and promoter-run city. It is a merciless city filled with fusion music by Bangla Bands, shopping malls replacing slums and tenements, cell phones playing their tricks with their funny ring tones, social networking sites that give more space to ghosts than the city does, cunning boyfriends running away to Australia with the girlfriend’s father’s money leaving her to jump to death; an actress who finds that values have changed drastically over time. There are some censorable words that arouse much laughter in the audience. The negative point is Kadalibala’s training the ghost of Lakshmi to perform an item number which did not exist during her tenure as a film star.
Anik has structured the film beautifully to shift from the world of the living to the world of the dead, through the living and the dead brought together in dramatic situations, to flashbacks into some of the ghosts’ pasts to flesh them out in quickly edited shots with a voice-over by Biplab, the Naxalite ghost. The layered editing is brought across fluidly by the magic scissors of Arghyakamal Mitra. The pace of the film is racy, dynamic and full of action though some of the jump cuts could confuse a bit. Avik Mukhopadhyay’s cinematography is a treat to watch both in the slightly diffused flashback sequences and in the vivid, colourful present, capturing the beautiful décor inside the Chowdhury mansion thanks to the production design by Indraneel Ghosh. The costume designer has executed a tough job with wonderful expertise dressing up the characters in keeping with the respective periods they belong to.
Raj Narayan Deb’s music is tantalizing in a different sense because it is enriched by the magic lyrics by Dutta himself. There is one Tagore number with the wordings changed to fit into the situation that is more funny than scandalizing. The item song however, is literally true because the first line is Mera ang ang mein aag lagayee de sayyaan beiman which appears to be titillating and sensuous to begin with but is literally referring to her husband having set her aflame, thereby betraying the faith she placed in him. The songs Kadalibala sings are in the typical nasal tone sung in a long drawl, harking back to old Bengali film songs on the one hand and bringing in a bit of fun on the other.
There just cannot be any prioritizing of rank and file in the acting department because each one fits his/her respective character to a tee. The live characters are as gung-ho as the dead ones with Sabyasachi’s Biplab sort of bridging the gap between the live and the ‘dead’ with his rooted reality. Paran Bandopadhyay with his sycophancy of the British who gave him the Rai Bahadur title is outstanding. Swastika has never played a role like this in her career and brings it off with a lot of spice and spike. Mumtaz does not have much to do while Samadarshi’s cynicism comes out smoothly. Biswajit Chakraborty’s boring military man, the skinny actor who plays the Muslim Khansama in Siraj-ud-Daulah’s kitchen only to be forced to fight and get killed is very funny and so is the Hindu from East Bengal who had to climb down the tree he had taken shelter in because of his gout! Saswata Chatterjee’s Haatkata Kartik and Kharaj Mukherjee’s counselor with an unmentionable first name are hilarious.
It is not easy to come by an intelligent comedy that is entertaining every minute of the way. Bhooter Bhabishyat is an exception. Well done Anik Dutta.