Aug 29, 2011 (Calcutta Tube): Chaplin is a 2011 Bengali movie directed by Anindo Banerjee with Rudranil Ghosh, Srijit Mukherjee, Mir, Rachita, Sohom and others in the cast. Read the Bengali film review by National Award winning film critic Shoma A. Chatterjee at Calcutta Tube.
Banner: Orion Entertainment
Production: Purnendu Roy and Subhajit Roy
Direction: Anindo Banerjee
Story and screenplay: Padmanava Dasgupta
D.O.P.: Soumik Haldar
Editing: Bodhaditya Banerjee
Music: Indradeep Dasgupta
Art direction: Koushik and Barik
Cast: Rudranil Ghosh, Srijit Mukherjee, Mir, Rachita, Debesh Chatterjee, Sohom and Arijit Dutta
Date of release: August 26 2011
[ReviewAZON asin=”B004SH2G3U” display=”inlinepost”]Chaplin, Anindo Banerjee’s debut film is dedicated to Charles Spencer Chaplin. But Chaplin is much more a celluloid tribute to the ‘Little Tramp’ Chaplin created than to the man who created it. Convinced of the need to infuse pathos into a story to highlight comedy, Charlie Chaplin used a combination of slapstick, sympathy, irony and satire to narrate simple tales of a tramp drawing joy out of his marginalized existence through make-believe situations and relationships. It was revolutionary. At the core lay the lovely theory of pathos underlying comedy.
In Anindo’s film, it is the poor imitation of Chaplin that hides the pathos of Bangshi Das, the man who performs Chaplin for a hand-to-mouth living. He performs less-than-perfect Chaplin items in shabby costume and make-up at birthday parties of rich kids. He is a loving father dedicated to his seven-year-old boy Nimua. The two repair to a fantasy world of their creation, talking pidgin, childish nonsense no one understands to make living in the doldrums a fun thing, wiping away the hidden tears that can well up through hungry stomachs, humiliating encounters at parties, terrible living conditions and the daily uncertainty of life. When Bangshi goes for his shows taking Nimua along, he takes in the insults undercut by the feast they devour. When they come home, he takes off his Chaplin mask and becomes Bangshi once again.
Chaplin is filled with beautiful moments, happy, sad, tragic, invigorating, vibrating, optimistic and full of hope. In one scene, the father and son sit down to dip pieces of bread in a bowl of water and make-believe that they are actually relishing a succulent dinner of flour roundels with a rich mutton curry. In another scene, Bangshi holds a paper-wrapped loaf aloft in one hand and wakes Nimua up saying, “see what I bought us – mutton!” Nimua jumps out of the unmade, unkempt, dirty bed with a soiled mosquito net hanging off a nail beside and lets out shrieks of joy. Nimua often dreams of a fancy birthday party like the ones his father takes him to. But when his father asks him about them, he says something else that is funny and the two roll together on the floor laughing away. Bangshi walks under a huge poster of a film with Prosenjit’s image looming large. He looks at it and tells himself, “I am an artis, an artis,” out of faith.
The film opens with big, masked close-ups of Bangshi putting on his crude Charlie Chaplin make-up while credits rise in the other half. There are a bit too many huge close-ups in the beginning that tend to block perspective. But not to worry. Soumik Haldar’s magic camera keeps zooming back and forth to the terrible slum Bangshi and Nimua live in surrounded by their well-meaning, equally poor neighbours. There is Bangshi’s boss Paresh (Debesh Chatterjee) who hides a kind and gullible soul behind a hard exterior. Jafar (Mir) is one of the band members on contract under Paresh who is bitter with the way his life has turned out but is eager to see that Bangshi gets his due on the right performance platform. Another kindred band member (Amulya Ganguly) responds to every situation by playing on his saxophone/trumpet. Natural performances all around enriched by authentic costume and make-up.
Beyond the neighbourhood is the lovely Rina, the young NGO worker who takes classes for the slum children. Concerned about Nimua not attending her classes, she approaches his father, Bangshi and discovers his talent. Bangshi is fascinated by her attention but she is just a well-wisher who gets emotionally involved in the struggles of these two and is both surprised and sad to see how they cope with their immediate reality. Rachita is lovely but her dubbing sounds artificial and clipped at places. Srijit Mukherjee who plays her arrogant and self-indulgent fiancé Indro is brilliant in a multi-layered role where, just when everyone is expecting him to be the villain, he changes tracks and has the grace not only to recognize and acclaim Bangshi’s talent but also to be able to shed his arrogance and apologise to him for having slapped him at a party.
The film has three songs, all on the soundtrack. One is a lyrical raga-based number rendered by Kaushiki Desikan celebrating the rains positioned and orchestrated beautifully with the pitter-patter of raindrops and the flying of leaves. Another rendered by Rupam Islam is the nonsense exchange between father and son rendered to music and one more. Indradeep Dasgupta’s musical score is in keeping with the magic moods of the film. Popular Hindi film songs play across loud speakers at a slum feast of mutton and more. Padmanava Dasgupta’s script proves what a solid storyline, if treated and handled properly, can take sudden emotional somersaults effectively tugging at our heart-strings.
Rudraneel and Shoham as the inseparable and irrepressible pair Bangshi and Nimua turn in two heart-stopping performances. They are so genuine in their portrayals that by the time the film ends, they have virtually become father and son for the audience a section of which have already pulled out a handkerchief to dab at moist eyes. Once, Bangshi comes home to find Nimua playing at a make-believe birthday party of his own making. A moving touch that. At another point, Rina asks Indro, “Have you ever seen anyone eating bread with water?” A confused Indro responds stupidly because he has never ever been asked a question like that. Rudraneel does a very imperfect take on the original showman because his performance based on vague memories of having seen some Chaplin films without either training or skill cannot be perfect. He swings the stick once or twice, grimaces through his badly made moustache stuck with bad glue, and tips his hat as well as he can muster. The final day of the reality show audition hints at the dirty politics that often tilts the results against a genuine win for a politically approved but less meritorious candidate.
Within this scenario therefore, the script’s falling back on Nimua’s brain tumour is melodramatic. It needlessly extends the footage of the film. Rina speaking into the microphone at the press conference that does not happen is another sentimental touch the film could have done without. The final make-believe and hide-and-seek game Nimua and Bangshi play in the empty auditorium of Roop Chhaya to celebrate Nimua’s birthday is beautiful but slightly marred by stretching it beyond where it could have ended.
Soumik Haldar has a magic wand for a camera. He pans it almost lazily across the sky to catch two kites caught in a fight. The semi-silhouetted figures of Rina, Indro and Bangshi are shot from the back in a mid-long shot as Nimua comes and joins them on a stone bench beside a pond in the final frame. At times, you can catch a glimpse of the Howrah Bridge in the distance. Haldar focusses his lens on the rectangular frame of the open door of the dark and empty Roop Chhaya theatre, the spaces in the gangway and between the empty seats kicking up dust to zero in on the stage where Bangshi is putting on his show for his son, the stage covered with pink and blue birthday balloons, a three-tiered birthday cake covered with white frosting, silver and gold sprinkles showering from above till the magic ends and the original stage props are back in view.
The production design created by Koushik and Barik captures the interiors of the slum and Bangshi’s apology of a room as beautifully as it does the cluttered living room of Indro’s apartment and the narrow bylanes of the slum near Howrah Bridge. The terrible walls of Bangshi’s room has a large cut-out of Chaplin beside a coloured picture of the Goddess Kali I have never seen a better father-son relationship on the Indian screen ever before. Whether he is play-acting his Chaplin number at a party, or whether he is slipping back into his Bangshi reality, much like Cinderella rising from her pumpkin in her rags at the strike of midnight, the script often turns the head of fun and laughter around to reveal the sad face of poverty, of dreams that will never become real, of a father who will never celebrate his son’s birthday party or become an artis.
Where does Bangshi Das end and Chaplin begin? Or is it the other way round? Or do the two overlap, bridging the gap between the father and the performer who performs at last, to entertain his sole audience – his son Nimua on the latter’s birthday? Chaplin is one of the best urban fairy tales one has seen in recent times – making us laugh, cry, feel pain, disappointment, along with Bangshi/Chaplin only to rise above these again to draw the last drop from the juice of life through make-belief pulled out of the strange bowler hat Bangshi dressed as Chaplin wears. Well done Anindo.