Aparna Sen’s adaptation of Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay’s Goynar Baksho starts a comedy spanning three generations but nearing its completion it diverges unnecessarily.
An excellent choice of cast with Mousumi-Saswata-Kankana-Manasi-Paran-Aparajita-Piyush-Kaushik-Shrabanti and the rest putting up a superbly orchestrated presentation, a careful selection of locations with exquisite cinematography (Soumik Halder), detailed art direction (Tanmoy Chakrabarty), an aptly matched make-up and costume design (Sarbani Das), smooth and elegant editing (Rabiranjan Maitra), a background score (music direction by Debojyoti Misra) just perfect to tone the mood throughout, yet the movie falls short of its expectations due to a surprisingly awkward ending. It is not abrupt or immature – since the story is agreeably guided to a well conceived finale but it is certainly not fitting to the plot. The deviations from Shirshendu’s original, though pleasantly enjoyable otherwise, but for the final twenty minutes or so it had not only shot off at a tangent but causes a loss of cohesion with the underlying theme that had been woven carefully till that moment. Infact the rest of the narrative as compared to the final twenty minutes seems but two stories loosely bound by a central element – the precious jewellery box.
A story stretching three generations, it portrays how a crumbling Bengali nobility with an undiminished sense of false pride, tottering on the verge of complete ruin, is saved by the wit and grit of an undeterred housewife with aid coming from the most unusual quarters – a spirit from the other world!
Somalata, hailing from a family of humble means, is wedded to Chandan, younger son in a family of erstwhile zamindars – apparently possessing enormous riches. But as it turns out, this seemingly rich lineage of Bengali babus lived on the money gathered by selling off their only two prized possessions – lands in East Pakistan and family heirlooms like jewellery and the likes. Salaried jobs or business were insults to their prestige while squandering off wealth for all their leisurely pursuits was quite okay for them. Fortunately, some of the ladies of the family thought otherwise and so when crisis befell they were the ones to think innovatively in trying to save respect and esteem for the family.
At one point of the crisis, Somalata’s aunt-in-law, the elderly Rasmoni – spirited but foul-mouthed, widowed at the age of twelve and living at her parent’s residence since then, died leaving behind a great fortune in the form of several expensive ornaments – her marriage gifts – safely stored in a jewellery box. Nothing could have been as convenient but for the fact that Rasmoni’s ghost (without which a Shirshendu literature is never complete), immensely fond of her possessions during her lifetime and unable to bear the loss of it even in death, appeared and scared off the young Somalata compelling her to conceal the box, without the knowledge of her spendthrift brother and nephews. When the box went missing and the rest of the family members started an intense and shameless search for it, curious happenings prevented them from locating the box and bothering the nervous Somalata – thanks to Rasmoni’s ethereal presence always at the right time at the right moment.
Thus began the exciting adventure of the timid housewife turned resolute businesswoman who used her intelligence and perseverance to convince her dear ones and the mischievous spirit of Rasmoni for shaping a steady future for her husband and the family. The fame of decaying nobility was not only restored but was glorified as a successful business house of the province and Somalata became a proud mother to Chaitali, a flawless reflection of Rasmoni in her appearance.
Upto this particular point, the movie had been a hilarious joyride interspersed with sentiments where social values were explored for two generations of women. But the third generation as pictured from the perspective of Chaitali takes the movie away from the natural drama and introduces quite a different angle – the Naxal movement of Bengal, which though complete in itself, spoils the entire mood and squeezes the charm out of the movie. Worse still is the marked deviation from the original that ensured an intense and passionate completion while the forced introduction of the political perspective in the script blurs out the short but classic romantic angle too. So though compliments are due to Sen’s direction and the choice of locations but it must be admitted that the script was not well composed. So the reader of the actual story may regret the most after watching the full version of it (an edited version is reportedly playing in certain halls after its release).
Coming to the acting, greatest pick of the movie is undoubtedly Mousumi Chatterjee in portraying Rasmoni, the aged aunt-in-law channeling the frustration of her discontented womanhood in cursing the entire world but remaining revered throughout her lifetime and also in death. The charmingly charismatic Mousumi is so lovably foul-mouthed with her impish grin and mischievous pranks, that she remains the guiding spirit of the movie. It is really wondrous that at an age when others might contemplate a more serene role, she is sprightly as a teen, radiating the same freshness, the same playfulness so natural to her. Seeing her is a rewarding experience and it seems that nobody else could have been more suited for the role. Thus Konkona Sen Sharma (Somalata) should be commended too who balances the scale opposite the experienced veteran with her composed and measured performance of the nervous housewife, the shrewd businesswoman and the savior of the decaying household. Saswata Chatterjee (Chandan) is also wonderful in portraying simultaneously the signature Bengali babu and the rich younger spoilt son of the nobility while the others including Manasi Sinha and Paran Bandyopadhyay (Chandan’s parents), Piyush Ganguly and Aparajita Audhya (Chandan’s elder brother and his wife respectively), Kaushik Sen (poet and Somalata’s admirer) and Shrabanti (Chaitali) fittingly carries out their part.
Another appeal of the presentation is the title song, written by Srijata and sung by Upal and Anindya – a Bengali rap number – with its lilting tune and witty lyrics that sets the correct tone in the beginning and immediately brings focus on the careful comedy.
Thus the movie is highly recommended with a couple of tips, do not compare it with the literature and leave the hall as Chaitali grows up.
Rating – 7/10
– Anirban De