July 31, 2011 (Calcutta Tube): Iti Mrinalini is a 2011 Bengali film directed by Aparna Sen with Aparna Sen, Konkona Sen Sharma, Rajat Kapoor, Koushik Sen, Priyangshu Chatterjee and others in the cast. Read the Bengali movie review at Calcutta Tube.
ITI MRINALINI – SAD
Banner: Shree Venkatesh Films Pvt. Limited
Produced by: Srikant Mohta and Mahendra Soni
Direction: Aparna Sen
Story and Screenplay: Aparna Sen and Ranjan Ghosh
D.O.P.: Somak Mukherjee
Music: Debajyoti Misra
Lyrics: Rabindranath Tagore, Srijit Mukherjee and Sunil Gangopadhyay
Editing: Rabi Ranjan Moitra
Cast: Aparna Sen, Konkona Sen Sharma, Rajat Kapoor, Koushik Sen, Priyangshu Chatterjee, Saheb Bhattacharya, Dulal Lahiri, Gargi Roy Choudhury, Rita Koiral, Srijit Mukherjee, Ananya Chatterjee, Suzanne Bernert and others.
Date of release: July 29th 2011
[ReviewAZON asin=”B0057XXJKI” display=”inlinepost”]It is a bit tough to write a review of a film that has already been written about extensively much before its Indian release. But that is routine for any film directed by Aparna Sen. Iti Mrinalini is no different. The difference lies in the storyline created by Sen jointly with Ranjan Ghosh. For the first time, she deals with the glamorous world of a top film star of Bengali cinema in the 1970s. This is rather fragile territory for a director who has herself reigned supreme in Bengali mainstream cinema for two decades or more because autobiographical references could get out of control. But Sen being Sen, instead of turning the film into a self-reflexive film-within-a-film, which would have been predictable, she makes it an introspective journey into the past by a fictional actress who decides to end her life.
The film is structured through a suicide note the mellow and ageing Mrinalini (Aparna Sen) begins to write because, “Timing is the first lesson an actress learns in cinema. I had no control over my entry into this world. But I can decide on my exit,” she writes. She picks out pieces of memorabilia from a box to tear and throw them away in the waste bin by her table. Each memorabilia – a faded photograph, posters of old films, broken bangles brings back memories of a life lived in the world of glamour and fame and the power that comes of it, with the pain of betrayal, death of loved ones, and loneliness simmering underneath. Sometimes, she stops from tearing off a photograph. More often, she crumples the paper she has written on and throws it away only to begin on a fresh white sheet and crumple it up and throw it away again. The past telescopes into these sessions of her nostalgic journey through time and space, as we see the young Mrinalini (Konkona Sen Sharma) growing up through college, through a sweet relationship with Abhijeet (Shaheb Bhattacharya), a Naxalite who is shot by the police while trying to escape.
Just before she begins penning this note, we find Mrinalini resuming her career after a 15-year gap as Kunti in an English-language film Born of the Sun, persuaded by the US-trained Indian director Imtiaz Chowdhury (Priyangshu Chatterjee) who also steps into the role of Karna in the film. The two have an affair and Imtiaz promises to cast her once again as the young Nandini in Tagore’s philosophical play Rakta Karabi (Red Oleanders). On the night of the premiere, she is shocked to find Imtiaz cuddling up to a young and up-coming starlet (Ananya Chatterjee) who, the producer announces, will be Nandini. This final culmination of a life filled with lost love, betrayal, grief over her child’s death in an air crash, and the pain born of constant loneliness, invasion into privacy leads to the suicide note.
Sen makes no attempt to rationalize Mrinalini’s adulterous, long-term relationship with Siddhartha Sarkar (Rajat Kapoor) who gave her her first break and also sired her only child. He is a happily married man with two kids, yet keeps up the relationship with false promises of a subsequent marriage. He even goes through the charade of a ‘temple wedding.’ Why it takes an intelligent girl like Mrinalini to wizen up to his double life and that too, by her uneducated dresser Kamala-di underscores not her stupidity but her vulnerability and her longing for love.
What comes across is the top star’s desperate desire to belong, to have a family, to love and be loved though she has left her old mother behind in their old dilapidated rented place in North Calcutta. Her closest bonding based on purely platonic love is with the writer Chintan Nair (Koushik Sen), a South Indian who has studied in Santi Niketan short listed for the Booker for his book Red Earth. He teaches her three most important lessons in love – that love comes in different forms, that not all love need end in marriage and that ideal love is the one that sets you free. He goes back to his crippled wife Meera to Pondicherry but keeps in constant touch through texts and calls on her cell.
Ironically, the most immediate and long-lasting bonding the lonely Mrinalini develops is with her dresser Kamala-di, Moti, the maid and her German Retriever Begum she has taken on probably after her daughter’s death. The film moves smoothly between the past and the present sometimes marking the dividing line with a question, sometimes with uncertainty but almost seamless, thanks to Rabi Ranjan Maitra’s wonderful editorial flourishes. The late Somak Mukherjee’s camera moves across time, space and people with the fluid strokes of an accomplished painter who knows his colour, light and form as well as he knows his subject., Mrinalini, captured mainly in half-light while penning the letter, her pained face held in close-up at different angles expanding to capture the wideness of the beaches and the waves of the sea.
Debajyoti Mishra’s music comprises of three songs, one a Tagore song, amaar mukti aloye aloye sung partly as a duet by the young Mrinalini and her daughter along the beaches of a sea, a Sunil Gangopadhyay poem set to music, and one fast number that forms the title song of Bish Kanya, a mainstream film she has starred in that scans the young star’s coping with the accessories that come with stardom – drinks, cigarettes, joints, etc. It is a brilliantly positioned and picturised sequence. The film captures the ‘look’ of the 1970s Kolkata covering Presidency College when many brilliant students surrendered to the Naxalite movement, scanning over the city as it grew along with Mrinalini, and turns glamorous as she does. This perhaps, is Sen’s most lavishly mounted film till date.
The art direction (not mentioned in the credits) carry the signature marks of an actress’ home – with a sketch of Charlie Chaplin, a huge poster of the Beatles and a much bigger poster of Marlyn Monroe. When she becomes a star, the spaces between these posters are filled with black-and-white photographs of Mrinalini, the star. The premiere show of Born of the Sun has the typical touch of a star-studded do filled with the bright red poster of the film and the razzmatazz of starry presence. The location shooting on the beaches where Siddharth teaches his daughter to shout ‘Cut’ is touching.
Like all Aparna Sen films, Iti Mrinalini is filled with silent images that speak out a thousand words filled with poignant meaning. Siddhartha, who never displayed much interest in Shona, his daughter born of his relationship with Mrinalini, opens his wallet once. In front, we see a picture of his two sons. He digs into the back pocket to bring out another jaded Black-and-White photograph of the little Shona lying in his chest. Mrinalini, about to tear off a picture of Siddhartha and Shona, stops suddenly and keeps it aside. A framed portrait of Chintan rests on the elderly Mrinalini’s writing desk. She picks it up as if to console herself. She clicks on her cell to message Chintan, or to read a message from him.
The scene where the young Mrinalini breaks down on Chintan’s wife Mira’s lap, collapsing into tears spells out the tragedy of her life within those brief moments, the soundtrack filled with her heart-rending sobs. One recalls the scene from Mehboob’s Mother India where Nargis was caught in the studio fire and rescued by Sunil Dutt who played her son in the film. There is a similar scene where the studio fire gets out of control and Imtiaz rescues an unconcsious Mrinalini. Her first word after regaining consciousness is “Kamala-di” and the message is clear – Kamala-di has been engulfed in the flames. The next shot shows Mrinalini coiled up in a narrow, single bed. Later, we notice a slightly faded Black-and-White photograph of Kamala-di hanging on one wall.
The small cameos are wonderfully fleshed out and enacted. Dulal Lahiri as Prasad Sen, the producer who replaces her suddenly and then comes back to her when she is famous, Gargi Roy Chowdhury as Sumitra Devi, a famous star who engineers the replacement, Rita Koiral as Moti, the sensitive maid, Suzanne Bernert as Julia, Mrinalini’s sister-in-law and Locket Chatterjee as Siddharth’s wife Maithili are lovely cameos. The little girl who plays Shona with her heavily accented Bengali is fresh, spontaneous and lovely. Srijit Mukherjee as Ronojoy Mitra is stiff, self-conscious and expression-less. His is perhaps the only mole on a beautiful face.
Among the major performers, the icing and the cake go directly to Konkona Sen Sharma who as the younger Mrinalini, is mind-blowing in a layered performance that maps her slow growth from a naïve, fresh college girl with big dreams to a hesitant newcomer to Tollygunge to a successful star with the airs of stardom she carries with élan, to the love-struck woman longing for a husband and kids, to a slightly wizened young woman educated anew by Chintan. This is another award-worthy performance by Konkona.
Aparna Sen rightly looks a jaded beauty proud of her star status used mainly to hide her pain but her performance is touched with a bit too much of self-pity and a martyrdom one does not expect from her films. Priyangshu is self-conscious at times but perhaps that is how the character is designed. Rajat Kapoor is his suave, sophisticated, arrogant self as Siddhartha enriched by the voice of Anjan Dutt who dubbed his lines. Shaheb as Abhijeet is candid and fresh in a brief cameo and looks the part. Koushik Sen with stubble and an unusual hairstyle, lines spoken with a distinct Southern accent, comes right after Konkona in a controlled performance held completely in reign in every single scene from his entry to his exit.
The few loopholes this critic feels like questioning are – unlike Aparna Sen’s optimistic approach, this one ends on a very pessimistic note. Mrinalini is fleshed out more as a victim and a martyr than as a strong woman who knows her mind. Nothing wrong in that but Sen does it differently every time. Secondly, the closure is a bit melodramatic for the Sen directorial signature to fit into. Thirdly, one wonders when and where Mrinalini had the time and the opportunity to read up so much on W.B. Yeats, Tagore and Chitan’s Booker Prize novel to be able to quote them from memory since we know nothing about her academic background. Only once we see her asleep on the back seat of her car with an open book lying on her chest other than the book-lined walls of her study which is mandatory in every star’s home mostly as part of the décor.
– Shoma A. Chatterji