Laboratory (2010) Bengali Film FIRST LOOK by RAJA SEN

Rabindranath Tagore’s 150th centenary year has as sparked off renewed interest in one of the greatest littérateurs of the 20th century. Pitrashish Marketing Pvt. Limited has embarked on producing two films based on stories by the Poet Laureate. The common thread bonding the stories is that they are woman-centric, they have never been placed on the big screen before and thirdly, they feature powerful women who draw strength from within themselves to rise above social obstacles to make their lives their statement. One of them is Laboratory, directed by the noted director Raja Sen; the other, Musalmanir Galpo, is directed by Pranab Chowdhury.

DATABAZAAR MEDIA VENTURES has acquired the US distribution right of the film and the movie will be simultaneously released n in the USA and Kolkata. The film will also be released at http://dingora.com/ that features first day first show of hundreds of new movie in high quality streaming online.

Laboratory Raveena and Sabyasachi
Laboratory - Raveena Tandon and Sabyasachi

Interestingly, both Laboratory and Musalmanir Galpo have been made for television but not for the big screen. Laboratory is a story lesser known among Tagore buffs because at first glance, it features a woman who is not Bengali by birth, and is characterized by negative shades. Laboratory is mainly about Sohini, a Sikh girl from a village in Punjab, who came to Bengal when a noted Bengali scientist, Nanda Kishore, fell in love with her at first sight and married her. The couple had a daughter, Neela. The scientist set up a sophisticated laboratory equipped with the latest instruments and infra-structure. When he died during one of his experiments, Sohini’s ambition was to see that the laboratory fulfilled her husband’s dream. She is willing to pay any price for this, even if this means a relationship with another man or trying to get her daughter hitched on to Rebati, a young scientist in the hope that he will continue to do research in the laboratory. But is he the right person? Can he make Neela happy? What happens to Sohini’s dream for the laboratory? These are some of the questions the film and the story raise, leaving the audience and the readers to read between the lines and draw their own conclusions.

Laboratory Bengali Film: Raveena and Arpita Pal
Laboratory Bengali Film: Raveena and Arpita Pal

“Nanda Kishore was an affluent man. He had left a lot of wealth and property behind so Sohini and Neela were very rich. Neela attracted many admirers who wanted to marry her and inherit her property. Neela hated Sohini’s interference in her personal life so she developed friendships with a group of rowdies belonging to the upper strata she began to consider seriously. This created a schism between Neela and Sohini. But Sohini was very dominating and her search for a husband for Neela was based purely on whether the man would be able to carry her dream for her husband’s laboratory forward,” Sen elaborates. As far as the theme, character tonalities and psychological treatment of the characters go, Sen believes Laboratory would find no match in  the rest of Tagore’s literary oeuvre.

“Recreating the period the story belongs to has been both a challenge and a wonderful experience. Period holds a special attraction for most filmmakers. I am no exception. It was challenging to bring across the  period flavour not only in the production design but also in the characters via the costume, the make-up, the jewellery, the music and of course, the language,” says Sen. He has earlier honed his skills in period films with Krishnakanter Will based on Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay’s novel a few years ago. Some period homes of aristocratic Bengali families were used for part of the shooting of Laboratory. Among them is the beautiful Ghosh Bari at South Kolkata’s Harish Mukherjee Road.

Raja Sen-Bengali Filmmaker from Kolkata
Raja Sen-Bengali Filmmaker from Kolkata

Laboratory was authored by Tagore in the last days of his literary life as a writer of short stories. Perhaps this is why his treatment of the characters in Laboratory does not match the rest of his work. He might have given Sohini a Punjabi origin because the feudal society of Bengal at that time might not have accepted Sohini as a Bengali. His idea was to show a beautiful woman, married to a man much older than her, with the courage of her convictions to fulfill a promise she makes to herself in the memory of her husband challenging all odds, even if this means that she needs to violate the social rules of sex within marriage and widowhood. She is not really a negative woman. Strong and dominating women are forever considered ‘negative’ purely because they are strong and are not afraid to hide their strength. Sohini’s ‘negative’ interpretation is because she does not fall within the straitjacket of patriarchal definitions of the good and the bad woman.

Raveena Tandon makes her Bengali debut as Sohini in Laboratory. Arpita Chatterjee, making a comeback to films after seven years, plays her daughter Neela. Arpita brings in an aura of freshness and naivete to the character of Neela. The two beautiful women with diametrically opposite natures compliment each other beautifully. Rebati, Neela’s ambitious but flighty fiancé, is portrayed by Saheb Chatterjee who suits the character to a tee. Sabyasachi Chakraborty is Nanda Kishore, Sohini’s scientist husband who dies in the film. “My character is not a conventional husband of the 1920s. He is a modern man who tries to educate his wife. I found Raveena to be a serious and expressive actress and I look forward to working with her in more films,” says Sabyasachi.

There is a flashback mode showing Sohini as a beautiful young Punjabi Sikh woman. Ranjit Mullick plays Nanda Kishore’s close friend who Sohini has a relationship with after her husband’s death. Sohini is an unusual woman who places her dead husband’s dreams above her daughter’s happiness and her own moral beliefs. She appears to be cold, diabolic and calculating because she is so fiercely ambitious which a Bengali widow of her time is not expected to be. Arghya Kamal Mitra is editing the film and veteran Rana Dasgupta is director of cinematography. The music, that will have a couple of Tagore compositions and also some songs with a ‘period’ flavour, has been composed and conducted by Partho Sengupta. Tanmoy Chakraborty is art director. Sen is pinning his hopes on a Pooja release for Laboratory.

Laboratory is more a concept than a concrete actuality. It is a symbol of the fluctuating chemistry that sustains between and among people. In this sense, it transcends the rigid narrowness that the title suggests. . “It is amazing to note that Tagore wrote about a live-in relationship that is considered socially taboo even today. I feel the film will attempt to liberate the woman from the orthodoxy ingrained in the eye of the general public,” Sen sums up.

Shoma A. Chatterji

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