MAHANAGAR@KOLKATA (2010) Bengali Movie Review

MAHANAGAR@KOLKATA a.k.a METROPOLIS@KOLKATA is a 2010 Bengali Film directed by Suman Mukhopadhyay starring Anjan Dutt, Arun Mukhopadhyay, Biplab Chatterjee, Chandan Roy Sanyal, Rituparna Sengupta, Sreelekha Mitra, Kabir Suman, Pawan Kanodia and others. Read the Exclusive CalcuttaTube review of the movie and add your comment.

Cast and Crew

  • Banner: A.V.A. Film Productions Pvt. Limited.
  • Producer: Pawan Kanodia
  • Director: Suman Mukhopadhyay
  • Story: Nabarun Bhattacharya
  • Cinematography: Indranil Mukherjee
  • Editing:   Arghyakamal Mitra
  • Music:   Rupam Islam
  • Cast: Anjan Dutt, Arun Mukhopadhyay, Biplab Chatterjee, Chandan Roy Sanyal, Rituparna Sengupta, Sreelekha Mitra, Kabir Suman, Pawan Kanodia
  • Date of Release: June 4, 2010
  • Rating: 6/10

Mahanagar Kolkata Movie Review

Mahanagar@Kolkata Bengai film
Mahanagar@Kolkata Bengai film

The bloodied handprint of Rongili (Rituparna Sengupta) on husband Rohit (Chandan Roy Sanyal)’s bare back writes the tragic finis to a marriage gone awry. A piece of nylon thread carefully packed in a cellophane packet is the only hope for Jagannath (Biplab Chatterjee) about his injured son coming out of his critical state. Selim (Anindya Banerjee), an anti-social, forces a gun into the hand of Biren (Arun Mukhopadhyay), a vulnerable man in the margins, points it at his head, and commands him to pull the trigger to prove that he has nothing to fear. There is a finely orchestrated illusory sequence of Rongili being prepared for an elaborate self-immolation through Sati seen through the hallucinatory vision of Rohit. A man is beaten to death in the compound of a dilapidated public hospital in the middle of the night. The murder is witnessed by two disparate characters drawn together by fear. The beautiful Kamalini (Sreelekha Mitra) shakes boyfriend Rohit off-balance as she spouts intellectual takes on Karl Marx, Leo Tolstoy and the four theories of suicide. These are bits and pieces of a collage of a triptych called Mahanagar@Kolkata directed by Suman Mukhopadhyay based on three powerful but cinema-unfriendly short stories by Nabarun Bhattacharya, known for mercilessly opening up the underbelly of the city with characters that spring out of dark alleys and margins co-existing, in these three stories, in fear.

Watch the Trailer of Mahanagar@Kolkata

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Mahanagar@Kolkata Bengali Film Poster
Mahanagar@Kolkata Bengali Film Poster

Suman’s first film Herbert was also adapted from Nabarun’s novelette of the same name. Herbert is a marginal man, an orphan who insists that he can converse with the dead. Is he telling the truth, or is he faking it? Maybe, his belief is born out the twin worlds he inhabits – the real world filled with an oppressive cousin and a loving aunt on the one hand, and a world of fantasy filled with kites, balloons, a human skull, nightmares and nonsense poems on the other. Herbert is a riddle, an enigma, a picture of confusion and a collage of images collated from many contrasting ones. Through Herbert’s life, we see the face of socio-economic changes holding the city of Calcutta in its menacing grip. The beautiful bird-rest on the terrace is replaced by a dish antenna; an opportunist entrepreneur steps in to cash in on Herbert’s popularity as an occult practitioner; a bright red van from a satellite channel is stationed outside the police station responsible for probing into the mystery of the explosion in the crematorium following Herbert’s gruesome suicide.

Mahanagar@Kolkata, structured out of three stories, is no different. It shows how distanced this metropolis (mahanagar) has become from ‘The Big City’ (Mahanagar) of Satyajit Ray. After a successful tryst with Tagore for his second film Chaturanga, Suman returns to his favourite muse, Nabarun. The three stories are – Ek Tukro Nyloner Dori (A Piece of Nylon Rope), Amar Kono Bhoy Nei Toh? (I Have Nothing to Fear, Do I?) and Angshik Chandragrahan (Partial Lunar Eclipse), each one different from the other but speaking of the global emotion that rules our lives, a universally democratic reality we must learn to live with – fear.

Mahanagar@Kolkata Rituparna Sengupta
Mahanagar@Kolkata Rituparna Sengupta

Mahanagar@Kolkata throws up multiple perspectives on fear zeroing in on death in as many forms as possible – Jagannath’s son injured during a game dies in a public hospital. The hospital compound is a scene of killing, mayhem and murder, witnessed by Jagannath and Manmatha (Anjan Dutt) from inside the latter’s car. Rohit recovers from his suicidal depression and goes home to step into other fears – the fear of having lost his wife Rongili and having put off his girlfriend Kamalini. Rongili, a strong woman, gets her unborn baby aborted because she is deeply hurt by Rohit’s escapist strategy when he hears of his impending fatherhood. “It’s your decision,” he keeps repeating, and drives Rongili further away. On the night of a partial lunar eclipse, Rohit watches fascinated and mesmerized, his estranged wife being consigned to flames through a self-inflicted Sati – death drawn out from the pages of history. Biren dies a tragic death where human life is reduced to a joke. Is it an accident, or is it murder in cold blood? Or is it the contemporary face of death in a city like Kolkata where human life is reduced to a joke by the simple pulling of a gun’s trigger though its magazine was believed to have been empty?

Mahanagar@Kolkata Rituparna Sengupta in Bengali film
Mahanagar@Kolkata Rituparna Sengupta in Bengali film

Amar Kono Bhoy Nei To? stands out among the three stories, the middle one that carries only a single character from the first – Biren. Arun Mukhopadhyay, stripped of mannerisms from his long career on stage, brings Biren to throbbing life, almost paralysed by the fear of sudden death which really snips his life away. This segment is shot on location in a slum neighbourhood. Indraneel Mukherjee’s cinematography captures the ambience of the slum in moving shots – Biren’s dimly-lit, ramshackle room where his bespectacled wife pores over her sewing machine to make both ends meet and the wayward son comes and goes at will; a building under construction that instills the fear of death in Biren when there is a bomb blast; tea-stalls, vegetable vendors, fish sellers and chicken stalls rub elbows with the construction site where the local mafia don calls the shots. Amar Kono Bhoy Nei To? reveals the innards of a Kolkata that exists today in every other city, the sole schism dividing the one from the other being the language, the music and the songs, used only on the soundtrack, embellished by the creative strokes of Rupam Islam in his debut as music composer. This story stands independent of the other two and also belongs to them by virtue of being united by the fear of death that lurks in every corner of Kolkata, or Mumbai, or Chennai or Delhi. One can keep adding to this list – Bhopal, Dantewada, Singur, Lalgarh, Nandigram, Malegaon, Mangalore.

The last segment, Angshik Chandragrahan and the first one, Ek Tukro Nyloner Dori are actually the same story where the last is the flashback of the first separated by elements of suspense defined differently in the two stories. After Rohit is brought back from the public hospital where Jagannath’s son dies (off frame) by his distant cousin Manmatha, he tries to cope with the reality of his existence, estranged from Rongili, alone, isolated and abandoned. Flashes of memories with Rongili dot his present, driving him deeper into a morass he finds difficult to get out of. He admires himself in the buff, strums his guitar without a sense of tune or melody or beat, and remembers placing a soothing hand on Rongili after she has aborted the baby in a nursing home. Rongili’s is a character full of colour and life, but tinged with a deep sense of sadness and loss at every turn. She is dogged by the fear of her failed marriage, an aborted motherhood, yet the love for a husband she cannot get rid of, as we catch the sadness on her face in her last frame, leaning against the door-jamb of the public hospital where her husband is gasping for life. Rituparna essays one of the most difficult roles of her career with the professional ease that is now second nature to her. Within the relatively brief footage she is given, she deconstructs herself with every different perspective the script gives her. She speaks little, and her lines are somewhat abstract, but her wonderful performance undercuts the unreality of the character and of the situations she is placed in. Chandan Roy Sanyal is freshness and charm personified, but simply does not jell into our conditioned image of the US-returned MBA. He looks more like a self-indulgent young man filled with self-pity. He does not even have a social network to fall back on. A line he is given to spout is extremely damaging anti-woman. Is this to underline the still-born machoism of Rohit’s self-centered character that has no feeling for others? Or is it some hidden misogyny surfacing from the director’s subconscious?

It is really a challenge to edit a complex triptych like Mahanagar@Kolkata but Arghya Kamal Mitra takes up the gauntlet and does his job very well. The only reservation one has is about the bridging shots of cars and trucks speeding across the monochrome highways and main streets used to move from sequence to sequence or segment to segment. Sometimes, the camera takes somersaults and one does not really understand why. These shots could belong to any city of India. Perhaps, this is precisely the message Suman is trying to bring across. The Sati sequence is beautifully cinematographed, edited and picturised against a period folk song sung in chorus by married women with their faces painted in silver and their heads covered with the ends of their sari adorning Rongili with jewellery and vermillion and the costume of a bride. Strangely, Kamalika is also present. This surrealistic scene fails to jell with Rohit’s US-returned MBA mindset despite its beauty. Is it then, a slice of Oriental exotica designed for an Occidental audience? Think about it. What is visually beautiful, may not necessarily merge into the context of the narrative and the characters. Biplab is refreshingly natural while Anjan Dutt simply has to play himself to make Manmatha seem real. The brief shot of the prostitute grumbling about taking off and putting on her sari in haste after a session with the mafia don who occupies the bed next to the US-returned MBA is brutally real. Equally moving is the don’s assistant pressing the MBA’s bell before leaving to summon the nurse because “this guy does not look too good.”

The dangerous homogenization of a metropolis in a global world torn by ethnic conflicts, terrorism, religious fundamentalism, real estate developers ruled by the mafia, and the all pervading hate between and among fellow humans is the message Mahanagar@Kolkata brings across. This homogenization of cities extends to the homogenization of the people who inhabit it. So, whether it is Rohit dogged by fears of loss and alienation, or, whether it is Jagannath who seeks escape from fear in a strip of nylon rope from a hangman’s noose, or, the poor Biren perennially afraid of something terrible happening to him, or, Rongili who keeps saying “One of us must die” they are all united and homogenized by the fear of the unknown and the known.  The @Kolkata is perhaps a sign of transcending the culture-specific features of a city in a global world, like @gmail or @hotmail.com. So, it could quite as easily have been @Mumbai or @Chennai or @Delhi. One must give kudos to Suman Mukhopadhyay for having had the courage to place three very cinema-unfriendly stories on celluloid. But the greatest credit lies at the door of the entire acting cast, led by Arun Mukhopadhyay, followed by the cinematography.

by Shoma A. Chatterji

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