May 22, 2011 (Calcutta Tube): Noukadubi is a 2011 Bengali movie directed by Rituparno Ghosh, produced by Subhash Ghai with Prosenjit, Jisshu Sengupta, Raima Sen, Dhritiman Chatterjee, Riya Sen and others in the cast. Read the film review at Calcutta Tube.
NOUKADUBI – MIND-BLOWING BUT VERY CULTURE-SPECIFIC
Banner: Mukta Searchlight Films
Produced by: Subhash Ghai
Screenplay and Direction: Rituparno Ghosh
Story: Rabindranath Tagore
Music: Sanjay Das and Raj Narayan Deb
Cinematography: Soumik Haldar
Editing: Arghya Kamal Mitra
Art direction: Indraneel Ghosh
Lyrics: Rabindranath Tagore
Cast: Prosenjit, Jisshu Sengupta, Raima Sen, Dhritiman Chatterjee, Riya Sen, Sumanta Mukherjee, Laboni Sarkar
Date of release: May 20, 2011
Noukadubi has been acquired by Databazaar Media Ventures and is available online at Roku.
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[ReviewAZON asin=”B0044FDPA4″ display=”inlinepost”]Noukadubi is about a boat wreck on a night of storm, rain and thunder that throws the lives of the four main characters out of gear, metamorphosing the relationships into something radically different from what the original plans were. Ghosh brings this 1903 story forward to the 1920s. Ramesh (Jisshu Sengupta) a lawyer, is in love with Hemnalini (Raima Sen), a beautiful, educated young woman brought up liberally by her progressive father Anadi Babu (Dhritiman Chatterjee) with the freedom to choose her partner in love and marriage. But Ramesh is suddenly summoned by his father (Sumanta Mukherjee) and emotionally blackmailed into marrying Susheela, daughter of a poor and helpless widow (Laboni Sarkar) though he tells his father that he has already promised marriage to someone else. As they set sail on a boat, it capsizes on a night of rain and thunder, killing almost everyone. The next morning, Ramesh awakens on a deserted bank of the river. Noticing a young girl in bridal gear lying unconscious, he assumes she is Susheela, and takes her home to Calcutta only to discover that the girl is not the one he married. She is Kamala, a teenaged orphan married to one Nalinaksha Chatterjee (Prosenjit). She writes out the name of her husband on a slate as Hindu wives are not supposed to articulate their husband’s names.
The trusting Hemnalini knows nothing about this. Ramesh does not have the heart to tell her. He comes once, appealing to her to keep her faith in him. Akshay, a frequent visitor to Hemnalini’s home, finds out that Ramesh is ‘married’ to Kamala. Hemnaliini goes into deep depression. Ramesh packs Kamala off to a missionary to study because he does not want to consummate a ‘marriage’ that never was. She is brought back by the diabolic machinations of Akshay. Ramesh develops a soft corner for Kamala but is intent on locating Nalinaksha. Once, when he is away and she is sick, Kamala chances upon an advertisement that tells her the truth. She goes back to the river she rose from to drown herself only to be rescued and deposited in the care of Khemonkori, Nalinaksha’s mother who lives and practices medicine in Kashi. She is fascinated by the husband she is truly married to but withholds the truth because she learns that he is to marry Hemnalini. A distraught Ramesh quits his practice and lands on the banks at Kashi, waiting for the next twist destiny will play on his life. Hemnalini sees him in his distraught state. Nalinaksha who decides to wait for a year to accept that his bride Kamala will never come back, discovers her through the ad she keeps knotted in her sari and they are finally united. But are they, really?
When Ramesh comes to see her at Nalinaksha’s home, she asks him, “Which ‘family’ is the true one? The ‘lie’ that we lived? Or the ‘true’ one?” He urges her to write to him sometimes. She smiles wostfully and says, “It is easy to spell your name because it does not have any joint consonants,” and the message comes across. We next see Ramesh entering Hemnalini’s home. He hears her belt out Anandaloke Mangalaloke to suggest a happy ending for the two couples….till destiny takes over again….
Noukadubi spells out the intrigue and the uncertainty of love as it grows over time, towards the one you love and towards the one you happen to meet and love happens afterwards. It is a scathing social indictment of the times by Tagore on (a) the institution of arranged marriages where the bride and groom sometimes do not even see each other’s faces, (b) the blind faith in astrological horoscopes that can go completely haywire, (c) the social dictates of the Hindu family where obedient sons, after being given a ‘liberal’ upbringing, are emotionally blackmailed by their fathers leading to a violation of their own principles of honesty and commitment.
The soft, intellectual, liberated romance between Hemnalini and Ramesh in the beginning and between Hemnalini and Nalinaksha after the interval blended in with beautiful Tagore songs and music is juxtaposed lyrically against the affection, adoration and mutual respect that evolve between Ramesh and Kamala. We see Ramesh engaging in wordy matches with her, teaching her to spell words with joint consonants correctly while she requests him to read out the story of Shakuntala-Dushyanta. There is a delightful shot masterfully commanded by Shoumik Haldar’s camera where Ramesh watches through the small square of a window, Kamala playing hopscotch with the neighbouring kids. When he teaches her to pronounce the word ‘stree’ correctly she mispronounces as ‘istiree’ she points out sarcastically that she is indeed an istiree (an iron), that scalds him the minute she touches him! These and some more – Anadi Babu helping Hemnalini with a forgotten refrain from a Tagore song, or, Kamala peeping from behind a window at her husband Nalinaksha, or, the camera closing in on Kamala’s eyes as she lies in bed, sick with fever, are typical, Rituparno Ghosh signatures that add a distinct touch to this Tagore piece.
Indraneel Ghosh’s art direction brings back the period and the ambience of the 1920s, specially the interiors. Shoumik Haldar’s cinematography especially of Kamala on the river banks on the morning after the boat wreck, harks back to the climactic scene of Doyamoyee tottering against a backdrop of tall blades of grass in Ray’s Devi. Arghya Kamal Mitra’s cinematography is perfectly in sync with Ghosh’s style of intercutting between the past and the present and between the two separate strands of the story.
Riya Sen is a miracle in the film, going completely against the grain of her sexy bimbo image to slip under the skin of Kamala notwithstanding the dubbed voice. Ghosh draws out the best in her eyes and her body language. Raima as Hemnalini is classy, aristocratic and looks beautiful exuding the confidence she has in herself and in her love for Ramesh. Prosenjit’s Nalinaksha is dignified and solemn but he looks a bit too old for the part. Jisshu performs a very complex role ideally, enhancing the confusion, the abject surrender to the whims and fancies of destiny with the right dose of pathos it demands. Sumanto Mukherjee as Ramesh’s father and Laboni Sarkar as Susheela’s mother are very good. Dhritiman Chatterjee as Anadi Babu is convincing barring the sing-song manner of dialogue delivery. The actor who plays Jogin is a block of wood though he is made to appear like the young Tagore himself. Rituparno Ghosh dubs the voice of the actress playing Nalinaksha’s mother with his own which is a bad touch as it sounds forced and fake.
Rabindranath Tagore is one of the most important characters in Naukadubi. Ghosh’s script is structured as if someone else has written the story setting out the time when Tagore was a young man. Hemnalini is a die-hard fan of the great poet. He is present in his portrait as a young man. He is present in the conversations between Hemnalini and her father. He is the most powerful through his musical compositions and songs. The film opens with Hemnalini singing khelaghar bandhte legechhi. This theme song hints at the fragility of a ‘home’ that has neither permanence, nor stability, nor roots. The character-centric melody to go with the dramatic change in Ramesh’s life is je rate more duarguli bhanglo jhore (the night the storm broke all my doors). Kaar milono chao birohi is another refrain that spells out the pathos of a love lost mid-way. The Vedic hymn set to melody by Tagore lip-synced by Nalinaksha on the ghats of the Ganges in Kashi depict his serious approach to life.
The background score is so loud that sometimes, the dialogues become inaudible. The continuous overlapping of Tagore numbers sometimes intervenes into the narrative space. The cerebral inputs of Ghosh are imaginative and aptly placed but are a bit too high-brow for sections of the audience who might find them too alien. Examples are – the news about the infamous Bhowal Sanyasi case, references to poet Michael Madhusudan Dutt, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar and so on. The detailing lapses are unexpected in a Rituparno Ghosh film. How does Kamala cut out the advertisement so neatly in the fame of mind and body she was in? How did the cut-out remain dry and just so much after she had been rescued from drowning? Why are Ramesh’s clothes caked with so little slush after the boat wreck? The storm has been kept out of the visual frame depicted on a blackened screen with only loud sound motifs to get the message across.
A film ‘inspired’ by a Tagore work, such as Noukadubi directed by Rituparno Ghosh explores the novel’s possibilities in the domain of the subjective and the imaginary stemming from the director’s vision of how he places it on the three-dimensional, audiovisual medium of film. With Noukadubi, Ghosh proves Robert Stam’s theory of an adaptation being automatically different and original due to the change in the medium to be true. Wonderful work Rituparno. Noukadubi stands independently as your film with power no less in the fact that it is after all, a Tagore ‘inspiration.’
-Shoma A. Chatterji