Mahanagar@Kolkata. A film based on three Nabarun Bhattacharya stories stitched up by director Suman Mukhopadhyay. Starring Anjan Dutta, and his cigarette. Frightening anti-tobacco ads precede the film, mocking, tongue-in-the cheek.
The film starts on a promising note, despite a raucous Rupam Islam. Dreary lighting darkens the sordid environs of a hospital where the protagonists carry on conversations as they wait for their (patients' bed) numbers to be called. There is premonition in corporator Anjan's bulbous eyes, in his patient diction. He is waiting to hear about his cousin who has not regained consciousness after an overdose. Nudging into his space is Biplab Chatterjee, typecast as the talisman-touting Bengali, as he waits to hear about his injured son. Wrapped around these two is the Arun Mukhopadhyay character (Anjan's peon) with his delicately nuanced 'dur b**' (subtitled as 'f*** whatever') which turns out to be a tragic-cute little leitmotif.
As this motley crew waits and watches for their wards to wake up from their wounds, the ugly welts on body society get bloodier, more blatant. The hospital is doing double duty as a goon's den. The overdose case lies next to the cliché of a shaven-headed villain who ferociously bays for blood even as he dutifully lobs a 'tumi kholo' at the prostitute. Offhand and just undercooked, the 'tumi kholo' is a masterclass moment.
Directorial comments are delivered on the run, now and then the goon's sidekick is cruel and humane, he manages to call the nurse to attend to a man before coolly killing another. The good (Anjan) steers clear of a just-assaulted man.
From this general societal mess, the film smoothly gatecrashes the sorry life of the now jobless Arun, living on expletive-laced charities of food vendors, in a territory strewn with signature Kolkata characters and street idiom. This is the second chapter of the film, where man carries on, phobic, hopeful. Like Anjan's delivery in the first chapter, the characters plod along, shabby, wary, tired, endlessly patient.
The director very neatly sews up his apparently discrete material, deftly connecting, mysteriously lapsing into dippy transitions in-between chapters.
Mahanagar heads into the third and final chapter with the camera freezing on the reflected image of a suicidal Rituparna Sengupta. She is the wife of the overdose victim. Their love-less marriage has hit a roadblock, which can only be lifted if one of them dies.
Unfortunately, around this time the movie too digs itself into a hole which only gets deeper. The director, with a track record of unconventional casting options, is off track here. Chandan Roy Sanyal, as the angst-racked professional, lips lines, flails limbs and dryly mimes desperation, the effort showing. The ghost of Bipasha Basu haunts an extra-dusky Rituparna, reeling under kilos of kohl, shindur and gold. A tubby Sreelekha, as the bindass girlfriend, does not help matters. If she talks about Marx in a disco and if her parting shot Tolstoyan, what's left over for the more reflective moments?
It gets a bit difficult to remain with the film from now on. There's a whirl of images, some cliches, some, like the sound-amplified lunar eclipse beggars, pleasingly dramatic. Joining the crawl of largely Bengali humanity at the Priya staircase, it's Arun Mukhopadhyay and his dur b** that resonates, all else evaporates among the whiffs of kobiraji cutlet.