Actor-singer-musician-filmmaker Anjan Dutt’s third big screen directorial venture, The Bong Connection, apart from being his maiden Bengali-language feature film, is Kolkata’s first full-fledged foray into the crossover cinema space. The question is: does it have the sort of carry that it needs in order to be catapulted into the Monsoon Wedding league?
As a piece of narrative cinema, The Bong Connection, essentially the story of two young men on a cross-cultural quest, does pack quite a punch and with just a little luck could end up going places.
The storytelling is endowed with an infectious degree of verve, the soundtrack possesses an array of musical riches (including a peppy Rabindrasangeet remix), and the performances are uniformly good. How well the film is eventually received will hinge on how it is packaged and positioned.
At its premiere at the 26th North American Bengali Conference in Houston, the Texan city where large portions of the film where shot earlier this year, what a packed theatre got to see was essentially a rough cut. At the very outset, director Dutt made it a point to exhort the audience “not to judge the picture by the picture”.
|Raima Sen with Minissha Lamba. Raima stars in Anjan Dutt’s The Bong Connection.|
Making allowances for all that, it might be in order to suggest that
The Bong Connection
, for all its obvious energy, requires just a little pruning and polishing to transform itself into a film that can fully realise its potential to travel around the globe like its principal characters do.
As The Bong Connection opens, a middle class Bengali boy (Parambrata Chatterjee) prepares to bid goodbye to his girlfriend (Raima Sen) and fly off to Houston to take up a new job even as another young man (Shayan Munshi) from New York lands in Kolkata to explore the city’s musical traditions.
For one man, the US is a land of opportunities. For the other, Kolkata represents a return to his roots. But neither is destined to find instant happiness for they live in an essentially imperfect world. What they hope for never quite comes to pass.
In the nation of the free, the Kolkata boy encounters prejudices in the most surprising of places, watches helplessly as a Bangladeshi cabbie-friend, an illegal migrant, is chased to death by the law enforcement agencies, and comes perilously close to losing his girlfriend.
Back in Kolkata, the New York musician confronts a world full of distortions and dichotomies that he can fathom but cannot reconcile himself with. He is forced to abandon his dreams of reconnecting with the land of his forefathers.
The manner in which Dutt handles the two unrelated tales to create a tapestry of elements drawn from the Bengali immigrant experience does have more than its share of moments. On the flip side, the writer-director could probably be accused of resorting at times to obvious stereotypes and clichés – they relate to his depiction of both Kolkata and Houston – but the overall impact of The Bong Connection is strong enough to linger.
The film has wit, humour, emotional force and drama. More than anything else, it has spunk. It deserves a long run.
Dutt’s first feature was a Hindi film – Bada Din. The second, Bow Barracks Forever, was in English. Both were interesting takes on Kolkata’s Anglo-Indian community but neither made the impact it was expected to. The Bong Connection, in Bengali and English, presents a far wider view of the world. Will it get a bigger audience and prove to be the first hit of Dutt’s big screen directorial career?