Cast: Deepankar De, Mamata Shankar, Jisshu Sengupta, Ananya Chatterjee and Riya Sen
Direction: Rituparno Ghosh
Rating: ** 1/2
Often scriptwriters and directors forget that cinema is a visual medium, and unlike theatre, a film has to string its story through intelligent and imaginative images. Not words. But even some of India’s well-established directors walk into the pit of verbosity. Much of the narrative moves through monologues and dialogues, and the screen begins to reflect a stage.
National Award winner Rituparno Ghosh’s latest, Abhomaan (The Eternal, Bengali), relies mostly on the spoken word to tell us a story that is said to have been inspired by a chapter in Satyajit Ray’s life. Aniket (Deepankar De) is a renowned art movie director married to Deepti (Mamata Shankar), an actress he fell in love with while working with her in one of his films. Years later, a much older Aniket is drawn towards another actress, Shika (Ananya Chatterjee), who is as old as his son, Apratim (Jisshu Sengupta). And what follows is not as much passion, which writer Ghosh keeps off-screen, as it is sorrow and suffering, handled though with refreshing restraint. There are no melodramatic outbursts, often seen in films with similar themes.
Shot almost entirely indoors, this chamber piece, despite leaning towards cut-and-dry conversations to roll on, has its uplifting moments. Avik Mukherjee’s lens captures north Kolkata’s grimy existence that is home to Shika, as he contrasts it with Aniket’s posh bhadro (upper class), though somewhat stiff, life. There are some arresting images of the sets that Aniket uses to shoot his own movie of a prostitute (played by Shika) torn between a handsome young lover and a rich businessman.
What may eventually sustain viewer attention in the arguably clichéd plot of marital infidelity is engaging performances by Shankar (directed in the past by giants like Ray, Mrinal Sen and Buddhadeb Dasgupta) and De (worked with Ray among others). Shankar’s Deepti is an epitome of grace that Ghosh plays against the younger and more desperate Shika. Chatterjee nuances this trait with the right shade of trepidation (as she longs to work with a master-auteur like Aniket), anger (as she confronts the man’s supreme arrogance) and hurt as well as guilt (as she sees the hopelessness of the relationship and the destruction of a beautiful home). Yet, in the end we see her inviting a married Apratim to her bed, conveying her tragic loneliness.
Ultimately, Abhomaan, produced as part of Reliance Big Pictures’ arthouse slate, will work at a very cerebral level. But are there any takers for this kind of cinema?