Rituparno Ghosh’s Bengali movie, Abhoman (The Eternal) will screen out of competition at the 9th Marrakech International Film Festival set to roll on Friday. Abhoman comes from one of the better known Indian directors today, and is the only entry from the country, though some other movies were sent up for possible selection. Produced by Reliance Big Pictures, Abhoman is a chamber piece of love, loss and betrayal, and it reminded me of Satyajit Ray’s last works when his heart condition stopped him from using more ambitious outdoor locales.
In fact, Abhoman is reportedly inspired by Satyajit Ray’s life, at least a chapter from it. The film narrates the story of a maverick movie director who falls in love with a beautiful young star. One of the finest helmers in Bengal, Aniket (essayed by Dipankar Dey), is a married man, whose wife, Deepti (Mamta Shankar), has also been an actress, and when the young star (Ananya Chatterjee) intrudes, there can only be pain and suffering.
Although extra-marital affair in cinema is as old as cinema itself, Ghosh – well known for films such as Unishe April (19th April), Chokher Bali (A Passion Play), Raincoat and Shob Charitro Kalponik (Afterthough) – handles the theme with dignity and subtlety. And obviously so, for Ghosh is an ardent admirer of Ray, who long after his death continues to be an extremely revered figure in India and outside. He holds the singular distinction of having introduced Indian cinema to the world with his 1955 Pather Panchali (Song of the Little Road).
Ghosh had initially thought of Amitabh Bachchan (who played the lead in the auteur’s The Last Lear) to play Aniket and Shabana Azmi, Deepti. Madhuri Dixit was to have been the young star. That did not happen. Probably for good. Dey is admirable as the aging director trying to grapple with the emotional conflict caused by his attraction for the other woman. His dilemma deepens when he has to direct her in his new work. Shankar is equally impressive as the wronged wife, and when she realises that it was she herself who had pleaded with Aniket for a role for the young star the angst deepens. And the sense of betrayal is tormenting.
Abhoman is a classic Bengali movie, incisive but wordy, which may strain an international audience increasingly used to an idiom that is more cinema than theatre. This remains one of the handicaps that most Indian films face, and they often find themselves out of festival circuits.
The Marrakech Festival has an exciting spread of cinema. The 15 competition entries come from Italy, Belgium, Denmark Holland, Spain, America, Mexico, Japan, South Korea and Morocco among others. A lot more cinema will be shown in several others sections. Tributes will be paid to Sir Ben Kingsley (now set to play Shah Jahan with Aishwarya Rai as his Mumtaz), Emir Kusturica (from Bosnia-Herzegovina), Said Taghmao (Morocco) and Christopher Walken (USA). Some of their noted works would be screened during the nine-day Festival. Apart from these, movies from Korea and Thailand would be on in sections meant to focus on these countries.
Gautaman Bhaskaran has been covering the Marrakech International Film Festival for several years.