What’s next from Srijit Mukherji? Yes, that’s the question which will strike the minds of many, after the blow received from the painful experience of watching his most recent filmmaking attempt by directing-editing-screenwriting-cameo in Zulfiqar, which is so much overcooked that it tastes sour, so much dramatized that it feels like Jatra at times. So coming to the question again, what can be expected from him as his next project? Considering the negative slope of his filmmaking graph after Jaatishwar, it is certainly not going to be a grand venture, unless some key alteration occurs. Analyzing the recent trend from the graph, some part-time astrologers are predicting his next to be a remake of some Telegu/Tamil masala blockbuster!
Mukherji adapts Shakespeare’s two great plays, “Julius Caesar” and “Antony and Cleopatra” in his screenplay and brings the whole setting to Kolkata, specifically to Khidirpur. Zulfiqar Ahmed is a popular figure in the neighbourhood despite being a gangster and the unofficial star of the syndicate, which controls all the illegal activities of the area. He has two right hands, Markaz Ali and Tony Braganza, one the fighter and other the brains; the two halves of Mark Antony. Apart from these three, the other faces of the senate, sorry syndicate are Basheer Khan, Inspector Laltu Das, and the promoter Kashinath Kundu to name a few. The characters they are based on can be understood from the similarities in their names (Brutus, Lepidus, and Cassius respectively). Though there is no reference to the relationship of Caesar and Cleopatra in Shakespeare, it is a historical fact which occurred much before the time of setting of the play of Julius Caesar and Srijit here uses the relation of Zulfiqar and Rani Talapatra, by creating his own timeline. As Zulfiqar overshadows the syndicate, Kashinath ignites the mind of the “noble” Basheer against Zulfi. His ace in convincing the nationalist Basheer was to make him believe the falsified reports of Zulfi helping terrorists enter the country. As Kashinath, Basheer and some other members of the syndicate kills Zulfiqar, the mob fuelled by the speech of Markaz and Tony does some serious damage to the men of the honourable villains.
The story follows the main landmarks of the two plays but lacks the brilliant characterization of Shakespeare. There are some serious questions lurking in the motives of the characters. What made Akhtar, aka Octavius, kill every single of his allies can be understood as the lust for power. But how a young man wanting revenge for his uncle’s murder change into a bloodthirsty dictator is not made clear; why he acts that way remains entirely untouched in the plot. Some of the characters are undercooked and their motives unclear; there should not be any loose ends in films like this where the plot is probably the most important. Whip pan, which is used in many gangster films, is probably one of Srijit’s favourite shots when showing dialogue; he used it in Chotushkone, Rajkahini and uses it again here to a moderate effect. But his use of crash zoom and reverse crash zoom many times in the film draws unnecessary attention to the camera rather than the shot. It feels out of place in the context; crash zoom doesn’t fit in with long shots or establishing shots, which are sometimes used in this film. Those scenes feel like a child toying with his new camera. The final killings had a striking resemblance to killing sequence in The Godfather; even Mario Puzo was thanked in the credits in the opening sequence.
It is difficult to pull off a mundane scene by extraordinary acting, but it’s possible and is frequently done by great actors. On the other hand, even a good scene can be entirely ruined by a single wild cow; it may be the actor, the set or the camera. In the present situation, I’m talking about some of the extras shown in the mob scenes, the gangsters’ men etc. whose inept acting ruins some otherwise good scenes. This should have been avoided in such a big production. Srijit has made a couple of good films, but his editing is nothing but ordinary. In this film and his previous, Rajkahini, he was named as the editor as the credits rolled into the screen. Both features sudden cuts combined with his use of speedy camera movements, which is nothing to praised of. His use of cutaway shots also seems erroneous to me, especially in the dream of Basheer encountering Zulfi cutting away to a shot of Akhtar, seems to lessen the effect of the dream, which could otherwise have been a great use of Shakespeare in the beautiful landscape. One thing that should be praised is for proving a good aural experience to the viewers. The sound is used pretty well giving a dynamic presentation, which is rich in sound effects and create pulses in the cochlear nerve . Also Anupam Roy gives a good score to the film. The lyrics of the songs also have a part of the story inside them and Nachiketa and others did a good vocal job.
The absolute revelation of the film is Dev; it was known that his acting skills are a bit on the poorer side and his diction or oral skills are almost negligible. But as the unspeaking Markaz he does a great job, when his other works are used as a benchmark. He shows emotions, a tad composed and not much physical in acting, and is noticed in the bunch of other good actors. Other than Srijato, every one of the main pool of actors are at least mediocre. Parambrata Chatterjee as the trilingual Tony is spontaneous, but this man speaking a verse mixing three languages at the same time seems a fairly over-stylized move on Srijit’s part. The famous funeral speech of Antony, portrayed here by Markaz’s sign language voiced by Tony along with a few of his own sentences in between, lacks the zeal which is expected from it. But the one who outshines the others is Jisshu Sengupta, as the nicotine chewing Kashinath. His reserved wickedness, sharp eyes and a great body language makes him stand above the others.
It is obviously not a good experience watching the film, many things are lacking in it and the ones present are burnt. It could have been better in some departments, and it should have been better as a film. To quote Marcellus in Shakespeare, “Something is rotten in the state of…….”
Jatra: A form of folk drama featuring religious or historical characters with highly stylized and exaggerated physical gestures
Film Score: 55
Director: Srijit Mukherji Screenplay: Srijit Mukherji Cinematography: Soumik Haldar Editing: Srijit Mukherji Music: Anupam Roy Cast: Prosenjit Chatterjee, Koushik Sen, Parambrata Chatterjee, Jisshu Sengupta, Dev, Nusrat Jahan,