The opening frames of the film, with the credits coming up against the backdrop of small shots picked, seemingly at random, from the main film, is ingenuous and creates a sense of mystery. It sets the tone of the film but the suspense is not sustained thereafter. But then Hello Kolkata is not a suspense thriller. It is rather, a collage of life in a metro that, thankfully, has no link whatsoever with Anurag Basu’s Hindi film. The stories of the four couples are linked remotely but not unified as a single whole. The couples offer a microcosm of cotemporary city life, of the corporate world that places different kind of pressures on these individuals in their personal and professional lives.
The characters are trapped in a no-exit situation, as they slowly drift away from each other. But do they really drift away? Or do their relationships go through a catharsis because as upwardly mobile young people, life in a metro city like Kolkata does not offer them a choice but to be upwardly mobile? Do they solve their problems and come to terms with their relationships all over again? Is the city of Kolkata the main reason for the stress it places its residents under? Or are they creations of the people involved? These questions and many more, arise during the unfolding of this debutante film by Manoj Michigan, a Maharashtrian bred in Kolkata.
The couple most strongly grounded in reality is the Animesh-Geeta one. Animesh is a timid, nervous man who is simply not made for selling insurance. So, he falters at every step, fails his targets every time, gets continuously reprimanded by his boss, cannot manage to get the money for his son’s school admissionand finally tries to take his own life. In this too, he fails. Juxtaposed against the failure is his colleague Vinay, who takes an overdose of sleeping pills though he always reaches much beyond his sales targets. The director’s subtlety is underscored here as he keeps this incident off the frame of the film. The other three couples are a bit too niche and elitist to fit into the middle-class Kolkata groove, thus clearly marking out a completely metro-centric, mini-theatre audience for the film. They are a bit too Westernised in their way of dressing, talking, partying and disco-hopping than the normal Kolkata guys and gals. They also speak more English than Bangla. This makes it a Benglish film, a trend already established by directors like Anjan Dutt and Aniruddha Roy Choudhury.
Many young couples will find easy identification also with Raima, Pratik and their little daughter Ayesha. It is almost a natural thing for a BPO manager to drift into alcoholism and begin to suspect his wife, insult her in public with the others watching and doing nothing, as it is natural for him to join an alcoholics anonymous group when it is already too late and the wife has gone away with the kid. Anjali and Rahul are counterpoints. Anjali wants to live within the normal family framework even if it means quitting her job and going to Bangalore. But Rahul with his Great American Dream will not hear of it, again, not until it is too late. Rahul’s character appears a bit too shallow for the kind of aspirations he shows for the Big Life. Sheela and Partha are not quite real in their mushiness and lovey-dovey ness because loving Indian couples who have been married for some years are not as demonstrative as this couple is. At the same time, they offer a very positive image for childless couples to follow. For a change, one finds that the fault here lies with the husband and not the wife who takes it in her stride and cliché solutions like adoption are not mentioned even by implication.
Despite a slightly wobbly script that sometimes tends to lose control and focus, Hello Kolkata makes a powerful and positive statement on marriage as a social institution, and on man-woman relationships within and without marriage. No one is interested in an adulterous relationship. By current moral standards in Indian cinema and television, the men are atypically monogamous and the women are strong, restrained and fully in control of the situations they are placed in.
All the actors have performed extremely well but even within them, one must offer special kudos to Swastika who portrays Raima, the battered wife of a once-loving-now-turned-alcoholic husband and Rudranil Ghosh as Animesh.
The debutante director falters in the choice of his kaleidoscopic use of music. Except for the soft, romantic Tagore number sung by Raima at the party, the rest of the music is rather uneven and often louder than necessary. The scene at the discotheque does not come across well at all, both in terms of script and in terms of its choreography, editing and picturisation. Pratik’s humiliation of his wife in public at the party is stretching melodrama too far, and does not fit into the rest of the film. Geeta’s frantic banging on the bathroom door where Animesh has locked himself in could have been explored and analysed differently. But Manoj ends it in anti-climactic humour when the little boy innocently asks, “Why are you two bathing with your clothes on?” turning the situation into a hilarious one. The characters getting together at the Sankarpur beach is taking too many liberties with cinematic coincidence. Raima walks out of the marriage with her daughter and goes off to Sankarpur. Maitreyee takes off on a trip with her mother to the same place. Tipped off secretly by her mother, Rahul too arrives suddenly and all misunderstandings stand cleared. Or do they really? Sheela and Partha drive away for a respite to Sankarpur too. Isn’t it too much of a cinematically convenient climax to bring everyone to Sankarpur where they do not meet one another and do not even need to? Or, is Sankarpur on a desperate promotional drive to convert the place into a tourist spot by inviting film teams to shoot their films there?
Since this critic watched the digital version, the projection at Nandan II left much room for improvement, not permitting the cinematographer’s work to come across clearly. This is besides the wrong kind of audience Nandan II drew, with many guffawing at the wrong places and talking ceaselessly on the cell phone. All said and done however, Hello Kolkata lives up to Manoj Michigan’s promise of laying out “a vibrant drama of many lives in a city, where there is a hope of a better tomorrow after a stressful yesterday.”