Baishe Srabon, its writer-director insists, is a psychological thriller. Directed by one of the most talented youngsters from the new brat-pack, featuring Bengali cinema’s numero uno in a new avatar, the film created a mood of heightened audience expectation. This was kept alive by flooding the television channels with beautifully cut promos, trailers and teasers, imaginatively designed billboards at every street corner, and the music track of the film played and overplayed on every sound ambience. Sometimes, an overload of pre-release publicity can become a film’s undoing when it finally arrives in the theatres. Srijit Mukherjee’s second directorial film Baishe Srabon is a classic example of overhype and the film not living up to expectations.
The film suffers from too much psychological and intellectual complexity that gets in the way of the puzzle everyone is trying to solve. On the other hand, if one takes it to be a story that defines a kind of ‘resurrection’ of a once-brilliant police officer gone to seed by bringing him out of his self-imposed seclusion to solve the insoluble serial killings by a mysterious ‘Stone Man’ (remember the Mumbai Stone Man serial killer?), the climax, a real twist in the tale, rules this out too. Probir Roy Choudhury (Prosenjit.), consolidates the irreverent, irrepressible anti-hero who wears his anti-hero persona much like a badge that Anjan Dutt created in Ranjana Ami Aar Ashobona.
The film is scattered with so much of physical violence – the serial killings – that it neatly undercuts the ‘moral and intellectual violence’. It is real and physical violence because the poetry, be it Binoy Majumdar or Jeebonanando Das or whoever, or the poetry of the eccentric Nibaron Chakraborty (Goutam Ghose) who triggered the 1997 fire at the Kolkata Book Fair, most of it will go right over the heads of the audience. True that Post-modern cinema defines the mingling different creative genres like poetry and cinema or television and cinema or theatre and cinema. But somehow, it does not work in an environment where the audience is looking for some gripping, nail-biting, edge-of-the-seat moments of suspense, which Baishe Srabon fails to bring across. The electric chemistry of Soumik Haldar’s camera and lighting is comprised of hoodwinking chases down narrow lanes and bylanes of the city we do not frequent, all ending in an anti-climax. Technically brilliant but sadly, it does not add to the narrative of the film much.
The opening frames visualised and presented through an impressive, shocking shot of a sex worker being murdered - keeping the murder away from the frame establishes a stunning beginning. But after that, the film is little more than an exercise in ‘intellectual’ filmmaking, perhaps in the process, defining a new genre that does not exist in film theory books. It does not maximize suspense except creating a false trail for the eccentric poet who keeps calling Rabindranath. Everyone thinks he is referring to Tagore. In the end, when there is a clear hint about the real identity of the ‘Rabindranath’ he used to call up is, it is so sudden and so quick that one could easily miss out on it completely.
On the postive side, Baishe Srabon, however, is propped up with well-fleshed out and somewhat off-beat characterizations lived up to by the good performances of the entire acting cast. Prosenjit’s straggly, salt-and-pepper hair-do, as he sits guzzling his whisky or blowing smoke off his cheroot, or calling out to his twice-a-week servant Kanai is soon taken out of his dungeon-like home, made to slip into his old uniform, to get into the starry persona everyone is used to. His performance is filled with several touching moments, the most moving one being when he shuts the door of the electric crematorium carrying his wife’s body and breaks down. It is difficult to believe that this is the same Poshenjit the crowds drool over. They will drool over this image too, but for a different reason – the profanity the dialogue is littered with.
The triangular love story sticks out like a sore thumb in a psychological thriller. Raima Sen as Amrita seems to be more involved with her two boyfriends than with her job as investigating television journalist. Her character seems like an afterthought to add those cheesy tid-bits of intimate scenes between Amrita and Abhi. Parambrato is outstanding as the young and dedicated police officer who finally solves the crime. The scene showing him almost choking on his first whisky is beautiful. But would he have been able to had the killer not confessed to the killings in his own devious way? Abir Chatterjee as Amrita’s childhood sweetheart offers the sole point of wonderful relief in this otherwise dark film. Filmmaker Goutam Ghose is marvellous as the eccentric poet while Rajesh Sharma who claims he is the ‘system’ stands out in a controlled performance. June Malia in a dialogue-free, briefest of cameos is very good too. It is the acting that saves the film from collapsing under itself.
The background music is so loud that sometimes, you miss out on the dialogue. And the song overload, never mind the wonderful lyrics and the melodies turned out by Anupam Roy add to the film’s undoing. No psychological thriller should have songs because they take away from the gripping element of suspense. Here, there are one too many. Even after the bloody climax is over, the sound track is filled with a song that is needless. It leaves behind an element of potential confusion about the entire film and one is left wondering – what happened? Why did the killer begin his serial murders after this long a self-imposed hiatus suddenly?
The saddest thing about Baishe Srabon is that the film does not live up to expectations. But with its strong intellectual base – the Hungrealist Poetry Movement in Kolkata relocated to fit into the story, it turns out to be targeted at a niche-niche audience. Does it really? Let us wait for a minute before we jump to conclusions about the alienating-the-audience theory. Filmmaker Srijit Mukherjee has very intelligently played around with the dialogue in a way that would automatically rope in the front benchers and the mass audience. There is an over- generous use of Bengali profanity and vulgar lines mouthed by the suspended, high-ranking police officer Probir Roy Choudhury the protagonist. The whistles and cat-calls in the stalls whenever a terrible profanity is uttered stand testimony. Even the young police officer Abhi (Parambrato Chatterjee) is seen wincing and visibly cringing when the older guy mouths obscenities that are an integral part of his nature.