Monday, August 15, 2016

Movie Review: Eagoler Chokh

Shabor Dasgupta is cynical, tired and more than a little bit angry. It's not an anger that lends itself to explosive rage, however, except in rare, short bursts. It simmers under the surface, red hot and only sometimes visible through the cracks on the surface. At other times, it just fuels the wry and unsentimental engine, carefully calibrated to plumb the depths of human nature.

Too romantic? A tad purple, even? Well, Eagoler Chokh is that kind of a movie. At the centre of the maelstrom is the stoic Shabor, but all around him are emotions painted in the broadest of strokes and colours. People scream, weep and cackle. The relationships are toxic and the players are deeply broken. This is not a crime of passion, it's a crime of PASSION, with emotions writ large in letters of blood on the canvas of the city. It's a damn good time at the movies.

I don't know how popular Shabor Dasgupta was before "Ebar Shabor" was released, but his popularity has certainly skyrocketed, in no small part due to Saswata Chatterjee's portrayal. Shabor is different. He's a cop, for one, and not a private detective like most popular sleuths in Bengali detective fiction. He's also in-your-face. Rude, even. When the husband says he has to visit his comatose wife in the hospital, he shoots back with "Send someone else, you're going to be here for a while." What's masterful in Saswata's portrayal is the fraction-of-a-second pause before he says it, the slight change in expression, when you can almost see the professional take over.

The story is too twisty to succinctly summarise, but here goes. Entrepreneur Bishan Roy comes home after a weekend of debauchury to find his wife's friend Nandini dead in the landing, shot through the heart. His wife Shivangi has been shot as well, but is still breathing. Enter, the detective (and his trusted assistant Nanda) to navigate the twisty pathways of dysfunctional relationships and murky truths. Bishan is a man trapped within himself, tortured by his own lack of morality and yet, a slave to his compulsions. Shivangi hates him for what he is, and hates herself for the attraction she still feels for him. There's always more to things than meet the eye, just like there should be in any good, pulpy, blood-spattered detective story.

Saswata is the perfect Shabor, all business and clipped tones (although, for the love of god someone teach him how to run without looking like an absolute dork). His performance is a welcome counterpoint to the high-strung, emotionally overwrought nature of almost all the others. Don't get me wrong, High strung and overwrought is absolutely the right tone for this kind of movie, but it made me appreciate the quiet moments between Shabor and Nando as they discuss the case or the peculiarities of the English language. The other character the movie hinges on is Bishan, and Anirban is good here, if not great. I didn't really need so many scenes of Bishan telling us over and over again how he doesn't believe in love and how "shorir" is everything. Joya Ahsan as Shivangi doesn't have much to do except look weepy, and Payel Sarkar is somewhat one-note as Nandini, but it's hardly her fault.

The script is pacy, and it's clear that the original story had interesting characters, but the exploration of said characters is not done expertly. Ideally, a movie should work by itself, but a lot of niggling questions get answered only if one reads the original story. The plot has quite a few holes in it and sometimes, characters behave in ways that have no compelling explanation. Ultimately, these are the flaws that keep Eagoler Chokh from rising above its pulp roots, although within the confines of its genre, this is a fantastic example of how pacy, exciting detective stories can be made. Someone please tie Srijit down and force him to watch this several times in a row before he can start on the next Kakababu.

Oh, and  Jagabandhu School has to be one of the best running gags in Bengali cinema, period.