Autograph (2010)

AutographAfter watching Srijit Mukherji’s excellent Chotuskone, I was inspired to track down some of his other films and where better to start than with his 2010 début, Autograph. This is another film within a film but this time new director Shubhobrata Mitra (Indraneil Sengupta) is out to remake Satyajit Ray’s famous Nayak and wants Bengali superstar Arun Chatterjee (Prosenjit Chatterjee) to play the lead role. The film story and the real-life story cleverly intertwine and both mirror the plot of Nayak although it’s the inter-personal relationships that are the main driver of the film.  While Autograph is not as polished as Chotuskone, it’s an interesting choice of subject and a fantastic début film for Srijit Mukerji.

Satyajit Ray’s Nayak is a classic of Bengali cinema where a famous film actor pours out his life story, including his insecurities and mistakes, to a young journalist on a train. While Srijit Mukerji describes Autograph as a tribute to the famous director, within the film aspiring writer/director Shubhobrata Mitra (aka Shubho) explains more simply that he is remaking Nayak (with further inspiration from Ingmar Bergman’s Wild Strawberries!) and updating it for a modern audience. As Autograph begins, after two years of unsuccessful approaches to Arun’s agent Ashu (Pijush Ganguly) Shubho has finally managed to secure a meeting with the famous actor. We know straight away that Shubho is a good guy because he gives money to a street beggar when his car stops on the way to the interview, ensuring that the audience are behind the attempts of this ‘underdog’ to secure Arun as the lead in his film.

What Shubho doesn’t know is that Arun has seen a TV interview with successful producer Manoj Sarkar (Biswajit Chakraborty) declaring that a star was not necessary for a successful film. Arun is determined to show that even with a first-time director his stardom will ensure a hit film, even if he has to take over and direct the film himself. However, Shubho has a vision and he isn’t willing to compromise on his screenplay, which makes Arun look more favourably on Shubho’s proposal. Arun also agrees to produce the film and with Shubho properly humble and eager to work with an experienced team, it looks as if his big break has finally arrived.

Shubho needs a strong actor to take on the role of the young female journalist played by Sharmila Tagore in the original film and decides on his partner Srinandita (Nandana Sen), a theatre actor for the part.  Srin though isn’t keen, citing her inexperience and her relationship with Shubho as reasons not to take on the role. In reality she doesn’t want to work with one of her idols and is intimidated by the thought of working alongside such a big star.  Despite his apparent vanity and pride (check out the massive portraits everywhere in his house), Arun is a total professional who quickly puts Srin at ease and helps her with her performance. Real and reel life start to overlap as Arun takes Srin out to dinner and starts to confess his own insecurities and regrets, just as his character does in Shubho’s film.

But as the friendship is developing between Arun and Srin, Shubho becomes more and more arrogant and egotistical as the shoot progresses. He criticises the crew, is appallingly rude to everyone and berates Srin for her poor performance as Arun helps her practice her lines. He manages to stop short of criticising his leading man but only because he knows which side of his bread is buttered. For Shubho, this film is his chance to finally make it in the industry and he’s prepared to sacrifice his friends, Srin and everyone else to make his dream come true.

While the rapport between Arun and Srin works well and is believably shown as a friendship that gradually becomes deeper, Shubho’s transformation happens rather too quickly to be realistic. His treatment of Srin seems somewhat plausible but the change from mild mannered director to arrogant brat seems rather more unlikely, given his initial modesty and precarious status as a newcomer reliant on Arun for everything. His transformation though is complete when he refuses to give the same beggar any money and he finally betrays both Arun and Srin in his attempts to make his film a success.

Prosenjit Chatterjee is excellent here and his portrayal of the charming superstar of Bengali cinema is enthralling and completely believable. His initial arrogance and rather cynical view of the film industry is well balanced by Nandana Sen’s enthusiastic Srinandita while the gradual mellowing of his character is beautifully done. The developing friendship allows Prosenjit’s character to slowly reveal his own insecurities and poor decisions throughout his career – one of which is shown in flashback to his days on the stage with his mentor, played by the late Dilip Roy. The friendship seems a natural progression too and Arun never comes across as sleazy or opportunistic, which given that he is dealing with a new actor who initially sees him through a veil of hero-worship is fairly significant in a film that touches on sexual harassment within the industry. Nandana Sen is also excellent and brings a naiveté and innocence to her role which ensures Arun’s fascination with Srin appears genuine. She is convincing as a theatre actor reluctantly thrown into the spotlight and her refusal to compromise on her values seems appropriate for a new and inexperienced actor.

Srijit Mukherji is less successful in his description of the relationship between Shubho and Srin, particularly in the romantic scenes, which seem rather overdone. This may be because they occur during a song, which also feels out of place and disruptive to the story, but the idyllic nature of their relationship here doesn’t gel with the more mundane reality of their day-to-day lives. However, the later arguments are much better and Indraneil Sengupta does an excellent job in depicting the single-minded obsession driving Shubho. To be fair I suspect that such dogged determination is essential when making a film, especially for a new director, and this aspect of Shubho’s character comes across perfectly in a number of well written scenes. Overall Indraneil is convincing in his role as a egocentric filmmaker and while the transformation may be rather too quick, he does a good job with both aspects of Shubho’s personality.

Debajyoti Mishra provides the music, and Anupam Roy the lyrics for the songs, most of which are catchy even if they don’t all sit well within the narrative. Soumik Hadlar ensures the film looks good although there are one or two moments where excessive camera movement is distracting from the main action. The finale is excellent, poignant and memorable, and a fitting end to a film that has so effectively intertwined the characters’ lives. This may not be a perfect film but there are moments where it comes close, and for the most part it’s simply very good. For a début film it’s outstanding and a clear indication that Srijit Mukherji was on the road to becoming a film-maker of significance. Highly recommended. 4 stars.

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Chotushkone (2014)

chotushkone poster

I love this film! It’s such a perfect integration of story, characters, location and music that unfolds seamlessly, often unexpectedly, to deliver an excellent dramatic thriller. Srijit Mukherji’s screenplay weaves in and out of present and past with a story of four separate directors en route to meet a director with ideas for a new film. It’s clever and engaging, even more so on second or third watch when it’s easier to appreciate the detailed clues that were missed first time around. Chotushkone won several National Awards and is one of those ‘must-see’ films that really is much better onscreen than it sounds on paper.

My favourite thing about Chotushkone is cinematographer Sudeep Chatterjee’s use of light and colour to enhance every scene. The film starts in sepia, but there are portions in black and white, and when the directors each narrate their idea for a screenplay, the action takes place coloured red, blue and green. Each scene has so much detail that I keep pausing my DVD to fully appreciate the set dressing and how appropriate each element is for that stage of the drama. Literally every time I watch this film I spot something new!

It’s also gorgeously filmed throughout. Every shot has wonderful balance of light and shade and Sudeep uses interesting combinations of objects and shadows to frame his subjects. In fact, the first time I watched the film I almost lost track of the plot as I was so invested in the look of the film, but fortunately the actors are all fantastic and the story becomes completely gripping after the slow build-up that introduces the characters. It’s a wonderful visual feast, but the film also excels in the soundtrack with Anupam Roy providing beautiful music that fits the screenplay and enhances the action without ever becoming intrusive or distracting. This is my favourite, but all of the songs are lovely and I’ve been addicted to the soundtrack since watching the film.

The film opens with a suicide set in an opulently decorated house that appears to have fallen on hard times. The furnishings are exquisite but the wall paper is peeling and there is a general air of decay. The staging of these opening scenes is beautifully done, starting with the elegant writing of a letter using a fountain pen and ending with the discovery of the body, with sepia tint delivering a timelessness to the images. It’s not clear whether the opening events take place prior to the next scene, or after, or even if they are related at all, given that the story moves on to different characters in a bar and is shot in black and white. However gradually all the pieces come together and the different components of the story build into a comprehensive whole.

Joyobroto (Parambrata Chatterjee) is a young film maker who has negotiated with Mr Gupta (Koushik Ganguly) to produce a new film composed of four separate short stories by different directors. The only condition is that each film has to address the theme of death. Joy approaches three older and well-known directors to take part in the exercise, although in some cases it takes his considerable powers of persuasion to get agreement. Trina Sen (Aparna Sen) was once a famous actor but has moved on to directing films, Sakyo (Goutam Ghose) is an award-winning director of art-house films while Dipto (Chiranjeet Chakraborty) has made a couple of commercial potboilers after he too had a career as a cinematographer and then actor. As they start their road-trip together the previous relationships between Trina, Dipto and Sakyo become clear and the possibility for disaster looms large given the old arguments that still scent the air.

As the four travel they each relate their individual stories for the film. Each story is good as a tale that involves death, but there is plenty of symbolism in each as well (Dipto’s protagonist who is literally ‘dying’ for a cigarette, when all the while there is the censor’s ‘smoking kills’ message at the bottom of the screen) and Srijit appears to be telling a series of stories within the concept of making a movie which itself is composed of a series of stories. It’s a veritable labyrinth as the black and white portions of the film are also telling another story – that of Nilanjana (Payel Sarkar), Ritwik (Indrasish Roy) and Amitava (Rahul Banerjee) who are also all making a film together. The beauty of Chotushkone is that this all makes sense within the concept of the overall plot, while gradually the big picture emerges from the different strands. There are a couple of side stories that add more background to the characters – that of Trina and her husband (Barun Chandra), Sakyo and his daughter who is pushing him to make his latest deadline and Dipto’s son (Anindya Chatterjee) who is at loggerheads with his father about Dipto’s romance with Mimi (Koneenica Banerjee), a woman half his age.

The cast are all excellent and fit into their roles well. Aparna Sen has a world-weary attitude that suits her character while Chiranjeet Chakraborty and Goutam Ghose play well off each other as the two friends with quite different attitudes to film-making. Each has their own foibles that make them realistic characters and their easy relationship speaks of their long-time friendship. Parambrata Chatterjee is superb as the glue that holds everyone together despite the bickering and complaining, and perfectly suits the persona of a younger film director trying to keep his idea alive while dealing with three quite prickly personalities. Koushik Ganguly also stands out in his small but effective role as the film’s potential producer, particularly at the end of the film when all is revealed.

This really is a beautifully made film that tells a good story using a novel approach. There is plenty of sub-text to chew over on repeated viewings while good performances from the cast ensure the film is engaging at all levels from start to finish. It does start rather slowly, but the intricate framing of each scene helps keep the film interesting and once the main characters are introduced the film is completely mesmerising. I thoroughly enjoyed Chotushkone and the more I’ve read about the actors and the industry the more I appreciate just how much Srijit Mukherji has managed to fit in to his screenplay. Highly recommended for a detailed and engrossing thriller that ticks all the boxes. 5 stars.