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.


Naayak Poster

Naayak is an updated masala potboiler, action packed with colourful dance numbers and an improbable but entertaining enough story. The audience last night was mostly young couples and families. I did wonder yet again at the ability of children to sleep through anything. At the end of the film the dads left with a kid slung over one shoulder, dead to the world.

To summarise the story, with mild spoilers:

Naayak opens with four men being pursued through the streets and lanes of Kolkata, and eventually tied to a pillar in the forecourt of an ornate manor. Surrounded by approximately 4962 taxis with their headlights on, the men look doomed. But a mysterious figures glides through the darkness, and rescues them in a bloody fight involving lots of pointy objects and ornate axes. Who was he and why were they in trouble? That comes later. Charan is Charan AKA Cherry, a Hyderabadi IT dude. Through some Brahmi induced comedy complications, he meets the gangster Babji (Rahul Dev) and his pretty sister Madhu (Kajal). In the background, Cherry appears to be on a killing spree from Kolkata to Hyderabad. Babji sees Cherry shoot a senior police officer and starts asking questions about who Cherry really is. At the same time the police, led by Ashish Vidyarthi, are closing in. A trip to Haridwar and a chance encounter with a lookalike prompts a long flashback introducing Siddharth (Charan). Siddharth is on a mission of revenge following Pradeep Rawat’s criminal (and insane) treatment of workers in his chemical factory (and others). Siddharth has his own love interest in Amala Paul, and a tragic back story. To quote nearly every Telugu film reviewer ever, ‘how the hero triumphs over the villain forms the rest of the story’.

charan nayak

Charan has matured as an actor and his dialogue delivery has more authority. Perhaps that is because he seems really comfortable in the mass entertainer roles, and he certainly gets the style. Naayak is an updated version of the kind of films Chiranjeevi is known for. Action, dancing, flamboyant costumes, a dash of romance and a social message all add up to a good showcase for the young star. The fights are very stylised and rely on not always seamless wirework and effects. Sometimes the clunky visuals took away from the drama. Charan seems comfortable with the physicality of the fight scenes so he doesn’t let his characterisation lapse and that does help. There were few differences apparent between Cherry and Siddharth – Siddharth’s hair was a bit higher and his necklines a tad lower. But as the story turns on their similarity, that all worked nicely.

Charan’s dancing was such a highlight, especially in the very Chiru-ish Laaila O Laaila which I wanted to be replayed again right away, and Naayak which is just so pretty and colourful.

Naayak Kajal in gold pants

Kajal was very likeable. Madhu is more ‘girl next door in glamourous dress-ups’ than total glamour doll, and she often had a cheeky glint in her eye. The costume designers were reasonably kind to her, with only a brief foray into shiny metallic pants. She cannot dance to save her life, so the choreographers wisely decided to go for stunning locations plus giving Charan all the actual steps and telling Kajal to either shake her butt or heave her chest.

Naayak Charan and Kajal dance

I tell a lie – in one song she had to point one hand skywards and walk, which must have been challenging.

Naayak Kajal and Charan dance

But she looks like she has fun, and she and Charan goofed around flirting rather than worrying so much about the steps.

Amala Paul made little impression apart from looking very pretty. Her role is small but she does get a couple of visually spectacular songs. Unfortunately the costume designers never really considered the implications of dancing with your hair down and wearing a chiffon sari on undulating terrain in Iceland in a stiff breeze so she didn’t always looks graceful.

Charan and Amala dance

Naayak Amala and her shoes

Particularly not as she wore brown Ugg boots  with a green sari and black shoes with bright blue laces with her diaphanous black sari during one song. Kajal wore leggings under her short shorts but apart from being greyish and a bit baggy around the knees, they weren’t as peculiar. I’m all for actresses dressing appropriately for the climate, and for workplace safety, but it was odd.

Rahul Dev is Babji, and he plays a more sympathetic gangster than his usual psycho villain. Indeed, there is quite a sweet bromance developing between him and Cherry until things start to get crazy. Raghu Babu and Jayaprakash Reddy are on comedy duty in his gang and, judging by the audience reaction, knocked it out of the park. MS Narayana is a drunk lip reading expert and his timing and droll expressions are really quite amusing. (As was the misspelled ‘Drinking is injurious to your HEATLH’ warning.) Brahmi has an actual character to play. When he can be dissuaded from just repeating his usual shtick he is so much more bearable. I actually laughed out loud at a couple of his scenes when normally I would be sighing so either I’ve had a head injury or he was good. Dev Gill made an appearance as a psycho baddie with impressive (that’s not the right word but they are very in your face) moobs.

Naayak Charan and Amala

SS Thaman’s music is OK but sounds like every other film. You know, there’s the upbeat hero song, the item (featuring Charmme), the duet, the other duet, the remake of a better song. Nothing wrong with it, but I sit here now and I can picture the sets and the fancy costumes, but can’t recall the music as clearly. One thing I loved in Charmme’s item was Siddharth imaging joining in. His cheesy expressions and Chiru-esque mannerisms were really amusing. That was all his own character’s vision so I liked that glimpse of his inner life.

Despite this being an adventure without subtitles the only thing I feel I really missed was the comedy dialogue. People around me were weeping with laughter and a couple of guys said it is one of the funniest films they’d seen in ages. I’ll be buying the DVD regardless, and am interested to see how well that laugh riot translates. I liked spotting the Pawan Kalyan and Chiranjeevi references in the visuals and dialogues and was pleased to see Shah Rukh smirking from the back of a Significant Magazine.

See it if you like films with clearly defined heroes and villains, action, drama, colour and movement. You’ll need some tolerance for dismemberments, gore and a lot of comedy uncles but it pays off with an explosive climax.