Hero, henchman or ordinary man?
Has the volatile political environment of contemporary India changed the very definition and meaning of terms such as “hero”, “henchman” and “ordinary man”?
Have our conventional mores made a somersault in an atmosphere of fear? The fear which persists before and after any election not because of the candidates representing the different political parties but because of the fear which is created and held in suspense by the main henchman of the party in power?
Saibal Mitra addresses serious issues that are grounded in a serious social agenda in both his feature films and his documentaries. He doesn’t make movies for the box office and doesn’t care too much about whether his films get a good review or not.
For his latest film Chitrakaar (2017) about a famous sculptor who goes completely blind, he raised questions about how anyone and everyone in the postmodern era can become an artist, why so many of us equivocally state that art is dead, or, does an artist have the ability to create something that can truly be called a work of art?
Takhan Kuasha Chhilo, a Bengali film directed by Saibal Mitra raises these questions and poses the questions to the audience, letting them draw their own conclusions. Fear is at the heart of ordinary people in this small town somewhere in West Bengal where retired teacher Akhil Babu (Soumitra Chatterjee) is constantly harassed by fear that the main henchman of ruling MP Nagen Sachin, forcefully marries his granddaughter Mou (Basabdatta Chatterjee) who lives with him. She’s a calm girl who clings to her dignity, no matter how the whole town says she’s a prostitute who’s slept with all the young men in town.
This does not deter Jayabrato or Putu (Saswata Chatterjee) who loves Mou in silence but does not have the courage to marry her although Akhil Babu asks her to wander aimlessly and spends his time at Neeta’s tea room. At 45, he is unemployed, useless and is thrown out of his ancestral home by his older brother and his wife because he is a failure and they think he plans to marry Mou which is not true of the all.
Based on a novel by Syed Mustafa Siraj published in 1985, Mitra set his film in the 1980s and this reflects the political mood of that era dominated by fear created and maintained by Sachin although his muscular power is manifested more by his absence only by its presence. When he suddenly disappears, the possibility that Nagen’s rival Kalo Choudhury will win the next election becomes a possibility. But he doesn’t have a henchman like Sachin. So?
Against the grayish hues of the city shrouded in a hazy intrigue reflected in the hazy sky throughout the day with a leafless tree adorning the landscape, the story weaves its way through the sudden metamorphosis in the life of Fuck like, in a sudden fit of rage, he murders Sachin hidden in the hills in the forests, completely drunk and wanting to become an “ordinary man”.
Once it is discovered that Putu murdered Sachin, the city rejoices as they now hope that Nagen, whom they hate, will now be replaced by Putu, the new henchman of Kalo Choudhury and therefore, the new “hero. “.
He is arrested for the murder but with the connivance of his alleged political leader Kalo Choudhury with the local police and returns to his hometown to find that the same owner of Neeta’s tearoom treats him with a mixture of respect and fear because that they now look up to him as the new “hero” as he is the new “henchman”. He is now a dangerous man and no one is more surprised than him by this new label his city gives him.
When he visits Mou with his new identity, she slams the door in his face. Akhil Babu taught both Sachin and Putu at school, but while Putu grew to be a very good-humored wastrel albeit unemployed. Sachin took the wrong path.
The basic story is reminiscent of Tapan Sinha’s film Atanka also about a retired school teacher who witnesses a murder by one of his students but is terrorized by the student to keep his lips sealed. Takhan Kuasha Ekhon can be called a sequel to the previous film set to live up to the era in which it is set.
Mitra takes too long to get to the point, but he uses this astounding storyline to fill in beautiful dramatic moments. One is where Putu’s older brother turns his plate over as he dines and the food is strewn on the floor. Another very touching moment is when the drunken weeping Sachin wants to become an “ordinary man”. The music is discreet, subtle and moving. The film strolls and wanders through the landscape with a passing bicycle, the sky suddenly filled with a flock of birds, and the mountain boulder called Jagaddal that never moves which turns out to reveal a hidden and tearful Sachin.
The film would not have become what it is now without the excellent performances of each actor with a special pat on the back for Soumitra Chatterjee in one of his last performances completed frame by frame by Saswata Chatterjee who expresses his helplessness so well , his uselessness with his body language, his naive response to the neighboring wives he serves, like massaging their bodies to get their rations.
Basabdatta matures very well in roles of rare dignity even in negative roles. Barun Chakraborty is also very good in his very brief appearance as Sachin.
Takhan Kuasha Chhilo is not a political film, but shows what happens to an entire small town and its inhabitants in an environment deliberately constructed by the political powers that be who derive their strength from their main henchman who actually runs the show.
A very unusual film that throws a unique perspective on the changing meanings of “hero”, “common man” and “henchman”.
Are the three terms interchangeable? Or do they have different meanings for different people at different times and places? Think about it.