How do you articulate the impact of a film that feels designed to lob only dialoguebaazi at the audience for yielding whistles and does nothing else whatsoever? One can begin by talking, at the outset, about the popular appeal of the dialogues, or remark on how inventive or memorable they are. Well, that is, if you consider a dissatisfied wife wanting both biriyani and plain rice for a husband. Helpfully explaining herself, she says she desires both luxury and necessity. The gastronomic analogies are pursued even more when her companion proposes to try Haleem. Fair enough, but the lines are delivered in a distinct thrust so as to proclaim itself as the new dictum of The new age Indian women. Or, you can consider the setup for a supposed antagonist singing popular Bollywood melodies after a killing, engineered to exude menace but coming off as sheer unintentional comedy, with the background score slowly muting down, following a ear splitting one accompanying the killer at his most ruthless.
Or, you can take up the case of the extreme manufactured-ness and thoroughly fake, insincere essence of the therapy room conversations. The accent is unbearably off putting and these scenes feel stitched into the narrative just to explicate the wife’s conundrum more clearly than it otherwise would appear, the second appearance especially baffling as in how quick the husband becomes reciprocating and the wife cheery, without any intervention of the marriage counselor at all. I agree something happens (or does anything significant actually happen ever here ?) that makes the husband change his behavior but the addition of the counselor in the film makes no contribution toward it at all. Honestly, I can’t give you an iota of what the film is about without mentioning all the above and the utter redundancy of so many characters .
With the 2020 film Dwitiyo Purush, Srijit Mukherjee, warily or not, sets himself up for a challenge to better his own legacy, built on the 2011 cult film Baishey Shrabon that made cussing cool, churned blockbuster songs, generated a fan following of Mukherjee for the slick, stylish texture of the thriller and it’s smart incorporation of poems in the murders (plagiarized or not, to borrow something and make it work in another context and backdrop requires some artistic acumen as well) and revived the Bengali film industry’s prospects. Suddenly the dips and troughs in box office returns of Bengali cinema showed signs of resurrection and hope. Given the inevitable nostalgia that is associated with the characters, it breaks my heart to report that the sequel is a burial of all that we have loved about its maker’s nascent skills and his cult classic. It’s an almost undoing of the past.
Rupam’s vocals introduce us once again to the new territory of Chinatown here, and the usual sights and sounds of the place is captured in a busybody way in the opening sequence. While the song “Aami Aachi” hooks the ears immediately, there’s nothing visually crackling for the viewer. These are sights recorded competently, but unimaginatively. The narrative initially goes to and fro between 1995’s Chinatown underbelly and a recent Kolkata. There is a frantic chase between a cop and a gang, a same sex affectionate moment and a blood spattering all packed into the first few minutes. The background music is extreme and relentless so as to emphasize the danger the antagonists pose. Peril is always represented with grating music here. And it is ceaseless. I won’t be exaggerating here if I say your ears are what will be imperiled if you go in for this Film.
Abhijit Pakrashi (Parambrata Chatterjee), a cop with trauma, is assigned a case of a supposed gang leader of Chinatown out on the prowl after years, immediately once he is released from prison. We are briefed on the manner of the murders, the engraving of the leader’s name on the heads of the victims. This pattern remains consistent. The leader aka killer, Khoka, is painted in few minutes as a bloodthirsty and vindictive sort, bursting with manic vim. We associate him with a vengeful crazed youngster because we are allowed only that image of him when he was at his height in the 90s. Following that, he was apprehended. Rwitobroto Mukherjee pours an angry ferocious zest into his Khoka and while he gets most of it right, the dialogues are so bad that the menace doesn’t work. Rajat (Gourab) is assigned as assistant to Abhijit and the two try to disentangle the murders by getting the basics of location and identification sorted.
The film trots aside to then show Anirban Bhattacharya put on vests and short pants and channel a cool haircut, as the grown up Khoka. He is obviously brutal and unforgiving in his methods, hunting down without any mercy and revisiting places of his past, caught in a strange sensation of wanting something desperately and succumbing to needs of warmth and empathy. We have seen killers with soft spots. What’s singularly annoying here is the score cues the viewer’s feelings a little too much. The uproarious bgm explodes boomingly and precariously when Khoka walks towards a puppy, and the viewer anticipates something heinous, and the music self relieves when he ultimately fondles it. This over reliance on bgm makes all intentions of the director projecting his characters in a particular light crash disastrously.
Abhijit is beset by a marriage on the rocks. His wife, Amrita (Raima Sen), is frustrated with him for he’s totally uninterested in their marriage. She has moved into a stage of being unmoved by his attempt to insert fun and humor into their interactions, because he otherwise puts in no effort at all. It presents a rich opportunity for Raima to play her usual stoic act and get away with it but even that requires some degree of acting to highlight her misery and agony. Raima is absolutely flat and one note in her delivery and she mouths lines with a weird distant vapidity. It’s nothing very surprising considering she has always maintained such a acting mien with some fine exception of the 2019 film Tarikh (due to Churni Ganguly) but here she holds an unsurpassed leaden exterior and there is no glimpse of her inner anxieties too.
There is also another actress in the mix, Riddhima who plays Rajat’s fiancé, whose last appearance in the film as a woman driven to madness in grief is bound to go down as pure inadvertent comedy. It’s so bad, her bawling, somebody in the audience remarked loudly, exasperatedly, ‘ why they can’t they just slap her? That’ll silence her’. The comment was insensitive, yes, but the moment is characterized by so painfully fake acting you really seek divine intervention to shut it down.
Parambrata sleepwalks through his role in the first hour and then gets consumed by this unnatural force and his character takes a staggeringly bewildering 360 degree turn, that can put Daenerys Targaryens arc to shame. He rants and has a breakdown and slips into a new skin than the one we first meet him, and the film attempts a massive twist whose stupidity is so maddening and so spectacular and explained in such detail over some thirty minutes it made my head hurt. While Srijit over explains the twist, he underwhelms and is unpersuasive with handling Abhijit’s character switch. After an oddly inert one and half hours, where pretty much nothing happens, no development in the case except the cops talking among themselves with no outcome and the antagonist wearing a killer’s extraordinary spunk, the last thirty minutes pick up steam and an impulsive, thoughtless urgency enters the narrative.
I admire Srijit for putting same sex love front and center of his film, but I can accuse him of deliberately, insincerely bunging it here just to promote his film as a progressive effort. Such love here sits uncomfortably and uneasily in this laughably ill conceived story because it disrespects narrative logic and the events of the earlier film. If I were to buy it, I would have to coolly overlook a lot of things and feelings that would have easily come into account had that been the case. Progressive rhetoric can’t camouflage an indefensibly lazily written script, or it cannot earn new reverence at the risk of rationality. Both have to be in sync. Dwitiyo Purush is full of wasted moments. When somebody asks a man who was denied the woman he truly loved whether he still loves her despite the passage of time, the latter replies, ‘after all this time? Always’. This rehashed line and the poignancy immanent in it is completely ruined because once again it doesn’t suit the characters or their emotions adequately. It feels force fitted here to jingle pop culture bells.
When the Je Kawta din reprise song comes up and the lyric runs like “Chintar anuprobesh razor blade er dhaare”, we actually see Amrita watching a scene in some film on the TV about a girl cutting herself up. It’s literalizing of the worst sort. This is a thriller without an ounce of suspense or chilling moments. It reveals a shocking lax attitude of the filmmaker and his actors as well, everyone is, at some level, detached and disconnected from the film, and nobody reflects a smidgen of commitment, with the exception of a Babul Supriyo who chews the scenery up as a cop who has an affinity for torture. Unnecessary characters or underwritten ones populate the frame and hammy acting alienates the viewer completely. Anirban is especially weak and superficial and extremely annoying. His villain will be a big joke in cinematic memory. Soumik Haldar shoots the Chinatown scenes in grimy light and few shots are memorable. The editing by Pronoy Dasgupta is unmindful as in when he should stop carrying a scene forward and cutting it. There is indulgence here.
The film embodies the arrogance of a filmmaker and his hasty confidence that he can hurl anything at the audience and we will lap it up. There is not even a pretense of some intelligence in the writing, by Srijit and Suvonkar Banerjee. The sharpness or tightness of a thriller is alarmingly absent, and the emotions barely skim the surface. I recognize the need for a different kind of thriller, one that doesn’t entail too many twists but isn’t some nuance a necessity? In interviews, Srijit has said filming took some nine days. I wonder how much time he spent in writing and developing the script. I would believe him if he says it didn’t cost even nine hours, because it shows glaringly, embarrassingly, the shameful paucity of film making scrupulousness throughout the run time.