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Cinema || TeenKahon (Three Tales of Love)

The much speculated and lauded debut of Bauddhayan Mukherji is quite the novel idea on paper. Spanning an impressive one hundred years, Mukherji’s three tales of obsession would unite three vastly different stories from diverse eras to chart the course of a certain trait of human beings that is animalistic at worst, but is curiously only a single chord beneath our most divine capability of ‘Love’.

While the first two tales are adaptations of two stories by Bibhutibhushan Mukhopadhyay and Syed Mustafa Siraj respectively, the third is an original handiwork of the director himself.

The first tale, titled ‘Nabalok’ (Underaged), is a bittersweet story of childhood infatuation as narrated by the older self of the protagonist Shailen (Suman Mukhopadhyay). Employing mise en scènes that provoke nostalgic reminiscences of the great Satyajit Ray, Mukherji crafts what happens to be a poignant, visual treat with bewitchingly subtle sexual connotations; earmarked by a remarkable subdued performance by Barshan Seal as Shailen, the little child in ‘love’ and the charmingly layered portrayal of Nayantara, his muse, by Ananya Sen. Mukherji makes judicious use of Bibhutibhushan Mukhopadhyay’s distinctive voice, the same which made his novel ‘Nilanguriyo’ one of the finest love stories written in the language. Mukhopadhyay’s words find a profound lease of life thanks to the reverent baritone of the astute Suman Mukhopadhyay, the uncharacteristic, bitter passion in his voice towards the end exposing the ‘innocent’ child’s largely humorous shenanigans to keep Nayantara to himself, as something that is difficult to contend with as innocently.

The second tale, set during a rainy evening in the twilight years of the 1970s, narrates the tale of the recent widower Gyanesh Mitra (Sabyasachi Chakraborty), who comes calling at the home of Sukomol Basu Ray (Joy Sengupta), the very person to have an illicit affair with Mitra’s wife who ended up committing suicide. As the veritable chamber drama gradually unfolds the shades and myriad follies of the two men in question who embark upon investigating the reason why the lady blamed both of them for her death in her suicide ‘note’, a distinct view of the core theme is brought to the fore as we explore the sort of obsession that can even compel a person to ‘let go’ of his object of fascination at will so one can ironically hold on to it for good. The fine lines bordering expectation, responsibility, love and of course, obsession, are expertly analysed and dissected in ‘Post Mortem’, which is undoubtedly the finest act of all three. Sabyasachi Chakraborty takes the cherry with what is perhaps the greatest cinematic performance of his illustrious career, with Joy Sengupta providing adequate company.

The final story, titled ‘Telephone’, strove to be a rather complex tale of obsession on quite a few levels. From carnal obsession to that of the cellular phone, each play a major part in the tale that depicts the ambitious police officer Joydeb Guha (Ashish Vidyarthi) who finds himself in a virtually loveless marriage with Anamika (Rituparna Sengupta). Even as Guha indulges in a high-flying extra-marital relationship with a classical dancer, he is presumably brought back to the ground after Anamika gives birth to their first child – a son. In a bid to add layers to the obsession graph, Mukherji decides to script an ending that was designed to cause a major impact but which ends up appearing as an ill-conceived deux ex machina serving the sole purpose of gratifying the central theme. In spite of remarkable performances by the powerhouse Ashish Vidyarthi and the precise Rituparna Sengupta, ‘Telephone’ slips at the lip and leaves an aftertaste that is less than pleasant for the palate.

It is a shame since Mukherji’s blueprint is appreciable enough even though the final piece of the puzzle fails to elicit the desired outcome. The exploration that began with a child’s obsession to that of a very old man at heart did demand a darker take on the subject the third time around, if only Mukherji were able to convincingly pull off the ‘perfect crime’ through Joydeb Guha.

Nevertheless, Teenkahon is certainly a rich work of art and is undoubtedly one the most impressive Bengali films to have released this year. Beautifully shot by Abhik Mukhopadhyay and pieced together with panache by Arghyakamal Mitra, Teenkahon shall remain a seminal piece of work thanks to the graceful depiction of the Bibhutibhushan Mukhopadhyay short story and the delectable act by veteran thespian Sabyasachi Chakraborty. []

Film: Teenkahon (Three Obsessions)
Director: Bauddhayan Mukherji
Written by Abhinandan Banerjee & Bauddhayan Mukherji
Release: September 11, 2015

Language: Bengali

First Published: CultureCult Magazine, Issue One: October 2015