My family has been the traditional Bengali Middle Class family, unassuming, modest, loving their Rabindranath, giving their children the best they can, sacrificing their own comforts but insisting that they know their poetry. Didi and I have been brought up in a fashion that makes both of us extremely connected to our roots. But also it made us rebellious. That I guess is in the Bong gene. We always debate the status quo (and some say we just debate).
Didi revolted and she was the first who embraced Sukanta Bhattacharya as an alternative to Rabindranath. But she was the stud. She straddled both the worlds beautifully. Somewhere though, my path went completely tangential. Amongst my entire extended family, I would be placed in the bottom tertile when it comes to knowing Rabindranath. Sometime in my second semester at Pilani I faced the Big Bang of my musical sojourn. Different sounds, beats, rhythms, lyrics, cultures, folk, rock, pop everything erupted in my mind and somewhere around then a gentleman called Anjan Dutta made some of his most memorable music influenced highly by the jazz masters and Bob Dylan and Pete Seeger.
When he had come into the Bengali music scenario, the choice of the elite was still Suman Chattopadhyay with “Tomake Chai” and “Gaanwala”. The masses (and us in school) were being wooed by Nachiketa. Everyone had fallen in love with Nilanaja. Bengali “Jeebonmukhi” songs were at its crescendo in the mid nineties to early 2000s. Anjan Dutta had a very niche following and his first album was one of his lesser memorable ones.
Anjan Dutta’s music slowly became a part of who I was, led by his album “Asamay”. His songs reminded me of my home in North Calcutta, his words always brought back the city I had left behind within the four walls of my tiny hostel room. And then I would play the song “Janla” and look out of my window losing myself. And I somehow kept myself away from Rabindranath.
I belonged to an age which represented an exodus of Bongs from Cal – for studies, for work, for a life in a city which slowly had brought itself to a state of flickering hope and for me Rabindranath became very distant. I read him like I read a Charles Dickens. I loved Dickens but I always believed he was talking of a time beyond mine.
This time in Calcutta, it was time for a face off. There was Noukadubi, which you might have seen in Hindi as Kashmakash and ‘Ranjana ami aar asbona’. Rabindranath and Rituporno against Anjan Dutta. A new Calcutta, vibrant, arrogant and finally a lot more experimental.
Noukadubi was classic Rabindranath. If you had the misfortune of not reading it earlier, you would be on the edge of your seats trying to figure out what happens next. And the story – such a bold story on human emotions can perhaps be written only by someone like him at such an age – in a flippant note he’s the only one who can take on Rajnikanth. There is not a single season in a year, not a single moment in a day and not a single human emotion in a lifetime which Rabindranath has not touched with his prose, his poetry and his music. And Raima Sen finally proved that she is worthy of the legendary inheritance that she carries with her.
Ranjana on the other hand was what I had expected it to be. Well I did not expect to see a topless Anjan Dutta for around 70% of the movie, but that aside, it was autobiographical and an honest effort in being so.
But it also posed to me many important questions – what is our relationship with our protégé? Do we have any right to control their lives? Do we rejoice in their success but want them to be forever indebted to us? Do we want to get into their deepest, darkest secrets but insulate our own from them? Do we stifle them? Do we cry when they leave? Do we want to live forever through them? Can we ever be friends again?
Ranjana is not a masterpiece. It is a sketch by an extremely talented man who at times brings himself down to play to the galleries. The naming of the film is perhaps the best example. Noukadubi on the other hand is a gem. But Ranjana is more important to me as it makes me sit face to face with myself in all its rawness which the complex intricacies of human interactions in Noukadubi can not. And Porno Mitra has the capabilities of being a fantastic actress. If only she keeps her head over her shoulders.
Anyway, the verdict rests with the people who will go to watch the movies. But to me, it was the same kind of face off I once used to encounter in the corner room in Budh Front Wing. And after listening to Shesher Kobita, I would feel an emptiness and put Priyobondhu on.