The flavour of Kolkata

The flavour of Kolkata
Kolkata Maidan- The lungs of the city. Lovingly shot by Arindam Patra.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Film review: Kabir

Language: Bengali
Director: Aniket Chattopadhyay
Cast: Dev, Rukmini Maitra, Priyanka Sarkar, Shataf Figar, Krishnendu Dewanji, Arna Mukhopadhyay
Release date: 13th April 2018

A Bengali suspense thriller with terrorism as a subject and a big star in the lead, shot largely in an express train and on location in Kolkata and Mumbai evokes curiosity. Having been familiar with Aniket's work, which is his lowbrow sitcoms, I went to the show with no expectations.

Yasmin Khatun (Rukmini Maitra) is leaving Mumbai to catch her train to Howrah on the day a chain of blasts is taking place in important and busy places in Mumbai in 2012. Her taxi driver refuses to go past a point and police, already bogged down by the blasts, is of no help. She gets a lift from a young and friendly man Abir Chatterjee (Dev) who drops her to the CST station. They meet again in the station, then in the terribly delayed Duronto Express in the evening as co-passengers. The journey turns a nightmare for Yasmin as her dark past comes back and she must answer Abir where Imtiaz, a member of Indian Mujahideen, is hiding after an act of treachery against his gang in Kolkata. Where her ordeal leads to through the course of the journey is what the film is about. Giving away anything beyond this will be a spoiler.

Rukmini Maitra in the film

The premise of the serial bomb blasts of Mumbai leading to the capture of a senior Indian Mujahideen functionary is sound (the film is based on the 2011 Mumbai blasts and the arrest of co-founder of Indian Mujahideen (IM) and conspirator of several bomb blasts in India, Yasin Bhatkal). This is a clear departure from Aniket’s style of filmmaking and he has surprised with this one. He has written and made a thriller based on a serious subject like terrorism without losing focus on the flow and not bringing in unnecessary sub plots or a love angle or songs (There is just one sufi song). The storytelling and cinematic idiom are simple and aimed at a larger audience than urban films, so there are few compromises and over-simplification, but the end product looks good and enjoyable. The suspense and drama have been built skilfully into the plot aided by the twists and turns (A good example is showing the two versions of the ‘Imtiaz’ story). The action sequences look real for a change in Bangla cinema. The film is about a train journey and most of it is inside one train compartment, but the pacing has been done well with flashback shots and few shots from the present. Aniket has used shots of the moving train from various angles at different points of its journey (like passing by stations, passing through a bridge, entering and exiting a tunnel) which, in entirety, has not only made the audience feel the journey but has also provided visual relief.

All in all, it didn’t feel like a Bengali film. Aniket’s extensive research for his story is evident and credit goes to him for presenting to us such a different story, though I wish he showed the preparation of the IM gang for the planned blasts in Kolkata in greater detail.

Most of characters are etched out well. But STF officer Damayanti’s (Priyanka Sarkar) characterisation lacks meat, and Yasmin’s father (Pradip Mukherjee), should have not been used merely as a storytelling device. Same goes for Ashraf, the terrorist (Krishnendu Dewanji).
Rukmini is a revelation in this movie. Not only she looks her part of a strong-minded woman with a wounded past, she brings out the nuances of the expressions competently, given that she was a non-actor two films back. Her laughter at the end was shot and edited tactfully and therefore lost some impact but I understand that it was tough for her to do it in one shot. She should be noticed much more after Kabir. Dev has cast himself as the protagonist and though his performance is much better than what we see in his mainstream flicks and he has his moments, it needed more work to get under the skin, which includes English and Hindi diction and physical acting (though the director has cleverly justified his Bengali diction). I would alos have liked the character colder and more piercing. The other actors have been well-cast and Arno Mukhopadhyay is impressive on debut as Imtiaz. Krishnendu Dewanji, a talented actor from the stage, didn't have many lines but impresses in silent moments. But I felt Ruksana's father (Pradip Mukherjee) deserved a better-written character. A talented actor like Priyanka Sarkar was miscast. She didn’t look her part of a tough STF officer. A non-Bengali actor, preferably a new face, would be better.

Arno Mukhopadhyay (centre), Krishnendu Dewanji (left) and Shataf Figar (right) in the film

But it needs mention that a good job has been done in casting in the bit roles, eg. the railway catering staff, the policemen on the road and the security force members which have helped build the narrative fabric. Everybody in these roles looks his/ her part.

The movie stands out for the swell job in cinematography by Harendra Singh. The largely hand-held camerawork in real locations and natural light gives a raw, documentary-like texture to the film which makes the narrative realistic yet not losing out on the dramatic appeal. Rabiranjan Maitra’s editing is a decent job and the movie doesn’t drag it its one hour and fifty minutes of runtime. The background score is typical of thrillers but at places it is a bit too loud. The Moula song is pleasant and sensibly placed.

There are a few flawed shots, like Priyanka's lip-matching and accent in the meeting didn't seem right and I didn’t understand how Imtiaz got shot from his back while hidden behind a statue during the encounter without the force changing positions. But these can be overlooked as Kabir nails it as a suspense thriller with a fresh and gritty subject.

The images have been sourced from the trailer and the song clips of the film on YouTube.

#Kabir #BanglaCinema #BanglaCinema2018 #Dev

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Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Balconies and terraces of Kolkata - 2

Kolkata is home to some fascinating old architecture in balconies and terraces. I find many of them head-turners!

It has been a constant wish to present some of this heritage beauty on this blog, which started with this post- Balconies and terraces of Kolkata - 1. But the wish didn't get justice thereafter. And the second edition comes now, thanks to Arpita Chanda.

I met Arpita in a Facebook food group and knowing my Kolkataholism, she added me to another Facebook group on old Kolkata which has proven to be a relish! Our discussion on Kolkata has been going on since then. When this fellow Kolkataholic is not at home looking after family (including her very young son), or not practising French, she may well be spotted in the lanes and alleys of Kolkata with her camera to shoot anything she fancies, which can even be old doors and windows. To my pleasure, the range includes old balconies. So, here comes the second edition of 'Balconies and terraces of Kolkata' from her collection .

All the beauties are from north Kolkata. The first three have an aristocratic touch while the fourth to sixth are rather common. The last one is an inside balcony overlooking the 'uthon' (courtyard).

Madhab Kutir, Pathuriaghata 

Madan Mitra Lane

Madan Mitra Lane

Bechu Chatterjee lane

Parshibagan Lane

Garpar Road

The well-known residence of Mahendra Srimani at Sukeas Street

#Balcony #Terrace #Heritage #OldKolkata #KolkataHeritage

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Monday, April 02, 2018

Five reasons to watch Kabir


1. It is an edge-of-the-seat thriller- a rare genre in Bangla cinema.

2. It is a film with terrorism as a subject which is indeed novel in Bangla cinema.

3. It is made by a veteran print and television journalist-turned-director (Aniket Chattopadhyay) which prepares me for a realistic take on the subject. The director wrote the film five years back (not far from its timeline- Mumbai of 2012) but didn't find a backer to count till Dev offered to produce it in 2017.

4. It has a different look n feel- More than half of it has been shot in an express train (Kolkata to Mumbai). Majority of the shooting has been done with handheld camera in real locations in natural light. Some portions have also been shot guerrilla style.

5. It doesn't have Bangkok or Europe for outdoor but real locations in Mumbai, for a change. Some of the sites of the 2011 bomb blast (which is part of the story), like Hazi Ali, Zaveri Bazaar and Gateway of India were part of the shooting locations.

Kabir is slated for a 13th April 2018 release.

#Kabir #BanglaCinema #BanglaCinema2018 #Dev

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Friday, March 02, 2018

The aura of Sridevi

I was never a fan of Sridevi. In our younger years there used to be two groups among friends (after 1988)- Madhuri fans and Sridevi fans. And I was a proud Madhurian always ready to fight it out with Sridevians to prove Madhuri’s superiority.

I woke up on 25th February 2018 with a shock (from the early morning Whatsapp message of a friend and Sridevi admirer) like millions of Indians all over the world, that Sridevi was no more. It still didn’t really disturb me though I was sad. I started recalling movies that best remind me of her. And then it happened! Her thought consumed that Sunday and days thereafter. I kept on sharing and approving posts about her in my Facebook cinema group We the Audience which I otherwise wouldn’t perhaps have done. The aura of India’s first female superstar finally overpowered me!

Miles of content have already been written about her life and career. So, here I would like to recall vignettes of her work resonating deep inside my mind even though she never captured my senses as an ardent admirer. And that explains the aura which overpowered me a day after she passed away in Dubai.

This post will appear in instalments. Starting with one of her career-defining dance numbers.

Hawa Hawai
Why particularly this song of Mr India? Because I truly feel it demonstrates the sheer magic she created on screen. A heady mix of glamour, charm, dancing prowess and terrific comic skill on her part makes this song ageless.

Though the words of the lyric underline an enchanting lady (Main khwabon ki shehzadi/ Main hoon har dil pe chhayi), the song had a strong comic orientation with a lot of gibberish thrown in which made its choreography an arduous task. While Kavita Krishnamurthy pulled it off greatly in the recording studio, Laxmikant-Pyayrelal set it to foot-tapping tune and Saroj Khan was at her imaginative best to create the moves for one of the biggest challenges of her career (She has recently admitted in an interview to Anandabazar Patrika that it was a make-or-break situation for her), it was left to Sridevi to take this ensemble of work to another level that could create magic on screen. So, one can understand the pressure on the actress. Great dancing skill was not enough to do justice to the composition. This is when her comic timing came into play and became her trump card! The melange of uninhibited fluid comic expressions that Sri gave this song is not only unparalleled to date, but it also acted as a pivotal force that catapulted it to a cult status and gave the actress a loving nickname ‘Hawa Hawai’.

You have to watch the song once (or once again) to witness the power of her comical acumen in pushing the envelope and own this unforgettable dance number.

#Sridevi #HawaHawai #HindiCinema #IndianCinema #FemaleSuperstar

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Friday, February 16, 2018

Pet peeves in private buses

The private blue buses are the oldest surviving private bus fleet of the city. They are the largest in number among all types of buses plying, offer the most basic facility and charge the cheapest fare. Thus they can easily be called the lifeline of Kolkata. Naturally, along with the dependence of lakhs of people for their commute, comes some pet peeves. Here's a look at some of them.

"Kawtobar ticket katbo?” ("How many times do you want me to buy ticket?")

To me, this one is the most amusing! This is what a passenger says to the conductor. No matter you bought your ticket without delay, the conductor can come back to you and ask you to buy the ticket- sometimes even within a span of two minutes! Don't get surprised as this is part of life in a bus. This is all pervasive. Curiously, this memory lapse of the conductor is prevalent only in selling tickets and not in any other activity. For example he will remember to return you the change of Rs 100 you handed him to buy a Rs 6 ticket. This peculiar short term memory loss of bus conductors does merit a serious study.

“Abar signal khelo” ("He deliberately drove slow to stop at the signal")

This mostly comes with an abuse prefixed of which the intensity depends on how irritated the commuter is. A section of passengers monitor how timely the driver is driving the bus and this annoyed remark comes from them. Well, as I’ve seen, sometimes (may be most of the times) this is true but they aren’t always right. It’s a common trait of a large section of drivers to drive slow so that they can stop at more signals and load the bus with more and more passengers at the cost of passenger convenience and delayed trips. So the commuters' irritation for waste of time on the trip is understandable. Now, to be fair to the drivers, sometimes they have to drive slow because of traffic ahead but the monitoring passengers often overlook it. A solution to this could be incentivizing the driver and the conductor for timeliness of completed trips.

“Seat khali” ("The bus has a lot of vacant seats")

This is often the biggest bluff of the conductor aiming at quickly filling the bus with passengers. So, it's actually a competitive tactic. Often at busy junctions, a number of buses stop around the same time and the conductor uses this trick to grab more passengers than the competing buses. In reality, most of the times, the bus hardly has empty seats and the poor passengers rushing in to grab the seats often discover that after boarding the bus. What follows from passengers is an easy guess.

Ending on a lighter note, related to the same subject.

"Aaste, ladies. Pete bachcha.” ("Please stop and let the pregnant lady get down")

The familiar alert of a conductor to the passengers trying to hop onto a bus, which he does to ensure the safe alight of a pregnant lady. But sometimes the conductor can be wrong in reading the stomach of the lady, leading to great embarrassment and annoyance of the lady with a pronounced midsection. I came across the post of a young lady on an interactive website, who vent her anger on the conductor who misread her generous waistline.

#Kolkata #KolkataBuses #Commute #Transport #PublicTransport

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Sunday, January 21, 2018

The Kolkata hidden gems trail- Part 1: Dhiren Cabin

The Kolkata foodscape is incomplete without its age-old cafes (or cabins, as locally known). They are the reason for Bengali’s undying love for fries and cutlets. Though many have faded into oblivion with the passage of time or are struggling to survive in the competition with modern foods and wide availability of street food, there are some who are still going strong. A few of them are widely known, like Mitra Cafe of north Kolkata and Dilkhusha Cabin of central Kolkata, while there are others who are locally popular and are as good or maybe better at least in certain items. They are the hidden gems. Through this new series, I shall share my experience in some of these places.

Tucked into a not-so-busy street in north Kolkata, Dhiren Cabin's nondescript exteriors are likely to be mistaken for just another old, struggling cafe. The road from Sovabazar crossing on CR Avenue towards Ahiritola (Sovabazar St) leads here past just past the Rabindra Sarani crossing. The  interiors are equally humble- two non-AC dining rooms with old-fashioned marble-top tables, small wooden chairs and a few cabins for couples. Don't prejudge its food by the unpretentious and sometimes careless appearance. Like other such cafes, it has a good number of patrons and they come here just for good food, not ambiance.  Don’t expect a menu card. The menu is put up on the wall. Take a look at it before ordering or you can always ask the waiter.

One dish that makes it stands out is chicken cutlet. It’s certainly one of the best in the city. The crunch of the bread-crumbed coat is spot on. Inside lies a well-marinated, succulent chicken breast fillet that’s yummy! It costs just Rs 55 which underscores the high value for money that this place offers. The mustard served with the food lacks punch, but the taste of the food makes up for it. When it comes to fried chicken snacks, it can give the KFCs of the world a run for money.

The other thing that I like here is the vegetable chop. It’s a large crumb-fried ball inside which there is mashed potato lining a large mass of beetroot and carrot sauteed with seasoning and a few raisins thrown in. The taste is a bit on the sweeter side which is not exactly what I prefer, but it’s otherwise very good. Actually a winter delicacy, it doesn't taste half as good in other seasons and there too, a good vegetable chop is not easily found.

It’s fish items are popular too but they haven't impressed me as they are made with basa fish. It’s not one of the fishes traditionally used in fish fry (mainly beckti) and lacks taste reasonably.

I wish to come back to it for some other dishes about which I’ve come across good words.

#KolkataFood #BengaliFood #ChickenCutlet

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Saturday, January 13, 2018

Film review: Mayurakshi

Language- Bengali
Director- Atanu Ghosh
Cast- Soumitra Chatterjee, Prosenjit, Sudipta Chakraborty, Indrani Halder, Gargi Roychowdhury
Release date- 29th December 2017

The are some films that show and say less, are introvert by nature, yet leave a lot with the audience as they step out of the theatre. Mayurakshi falls in this rare category.

It's about the five days when Aryanil (Prosenjit) comes down from his busy job in Chicago for his ailing father Sushovan (Soumitra) who is suffering from dementia and age-related nervous disorder. He has a sharp memory of distant past, like his son's younger days but not of the time he spent in the cafe with his son a few hours back. It's also about Aryanil's search of a past chapter of his life which brings him a realisation and an impact to his father's life.

Mayurakshi is a departure from conventional narrative-led style of storytelling of Bangla cinema, which is also new to the body of work of Atanu Ghosh. The director has a yen for exploring various thought-provoking subjects in his films and for the creative courage he has shown in writing the film and executing it uncompromisingly to tell a poignant tale that tugs at the heartstrings, it will add the brightest feather to his cap. 

The characters are etched with care and they have been given the scope they deserve. Atanu has brought alive Sushovan’s mental condition, knowledge about diverse subjects and deep affection for his son in small, confident strokes. Aryanil is a character which impressed me much. He is sensitive and introvert and his two divorces have made him more reticent. Sahana (Indrani) is a character written in a matured way and such no-strings-attached friend who Aryanil can confide in and share secrets with is exceptional in Bangla cinema.

The way Atanu concludes the film underlines the saying that life must go on while dealing with adversities.

The film is perfectly cast and boasts of minimalistic acting by the ensemble cast where Soumitra shines with an amazingly nuanced act that one expects of a legend that he is. He looks so incredibly effortless as Sushovan that it's hard to believe he is acting. Prosenjit was a revelation for me in this film and due credit to Atanu for extracting this measured performance out of the star actor known for his mannerisms. A role that almost robs the actor of his strongest weapon i.e. dialogue delivery that plays to the gallery, he makes great use of silence, finer expressions a lot of which through his beautiful and expressive eyes. Aryanil is brought to life with all his inner strength to cope with life, loneliness, longing for a true companion and love for his father. Both the actors create an admirable yet poignant father-son bonding that is rarely seen on Bengali screen. Their breaking down scenes towards the end are heart-wrenching. These two roles will remain highpoints of their career.

Sudipta derserves mention for her measured and credible act as Mallika, the housekeeper in Sushovan's residence looking after him and Indrani as Sahana leaves a lasting impression. Indrani is a capable and grossly underutilized actress and it was good to see her back after long. The last memorable performance of hers for me was Atanu's earlier film Takhan Teish. 

Gargi's small, one-scene presence was much impressive and again it goes to the credit of the director to have extracted a perdformance that is clean of the familiar, refined diction.   

Soumik's camera, as always, creates the true feel of an old south Kolkata house.There are many close shots of the protagonists, like those where Prosenjit emotes with his eyes or the soul-touching father-son moments (like the one where Aryanil is dabbing powder on Sudhovan) that are etched out beautifully on screen by Soumik. Editing was a pivotal function for such a film that's a fine weave of moments and Sujoy Datta Ray does a fine job of it, never letting it drag. Debajyoti's background score provides the apt support to the storytelling.

#Mayurakshi #BanglaCinema #BengaliCinema 

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Monday, January 01, 2018

Film review: Tumhari Sulu

Language- Hindi
Cast- Vidya Balan, Manav Kaul, Neha Dhupia, Vijay Maurya and others
Director- Suresh Triveni
Release date- 17th November 2017

We don’t make films like them anymore. The Hrishikesh Mukherjees and Basu Chatterjees creations were set in our middle class world and the protagonists were not larger than life. Yet we loved them for their simplicity and for the fact that we could relate to them the most among all we saw on screen.

Tumhari Sulu is a sincere attempt towards making that realistic, meaningful yet entertaining cinema. It’s about Sulochana (Vidya Balan)- a housewife who hasn't achieved much for herself but has an indomitable spirit to win. Sulochana (Sulu to her husband and family) participates in the lemon and spoon race in the annual sports of the housing society and the contests on FM radio channels and win prizes. She, with her husband Ashok (Manav Kaul) and school-going son live a happy life in a modest flat in Virar. She is always compared to her well-educated sisters who are successful in career but refuses to be affected by that. Her aspiration in life is to make the best of the opportunities life throws at her. One day she came across an ad for an interview of an RJ in an FM station where she visited to collect her prize. She ends up as the host of a late night show ‘Tumhari Sulu’. The show becomes a hit but brings some unpredictable turns in Sulu's life. Whether she is able to cope with it forms the rest of the story.


Suresh Triveni has made his debut film with everyday middle class reality, at home or at work, which the audience can well identify with. The characters are real and well-etched irrespective of length, hence easy to relate to. Their conversations, happy moments, aspirations, problems, challenges, frustrations are competently written and crafted. Yet the film is engaging throughout and the setting, whether home or workplace or the commute in between, lends an able support. It is praise-worthy to see how Suresh spins a yarn that is so heartwarming and engaging set in a life that's so familiar and devoid of cinematic frills. It only shows that the writer-director was clear in his mind and had the confidence in what he wanted to convey and precisely how, and his advertising background has been of great help in this. The end looked a little rushed but. The conclusion deserved a little more space.

In performances, Vidya Balan breezes through Sulochana. Apart from her acting acumen, she has the right persona for the protagonist and coupled with the well-defined character and its graph, she’s a treat to watch. She makes Sulochana believable, charming and aspirational (as she lives her own life with the mantra “Main kar sakti hain”). The camaraderie she has with her husband comes alive through her playfulness on the surface and the love and care deep within. Her appearance has blended so beautifully with the middle class homemaker’s character that the thought of her being overweight for a protagonist’s role never crosses the mind.

Manav Kaul’a Ashok was a revelation for me. Ashok is a good soul dominated by his wife and in-laws.  At office, he is a sincere and hard worker stuck in a thankless, modestly-paying job which gets exploitative with a new young boss (Shantanu Ghatak) coming in down the line. It’s not easy to shine in such a role with nothing going for him but he pulls it off brilliantly. He brings alive the loving and caring vibes with his wife believably. This talented theatre actor definitely deserves to be seen more on big screen.


Neha Dhupia plays a level-headed FM station head Maria who takes a risky call in starting a late night show with Sulochona. The expressions on her face when she listens to Vidya or someone else are flawless! She is impressive and is the other revelation. We have seen her wasted in so many inane roles!


Vijay Maurya as the poet and show producer (he is also the additional writer of the script) does a commendable job bringing out the pride of his literary talent and the frustration of catering to client’s demand of ‘integrating’ the brand name in the jingle. He’s the producer of the radio show ‘Tumhari Sulu’ who gets Vidya to bring out the sexy voice of the RJ. All others are aptly cast and have performed as desired, including Abhishek Sharrma as Pranav - Sulu's son. Shantanu Ghatak as the Bengali entrepreneur and Ashok’s new boss was a little surprise. I wonder who has written his Bengali lines which are spot on!

The songs are pleasant and seamlessly blend with the narrative. The rehash of Hawa hawaii is sensibly used (in a party in the FM station), in no mood to match Sridevi in the original. Saurabh Goswami’s cinematography brings out the modest apartment of Sulochona and her workplace in the right tones and contribute to the real world the director desired to create.

#TumhariSulu #VidyaBalan #HindiCinema #HindiCinema2017

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