Shonar Pahar (Bengali)
Starring Tanuja, introducing Srijato Bandopadhyay, Jisshu Sengupta, Parambrata Chattopadhyay
Written & Directed by Parambrata Chattopadhyay
Rating: ****(4 stars)
Sometimes, stating life’s most basic truths and leaving then unvarnished and unadorned is the best method of letting your audience know that life in the movies is no different from life.
That understated actor Parambrata Chattopadhyay does a brilliant job of bringing to us a film that is so heartwarming and gentle it is almost feels like we’re floating effortlessly in the air. The pulls and pressures of life never weight down the storytelling. Shonar Pahar is that view from the highest peak of the mountain where every emotion seems to acquire the clarity of a dream seen early in the morning.
Set in Kolkata the film essentially scoops the bond between a cantankerous lonely embittered and yet dignified woman and a 7-year old boy whose wisdom pervades the film in unfiltered showers of splendor and sublimity.
It is Parambrata’s good fortune that he gets the flawless actors for the two main parts.Tanuja is the perfect fit asUpama, a woman who retains her sense of pride and dignity in spite of being abandoned by her son (JisshuSengupta, bringing a brittle brio and implosive emotional velocity to a thankless role).
Into Upama’s lonely existence –she has only a bustling sanctimonious maid for company—hiphops in the 7-year old wise little orphan Bitlu(newcomer Srijato Bandhopadyay) who is everything the old abandoned woman thinks she doesn’t need at this stage of her life. Precocious, inquisitive, restless and affectionate , Bitlu effortlessly fills that emotional vacuum in Upama’s life.
The scenes building the bonding between these two unlikely friends-their shared lunch at a luxury hotel is a treat– is done up in life’s most precious colours. We don’t feel any manipulative hands behind the volume of contagious emotions created between the two unlikely friends.Their joyous togetherness, their shared time together when the old woman reads self-written stories to the attentive responsive child and the way the child effortlessly takes over the authoritarian matriarch’s life…are all put forward with a gently persuasive nudge that tilts us completely in favour the film’s simple uncluttered narrative fluidity.
Watching Tanuja back on the screen after so long made me very melancholic. Her tightly-controlled emotional ownership of her character is exemplary. She brings so much gravitas and simmering discontent to the surface without allowing the inherently-schmaltzy theme to bubble over with emotions.
Mid-way the narrative grows determined to bring the old woman and her estranged son together again. These efforts, in spite of the little boy’s artless charm, lack the fluent spirit of the earlier phase when Upama befriends the child who insists on insinuating herself into her life. Indeed the child brings fond recollections of Satyajit Ray’sPather Panchali and Pikoo’s Diary.
Flawed as the narrative becomes in its attempt to find a conclusive emotional finale, there is so much thatParambrata Chattopadhyay says about autumnal betrayals and disappointments , about old age, loneliness, ungrateful children and difficult parents …that there is only applause and praise to be apportioned to the film.
The performances and that includes the director as a sincere NGO, never lose their sparkle even when the plot plods its way through redundant flashback passages.
Then there is the legendary Soumitra Chatterjee who makes a sporting guest appearance as Tanuja’s old admirer.There is history in their reunion.
Shonar Pahar could easily have become weighed down by its ideas on the disintegrating quality of urban existence. Instead the film celebrates the spirit of solitude , finds laughter and warmth in the cold climate of contemporary selfabsorption .