Saturday 23 July 2022

Once Upon a Time in Calcutta [2021]

 Aditya Vikram Sengupta’s 3 films are a study in contrasts and commonalities. Where Asha Jaoar Majhe was a marvellously muted tone-poem and Jonaki a haunting, surreal tapestry on memories, Once Upon A Time in Calcutta – his most narratively ambitious effort thus far given its multiple characters, interlocking sub-stories and highfalutin title – is a bold mix of broken marriages, crumbling cultural citadels, nostalgic artefacts paving way for the future, and new-age business models selling false hopes and disenfranchising the disenfranchised. Yet, despite their narrative divergences, one can still perceive here the aesthetic minimalism, urban loneliness and elegiac reflections that his earlier films were suffused with. Ela (Sreelakha Mitra), an enterprising woman who dreams of owning an apartment and works at a TV show peddling lurid astrological crap to gullible viewers, walks out of her dead marriage to a simple, middle-class teacher residing in a quintessential old North Calcutta house, upon a terrible personal bereavement. When hopes for bank loan fails, she tries convincing her obsessively reticent half-brother (Bratya Basu) to sell off the abandoned, dilapidated building he stays in – what was once an iconic theatre with a revolving stage – to realtors. Meanwhile she allows for a quid pro quo affair with her slimy boss – who has been openly salivating for Ela and also runs a nefarious chit fund scam for swindling the poor – in exchange for a flat, while also embarking on a relationship with an old acquaintance who’s in charge of constructing a flyover that necessitates the dismantling of a once famous T-Rex structure. The film’s soap opera storyline, charged socio-political undercurrents and quirky use of Tagore’s songs were surprisingly juxtaposed with luminous cinematography, intimate compositions and melancholic air.

Director: Aditya Vikram Sengupta

Genre: Drama/Urban Drama

Language: Bengali

Country: India

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