Autograph (2010) - Prosenjit delivers a flawless performance - Bengali Film Review

By Anirban Halder

Actress Nandana Sen with Tollywood Hero Prosenjit Chatterjee in AUTOGRAPH

Calcutta, Oct 23, 2010 (Washington Bangla Radio) In the past few years we have come across movies based on the Bangla film industry, the notable being Tolly Lights, Angshumaner Chhobi, Housefull, Abohoman, Ekti Tarar Khoje and Shukno Lanka (Buy Bengali Movie DVD Online). It is evident that the industry has plenty of food for the directors. But a tale that is a tribute to a classic like Satyajit Ray’s Nayak (Nayak - The Hero DVD Release), casting the current superstar, does evoke extraordinary curiosity. It offers the audience a voyeur’s peek into the lesser-known private world of super-stardom.

In the film the base reference to Nayak is through the film within the film, which is a remake (called Ajker Nayak) by Subhabrata (Indraneil Sengupta), a tenacious aspiring director, but down the course of the film the references cross the line and show up in the superstar’s (a confident and arrogant Arun Chatterjee, played by Prosenjit) (exclusive WBRi interview of Prosenjit Chatterjee) real life as well, even merge and go beyond. As the tagline tells, Nayak does change three lives: Arun’s, Subhabrata’s and Srinandita’s (Nandana Sen) - Subhabrata’s live-in girlfriend, along the journey.

Watch the theatrical trailer of Autograph and download MP3 audio songs

Srijit Mukherjee (exclusive WBRi audio interview) has approached Arun Chatterjee differently, in a contemporary context. He rules the industry no doubt, but also suffers from a sense of recognition, unlike Arindam of Nayak, of never working beyond the comfort zone of big banners, popular co-stars and established directors and yet delivering hits. A sense ignited by one of his regular producer’s TV interview that pushes him to prioritize Subhabrata’s script that was gathering dust with his secretary for about a year over other scripts submitted by well-known directors, even produce the film. Also, unlike Nayak, that had Sharmila Tagore pitted opposite the matinee idol (Uttam Kumar), Subhabrata doesn’t find any well-known face suitable and ends up casting his live-in partner Srinandita, with a theatre background. Srinandita takes time to make up his mind on this difficult proposal of acting right opposite her school-age crush Arun Chatterjee.

The first half has a relaxed pace, largely spent establishing the lead characters, mostly the Subhabrata-Srinandita track. Srijit has used songs and montages to bring it alive and he does it well, from mostly an insider’s eyes. A friend couple (Sohini Pal and Dhruv Mukherjee) also provides an outsider’s take on the relationship. On the other hand, the gradually developing bond between Arun and Srinandita over his dinner invites (only for her) gets an outsider’s study. Here again, unlike Nayak, Srijit doesn’t track gradual development of vibes between the two in an extensive fashion, and lives some of it to the audience’s imagination.

The second half is dynamic. It focuses on development of the protagonists and brings them to the crisis point. The beautiful world of Arun and Srinandita come crashing down, after his confession in her apartment in the evening in high spirits, revealing a dark secret of his life, gets exposed to the wrong person- his director, who must use the accidentally recorded videotape in a top news channel for a cutting-edge publicity to ensure a good opening for his film. The outcome sees Arun and Srinandita taking possibly the most difficult and disturbing decisions of their lives being true to their conscience.

Performance has to be one of the prime drivers in a film of its kind, and the lead trio delivers, especially Prosenjit and Indraneil. This will surely count among Prosenjit’s most memorable performances, though not absolutely flawless. As the film progresses he looks more and more with grasp of Arun Chatterjee and at his peak at the end when he silently withdraws himself into a shell at one of the dangerous turns of his life and career. He is at the top of his game in the climax with Indraneil. In his portrayal, Arun Chatterjee, who considers himself ‘the industry’ is all flesh and blood through his arrogance, narcissism, ego, an urge to prove himself and insecurities (‘Three flops in a row and he’s out of demand’) on the surface  and a lonely soul who is still mentally attached to his roots in his inner self. Nandana looks a little stiff in some scenes in the first half, but she is at ease in most of her scenes with Indraneil. In the second half she is in fine control. The most impressive is Indraneil. From an aspiring director struggling to secure a date with the superstar for more than a year for a script-reading, yet with the guts to say ‘no’ to the his inputs (‘Order’ for other directors) of incorporating ‘commercial elements’ in his film, to the live-in partner in gay abandon with his girlfriend, to the fiercely ambitious, ruthless and manipulative director who will throw ethics out of the window to push his first film in the market, he switches between different and contrasting emotions seamlessly. Indraneil is the man to watch out for now and deserves challenging roles that have started falling on his lap. Pijush Ganuly, Biswajit Chakraborty and Dwijen Banerjee are good and perfectly cast as Arun’s secretary friend (Nayak again), the producer and the astrologer (who believes Arun’s stars are not good now) respectively. The Dhruv-Sohini cameo is cool. Rudraprasad Sengupta is mindblowing in his brief one-scene appearance as Arun’s theatre mentor.

At the script level Srijit keeps it simple yet engaging, but the tribute to Nayak at times seemed to be a burden.  Certain references to the classis are not quite well-placed. The famous dream sequence for example, more so the scene of Subhabrata with the veteran actor (Dilip Roy’s last screen appearance). The well fleshed out characters add life to his storytelling. The finer elements are really admirable, like the two scenes with the beggar child, wherein in the first Subhabrata pays him, and in the latter when he goes to meet another producer in desperation he refuses the beggar by rolling up the glass of his taxi. Srijit’s presentation of the live-in relationship is intimate, detailed and contemporary. One however wonders how they stay in such a big apartment and afford such a lifestyle at their income levels.

Music is the soul of the film. It was a conscious decision by Srijit not to use a single lip-synched song, rather use them in the background to take the story forward. And he does that pretty well, albeit the songs coming little too frequently in early first half. The score is brilliant and truly soul-touching, easily the best one has come across after Antaheen. All the musical departments are thoroughly impressive: Lyrics, composition and singing. It is easily Debajyoti’s best work in Bangla cinema and one is happy at a composer of his talent finally striking the right note throughout, making the best of the opportunity. ‘Beche thakar gaan’ (Superbly song by Rupam, while the other version by Saptarshi Mukherjee is also good) and ‘Amake amar moto thakte dao’  lead the pack, the latter sung by and both written and co-composed by the promising Anupam Roy, closely followed by Shreya Ghoshal's ‘Chol rastaye’. The lyrics by Srijato, Srijit and Anuam show once again after Antaheen how beautiful, poetic lyrics can provide a solid base to excellent music. The teamwork in music worked and it shows. The use of music is wise too. Srijit uses Saptarshi’s staid version of ‘Beche thakar gaan’ in the first half and Rupam’s passionate and flamboyant version in the last scene to make the most impact.

The technical departments provide robust support to the storytelling. Soumik Halder’s camera is first rate, giving the film a rich feel and realistic look. The dream sequence is imaginatively shot. Particularly impressive is the lighting and angles in the rehearsal of the play (The scene with Rudraprasad and Prosenjit) and the climax in the superstar’s house. The editing by Bodhaditya Banerjee goes through jump cuts in the first scene when the secretary is shooing away Subhabrata over the phone, and sharp cuts and montages in depicting the life of Subhabrata and Srinandita, going with the mood.  It settles down deeper down the story. The art direction is also well done. The huge photographs of the smiling Arun in his house symbolize the narcissism that a superstar at that stage of career carries. Debajyoti Mishra’s background score is in sync with the storytelling without ever going over the top.

Overall, a thoroughly lovable Puja gift after long. Sincere thanks go to Shree Venkatesh Films, the big daddy of Bangla film industry, for attempting a different kind of cinema long after ‘Chokher Bali’ and ‘Raincoat’, besides their regular mainstream line-up. And Nayak does change a fourth life as well: Srijit Mukherjee.  Will look forward to his next.