Bengali Movie Review - EKTI TARAR KHONJE (Beyond The Stars, 2010) by Anirban Halder

Aniruddha Roy Choudhury had struck the right chord with the audience in his first film as a director-producer- Anuranan, and continued the trail with his next- Antaheen. The latter was less crowd-pleasing than the former in its storyline but the treatment pulled it off. After the success of these two, expectations were bound to form with the audience. There is a distinct Aniruddha Roy Choudhury school of filmmaking, with certain recognisable elements, that has emerged out of these two films. Hence though Aniruddha has kept himself only to the producer’s seat with Ekti Tarar Khoje, leaving the director’s baton to Avik Mukhopadhyay, one of India’s most talented bunch of cinematographers, who has filmed most of Rituparno’s work, the audience who loved these two films expected to see how Aniruddha’s school takes itself forward.

Ekti Tarar Khoje tracks the journey of smalltown Abhi (Shayan Munshi) to the Bengali tinsel town. He was gasping for creative breath in Chandannagar, frustrated with the old school approach to acting of the local play group he was part of. So when a friend suggested him to contact an old schoolmate (Rudraneel) who is reportedly doing well in Kolkata, for an audition of a film, he didn’t take long to decide to move on to the big city with his big ambition of an accomplished acting career in films, chucking his government job. But destiny had different plans for him. After the failure with the audition, he got spotted by a drug and property mafia through a chance encounter. He couldn’t resist the persistence of Ganga (Dibyendu Bhattacharya), the don’s henchman, to recruit him as the much needed ‘professional face’ of the gang, who would come handy in the first negotiations with the targets (owners of old, spacious houses) in the lucrative property market of Kolkata. At the other hand, he gradually got into a romantic relationship with Rani (Arpita Chatterjee)- the smart, ambitious, goodlooking niece of his culturally inclined landlord Ananda babu (Dhritiman Chatterjee). Abhi gets the desired break soon after, but finds it impossible to get out of his underworld job that is sucking him deeper with every passing day. How he deals with the crisis point, where he gets a compassionate support of Rani, is how the rest unfolds.

The film is somewhat engaging in its minimalist treatment. The brilliant cinematography, helmed by Abhik, editing by Arghya Kamal Mitra and production design by Abhik and Madhuja Mukherjee (who has also penned the script and dialogue) take the storytelling forward with a good deal of help from music by Prabuddha Banerjee. The lovingly shot frames  of Chandannagar and Kolkata add to the mood of the songs. A special mention goes to the fascinating visual design of the Sakhi  bhabona kahare bole sequence (superbly sung by a new voice- Jayati) on the rooftop of Abhi’s house. Arghya Kamal’s intercutting of shots in the pub scene was brilliant too. The other songs are also good and Pagol mon re and Phansa de leave a mark.

However, positioned as a romantic thriller, the thrill is never really felt.  And the romance falls short of getting crystallized. There is a definite lack of drama. Towards the end a handful of questions crop up in the audience’s mind, like what was the outcome of Rani’s investigative pursuit, why did the ‘planned’ blast take place at the gang’s den etc.

Characterization-wise, Abhi is likable, but doesn’t leave a mark beyond a point. Rani’s part was not consciously developed despite enough space, Ganga is well-defined, but becomes monochromatic after a point. Only Ananda babu as a landlord fills up the space as a supporting role, though his other side is not dealt with much.

Casting is well-done. Shayan tries his best, and he looks good and believable, but the lack of evolution of his character holds him back. Also he can’t still completely get out of the NBB (non-resident Bengali) accent, so one wished someone competent dubbed for him. Arpita is good in limited scope and looks good with Shayan. Dhritiman shines and one heaves a sigh feeling how underutilized this gem of an actor is in Bangla cinema as well as on the national scene. He can match or even better the finest in Hindi cinema any day. Dibyendu is perfectly cast and he has done a commendable job. Rudraneel, Anindya Banerjee and Biplab Chatterjee excelled in the smaller roles.  Arindam Sil is credible as the corrupt executive producer, but he must avoid getting typecast in roles that doesn’t demand anything other than a certain behavioural pattern and body language one is so familiar of with his recent screen characters. Arijit Dutta is credible as a new-age film director with strong western influences. Tanushree Shankar looks the part (Ananda babu’s  school teacher sister living in the same house) but had little to do.

The world of film industry is credibly presented, with a one-scene appearance of the current heartthrob Dev that adds to the story in its small way. But the underworld element looks underdone. Being a focal point of the storyline it should have taken the story forward with the much-needed thriller element, but it suffers stagnancy after a point.  In fact the song Phansa de comes as an item number to energise the plot at a point when the lack of pace was being sharply felt.

In-film branding is an emerging trend these days, and it financially supports the producer for whom budget is a constraint for making this kind of cinema. This film also has two of these instances, but one wishes they were a little subtly composed. Today audience is more informed than ever and they can make out such things. Even Antaheen had it overdone with a mobile service brand.

Overall, Ekti Tarar Khoje has redeeming features and had everything going for him in terms of cast & crew, but it is let down by the storyline and script that had a strong premise to build on. Aniruddha is a director who is deeply in touch with his audience, and it includes a lot of personal interactions at the theatres routinely after his film releases. Hence that he will realise the problem areas and get things right with his next shouldn’t be an ill-placed hope.

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