We Indians love movies and we want them in as many different languages as possible. So, here goes my first review of a non-Hindi, non-Bollywood movie: Bhooter Bhobishyat (The Future of the Past), a Bangla film made by Kolkata-based ad filmmaker Anik Datta. I can’t rave enough about it – Inventive. Hilarious. Witty. Satirical. Fan-freaking-tastic!
So, what’s to love about this Indie movie that’s been made on a budget that is tighter than a ragpicker’s non-existent shoestrings? (Even more impressive because the production values are far from tacky!)
It’s a ghost story with a socio-political twist. The concept goes somewhat like this: a filmmaker is planning to shoot a commercial in one of Calcutta’s old colonial-style houses, called Chowdhury House, that is metaphorically (and literally) turned into a haunted house. As a result of ongoing disputes between the descendants of the Zamindar (landlord) who had originally built the house, it’s now virtually abandoned with only a caretaker checking in from time to time and letting it out to film crews. As the filmmaker waits for his DOP to turn up, he goes to work on his script that he is planning to pitch to a producer the next day. That’s when a middle-aged guy walks in, introduces himself as a neighbour and they get chatting. When the neighbour finds out that he is a filmmaker, he says he has a great story idea that could make an interesting film! With time to kill on his hands and nothing to lose, the filmmaker settles down to hear the story.
The story as narrated by the neighbour is about Chowdhury House, which was built by the Zamindar during the days of the British Raj. Mr. Zamindar however didn’t live long to enjoy his palatial mansion as he’s killed by bandits on his way to collect rent from his tenants. Mr Zamindar’s Ghost returns to haunt the place. However, here too he can find no peace as other departed souls keep knocking on his door for shelter. With every rundown dilapidated house in Calcutta being pulled down to make way for malls, multiplexes and high-rise buildings, the Ghost community has been rendered homeless. Worse still, they aren’t officially a “vote bank” and politicians aren’t interested in taking up their cause. So what’s a poor ghost to do? Their last refuge is Chowdhury House and ghosts turn up in droves to plead their case with Mr. Zamindar. Meanwhile, Mr. Zamindar has acquired an ally, the ghost of a British colonel who was killed by an Indian freedom fighter! The two decide to set up a reviewing committee to decide which ghosts will be allowed to stay in Chowdhury House. The ghosts that are granted staying rights, so to speak, make up a crazy motley — a middle aged 1950’s actress who is jilted by her lover, a modern-day teenaged girl who committed suicide after her parents opposed her love affair, a Muslim khansamah (cook) from the Mughal times, a wannabe rock band singer and an one-armed mafia goon. The bunch of eccentric characters provide a real glimpse into Calcutta – past and present – in a fun way.
But even Chowdhury House is not safe from the money-grubbing realtor/developer. So the ghosts decide to get into action and save their only refuge from falling into his hands which forms the climax of the film. And of course, the Ghosts win! The filmmaker wakes up and realizes that he is all alone in the house. And it probably was just a dream. Until he realizes that the Narrator was indeed one of the Ghosts and he has left behind some evidence that the story was more real than imagined!
The whimsical storyline apart, Anik Datta’s comedic and stylistic telling makes this film fun to watch. Not only does it tell an entertaining tale but Datta doffs his hat to the well-loved, quirky cultural nuances of Bengali and Bollywood storytelling. Sukumar Ray’s well loved nonsense rhymes are referenced as is Satyajit-Ray masterpiece Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne, and Bollywood’s “item number” (the titillating song and dance routine). The black-and-white scenes complete with a song done in the inimitable style of Bollywood’s 1950’s singer-hero K.L.Saigal fits in beautifully with the mood, tone and the character profile of one of the film’s lovable ghosts!
Truly, one of the most enjoyable films that the Bangla film industry or for that matter Bollywood has produced in a long time.