Sunday, January 19, 2014

A month in India, part 5: Aschorjo Prodip, or a Bengali Aladdin.

"Do you know the language?" a mature woman clad in a beautiful sari, sat next to me in the Ballygunge film theater, asked in polite English.

"No," I replied sheepishly. "We just wanted to see a Bengali film, my friend and I, and we thought this would be a good one."

Later on, I asked her, "Has it gotten good reviews?"

"Yes," she told me. "It is critically acclaimed."

I didn't tell her it was merely the quirky soundtrack and the worry over the other Bengali film in theaters being racist that lead us to watch Aschorjo Prodip (Astonishing lamp). Then there was the familiarity with the inspiration: we certainly knew the tale of Aladdin, so this modern take on the tale shouldn't be too hard to follow, even as we missed out on all the comedy of the dialogues and the subtleties of the story.

In fact, there seemed to be so much subtle humour to this film that I almost feel as if I shouldn't talk about it, having seen it without subtitles. The lead character, an unhappy middle-aged worker bee (Saswata Chatterjee, who played Bob Biswas in Kahaani) discovers a lamp and through the genie within it (played by Rajatabha Dutta), gains materialistic success - suddenly anything one could want in a consumerist society is at his finger tips. Yet, of course, the film is critical of this, but in ways that probably were more subtle than the mere visual storytelling let us know.

It also doesn't help that this main character, a victim of consumerist thinking, is not the most sympathetic. He seems hapless, with a dry sense of humour, but he's also got a pretty gross edge; the scenes with him lusting after a film starlet were none too fun to sit through. I just didn't find myself caring that much about what happened to this guy, whether his life would take a turn for the better or for worse. In fact, my mind would drift off and I'd shake myself out of thinking about Bengali food, and whether I should've had more momos as a snack prior to us watching the film.

With that said, it was interesting to watch this movie and then see the Kolkata around us - the Lion's Park next to Rabindra Sarovar, a lake-side park where a part of the ending was actually filmed. I suppose I'll have to rewatch this with subtitles to decide what my final take on it was. The quirky soundtrack was indeed quirky, but not very memorable, and almost a little too much, blasted through the speakers at full volume within the movie theater.

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