With ‘Ichhe’, ‘Muktodhara’ and ‘Alik Sukh’, director-duo Nandita Roy and Shiboprosad Mukherjee have etched a niche for themselves in the Bengali film industry. The fact that they had chosen to adapt two of Suchitra Bhattacharya’s most well-read short stories for their first and third films helped – as did the simple narrative, which every viewer could relate to. In between – there had been a minor blip in the form of ‘Accident’ (2013). Shiboprosad and Nandita’s latest flick, ‘Ramdhanu’ (adapted from Suchitra Bhattacharya’s ‘Ramdhanu Rang’) does not feature Rituparna Sengupta, who was rumored to have been approached for a role. It really does not matter – for ‘Ramdhanu’ has turned out to be a film to savor!
After essaying smart cameos in ‘Muktodhara’ and ‘Accident’, Shiboprosad tries his hand at playing a full-fledged role in ‘Ramdhanu’. It is a wise decision, for the presence of any other known face might have robbed that feel of innocence that Shiboprosad brings to the role of ‘Laltu Dutta’. His is not a conventional male lead though – the ‘hero’ of ‘Ramdhanu’ is its touching storyline.
In the movie, we meet four-year ‘Gogol’ (Akashneel), who lives with his parents ‘Laltu’ (Shiboprosad) and ‘Mitali’ (Gargi Roychowdhury), and a pair of pet parrots. ‘Mitali’ is desperate to get her son admitted at a reputed English-medium school – and that’s where she and her caring yet slightly goofy husband keep hitting roadblocks. Lady luck is clearly not with the ‘Dutta’-s – as ‘Gogol’ fails to answer a simple question at one interview, while his name does not come up in the decided-by-lottery final admission list of another. As North Side, Holy Hearts and all the other big schools start slipping by – the couple even start toying with the idea of giving ‘donations’ to get ‘Gogol’ admitted at a decent place.
The henpecked, thoroughly frustrated family gets a welcome break (before ‘Gogol’s last chance at getting into a good school – St. Louis), when ‘Mitali’s elder brother (Sasha Ghoshal) returns to their home at Bolpur, with his German wife ‘Jennifer’ (Suzanne Bernert). ‘Gogol’ and ‘Jennifer’ get into a pact – the kid would teach the German lady Bengali rhymes, while ‘Jennifer’ will share some basic English verses with the child. The entire family spends a happy time together, before ‘Laltu’, ‘Mitali’ and ‘Gogol’ return – for that one final test.
Not willing to take any chances this time, ‘Mitali’ convinces her husband for enrolling at ‘Shining Star’ – a school that ‘prepares’ parents for the admission interviews of their kids (that’s right, from birth certificates to salary certificates – moms and dads need to show ‘em all, to ensure good education for their children). At ‘Shining Star’, they meet ‘Malabika Banerjee’ (Rachana Banerjee). Slowly but surely, through a series of simple tasks, ‘Malabika madam’ makes ‘Mitali’ and ‘Laltu’ (in particular), and the other parents (all of whom are non-Bengalis) smarter, better prepared for the ordeal at their kids’ schools. ‘Gogol’ has a fairly decent admission interview at St. Louis, ‘Laltu’ does not mess things up as he generally used to do – but one problem still remains. All the other parents receive confirmation letters for their kids, but no such letter arrives at the ‘Dutta’ residence. Has ‘Gogol’ failed yet again, and has ‘Mitali’s dreams been dashed once more? Go out, get tickets at your nearest theater, and find out!
‘Ramdhanu’ has a storyline that every current-generation parent will be able to identify with. It’s a tough job to make a way for a kid in the rat-race – and movie subtly hints at the various backdoor policies to gain an unfair advantage. In one sequence, ‘Laltu’ is taught that ‘donations’ always have to be in kind – as he is compared to rich businessman ‘Akash Singhania’. It is pointed out that factors like what vehicles a dad owns, how much he earns, what clubs he is a member of – everything has a role in determining whether or not a child will get a chance at a good school. Oh, and if one went to ‘Bangkok’ instead of ‘Puri’ on a family holiday, he is automatically raised to a higher pedestal!
Most of the actors pitch in with solid performances in ‘Ramdhanu’ – to bring alive Suchitra Bhattacharya’s story on the big screen. Gargi Roychowdhury, in the biggest role by far in her movie career, delivers a knockout performance. She is a woman torn between insecurities about her son, and the unbridled love she has for her. The scene when ‘Mitali’ points out different types of kites to ‘Gogol’ from the terrace of their house stands out as a sweet reminder of the mom-son bonding. As her neighbors’ children start moving ahead of her son, ‘Mitali’ grows increasingly hysterical – like any mother would be. Gargi proves that she remains a fine actress – someone whom Tollywood has never quite utilized properly.
Shiboprosad Mukherjee, as the honest and hardworking ‘Laltu Dutta’ is not as consistent though. In most of the scenes, he brings a Anil Chattopadhyay-meets-Sukhen Das sort of innocence to his character – which is no mean feat. Watch out for him, when he slithers up to the vice-principal of a school and, mistaking him for a fourth-class staff, offers him a bribe. Shiboprosad is an absolute riot in the admission interview sequence at Holy High school too – where he mistakes ‘sibling rivalry’ for ‘evening library’, and delivers an extempore speech on the latter, in laughably bad English. At points though, Shiboprosad is guilty of over-indulging himself, and the acting becomes, at times, a bit too loud. Still, given how well he has handled the directorial duties, you won’t mind forgiving the man for this relatively minor aberration.
‘Ramdhanu’ had been publicized as a comeback of sorts for Rachana Banerjee – and she shows just why her craze on the Telly is sky-high. Dressed in crisp cotton pleated sarees and rimmed spectacles, she looks every bit a school-teacher. The smile with which she guides each of the erring parents is heartwarming. It’s an absolute shame that Rachana wasted her so-called ‘first innings’ doing horrid potboilers or totally unwatchable South Indian movies. The role of ‘Malabika Banerjee’ should definitely bring many more good offers her way.
It’s refreshing to see Chitra Sen after ages on the big screen, as ‘Gogol’s grandmother. Sasha Ghoshal, as ‘Mitali’s brother, has precious little to do, except for crooning a Rabindrasangeet with his onscreen sister. Suzanne Bernert, as ‘Jennifer’, shines – with the scene where she and ‘Gogol’ jog across a field reciting ‘Hattim-a-tim-tim’ being absolutely exceptional. The character of ‘Gogol’s teacher with ‘Facebook-boyfriend troubles-Whatsapp’ troubles was unnecessary. Kharaj Mukherjee, for a change, comes up with an understated, to-the-point performance. Akashneel, as ‘Gogol’, is slightly stiff – but you really cannot expect total perfection from a child artist.
There are magical moments galore in ‘Ramdhanu’ – each of them enriching the overall narrative. The point when ‘Laltu’ tiptoes in the room to look through his savings papers – and proudly announces that he can give Rs. 10 lakh as ‘donations’ (putting every other consideration to the backburner) is truly touching. During the the Bolpur visit, a curious ‘Jennifer’ asks ‘Mitali’ what was it with the mad dash for learning English – when she, being a foreigner, is trying to muster Bengali. This is a query that lingers long after the movie ends. Are we Bongs really becoming a bit ashamed of our mother tongue? The way in which ‘Malabika madam’ explains the difference between ‘best school’ and ‘best education’ is wonderful too. Her exercise for all the dads to show proper respect to their wives (for it’s always ‘ladies first’) would bring a smile to every lip.
In their bid to bring a feel-good factor to ‘Ramdhanu’, Shiboprosad and Nandita botch things up a bit towards the end though. It requires quite a big leap of faith to believe that the interviewers of an English-medium school got impressed by ‘Gogol’s fluency while telling a Bengali fairytale. The sappy, tragic background of ‘Malabika Banerjee’ was not required either. It’s a very good film, but there was scope for it to become a bit more realistic.
At a runtime of 135 minutes, ‘Ramdhanu’ is a fairly long film. Editor Moloy Laha deserves praise for never letting the interest of viewers waver though. The narrative is linear and mostly sticks to one point – the troubles of ‘Laltu’ and ‘Mitali’ in getting ‘Gogol’ admitted at a reputed school. Sirsha Roy’s camerawork adds to the simplistic visual charms of the movie. There are no songs shot in Switzerland or other exotic outdoor locations – but the little things of an average Bengali household are presented quite beautifully. While watching ‘Ramdhanu’, you become a part of the film after some time.
Although the role of Sasha Ghoshal is mostly redundant, it’s a pleasure to hear him hum ‘Oi ashon toley’ (without any instruments) in the film. Another high point of the musical score of ‘Ramdhanu’ is the lovely way in which ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ has been translated and sung in Bengali. The background music goes with the flow of the movie. Dialogs are commonplace – and that’s precisely what was needed for a ‘slice-of-life’ film like this one.
Shiboprosad Mukherjee would probably be better off doing cameos instead of full-fledged roles – but pairing up with Nandita Roy, he has ensured that ‘Ramdhanu’ is the most magical movie the two have directed till date. It’s remarkable how two senior actresses – whose big screen careers were thought to be over – shore up the film in the nicest possible manner. This is definitely not an encore of ‘Accident’!
Although an insignificant part of the movie, one rhyme stays in your mind – as the end credits roll in ‘Ramdhanu’:
‘If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands’!