Film: 'Kashmakash'; Cast: Prosenjit, Jishu Sengupta, Raima Sen, Riya Sen; Director: Rituparno Ghosh; Rating; ***
How does one go about adapting a popular Rabindranath Tagore novel that's filled with melodramatic coincidences without making it look like a distant cousin of a Hindi potboiler written by Gulshan Nanda rather than Tagore?
Ghosh has earlier done a delicately-drawn Tagore portrait on celluloid in 'Chokher Bali'. Some of the cast in 'Kashmakash' was also part of 'Chokher Bali'. Raima Sen is common to both. And honestly one can't tell the difference between her two personas in the two Tagore adaptations by Ghosh.
Ghosh seems to have dressed Raima up in the same saris and jewellery in both. Sure, she plays a far more educated and urbane woman in 'Kashamash'. But the physical reality of Raima's character is determined in both cases by the director's Bangla aesthetics rather than the demand of the theme. The saris are more Tollygunj than Tagore.
The eye for detail remains impeccable. Ghosh creates the turmoil of the Bengal in the 1920s with glorious gusto. If god lies in the details, then 'Kashmakash' is a psalm in silvery shades. Tragically, a devil of a mundaneness shrouds the film's breathtaking recreation of an era when women exuded grace and men inhaled that grace without getting libidinous.
Though there are two weddings in 'Kashmaksh', there is no sex. Not that Ghosh has ever been shy of depicting lovemaking. In 'Antar Mahal', he had made Jackie Shroff do unmentionable things to Soha Ali Khan in a bed that creaked suggestively.
In 'Kashmakash', there's no scope for all this. It's the story of fugitive intimacy between a man and a woman who are thrown together as man and wife during stormy circumstances. The rest is a 'mishti' mystique filmed in vignettes of stolen giggles and heaving bosoms.
Ghosh builds up the storm nicely, but eventually it appears restricted to a teacup. It's a very elegant cup but nonetheless pretty emasculated in its epic energy.
What ails 'Kashamaksh' is the absence of a sexual energy. Jishu Sengupta, a fine actor and a Ghosh favourite, portrays the anguish of an 'educated' (read: inhibited) man married to the wrong woman, with the kind of bridled decorum that you wait to break free. It never does.
'Kashmakash' builds up to a storm that culminates in a whimpering winter of pale shades.
The use of Rabindra Sangeet in Hindi is as botchy and misguided as any effort to translocate a fragile cultural artifact from its roots to an alien landscape. The Tagore melodies that usually bring an ache in your heart here leave you with a pang of embarrassment. Turn the page, please.
Riya Sen takes care of the rest. As the timid bride who ends up in the wrong bed, her voice is dubbed by whiny wimpy woman's throat that sounds more fake than a bottle of cognac filled with hooch. Voice apart, Riya is hopelessly miscast.
Prosenjit in a thanklessly abbreviated part is effective. So is the capable Dhritiman Chatterjee as Raima's father. The father-daughter scenes exude the scent of serenity and grace, sadly denied to the rest of this feeble adaptation.
What redeems 'Kashmakash' and finally makes it worth a lingering dekko is the warmth and romance that Ghosh brings to his celluloid adaptation. The director clearly loves his characters and actors.