Film: 'Arekti Premer Galpo'; Cast: Rituparno Ghosh, Indraneil Sengupta, Raima Sen, Churni Ganguly, Chapal Bhaduri; Director: Koushik Ganguly; Producer; Cinemawalla
The key to this film lies in its name. For 'Arekti Premer Galpo' is nothing if it is not 'Just Another Love Story'. Of another kind from the one we are commonly used to, perhaps, but a love story all right.
Intense, passionate, complex and conflicted, wrought with historical references that add deeper layers to the narrative, the film draws parallels between two gay men - one, an elderly actor who has always played female roles in Jatra and another a young director making a documentary on the former - to examine homosexuality closely and at different levels.
If the mercurial Chapal Rani, as he was called in his Jatra heydays, thinks of himself as a woman trapped in a man's body, Roop, the gifted, filmmaker who likes to cross dress and shock people, regards himself as someone who belongs to the third sex.
If Chapal was at the height of his career in 1959 when the world of cinema had just discovered a master called Satyajit Ray, Roop is making his film in 2009, the year Article 377 of the Indian Constitution was repealed, decriminalising homosexuality.
If one of them came out of the closet to face much social ostracism, the other is a part of a more open, if not liberated, times. And yet, the two men develop a deep understanding of each other's sensibilities, their bonding further strengthened by the relationship they share with their respective mothers.
Interestingly, the mothers are never seen or heard - indeed, one of them is dead at the beginning of the time frame the film operates within. But this does not take away from their being the strongest influences in their sons' lives. Both men have a deep emotional dependence on their mothers.
Against the backdrop of the same-sex relationship between Roop and his bisexual DOP, Basu, there is Basu's marriage with Rani.
Significantly, Chapal Rani's relationships with her paramours explored through a film within the film have a direct bearing upon Roop's understanding of his own with Basu and others in the film.
While Chapal Rani's young age is played by Rituparno Ghosh, director Koushik Ganguly achieves much by having his characters play dual roles in the film and the film-within-the-film, heightening the parallel between their situations.
It all works well, till Raima Sen is brought in as Chapal Rani's lover's young crush.
There is nothing in the film to suggest a relationship between Basu and Momo (Raima's character) to justify this artistic decision and is therefore a baffling one. Bringing in a wildlife photographer, who is infatuated with Roop, also clutters the film somewhat.
Roop's brutal honesty and total commitment to Basu could have been, and indeed, is, established in the film even without the intrusion of another man seeking his favours.
But 'Arekti Premer Galpo' remains a powerful, sensitive exploration of love relationships of various kinds, especially homosexual ones. Its greatest strength lies in its script, which is smart, witty and effective all the way, and performances.
Ghosh, who plays Roop and Chapal Rani in his youth, delivers a mind-blowing performance, cleverly varying his voice, body language and mannerisms to suit the two very different characters. He is ably supported by Indraneil Sengupta, Raima Sen, Churni Ganguly, Jisshu Sengupta and Chapal Bhaduri who plays himself in the film.