At a time when the Bengali movie going public was torn between looking for an adventure atop the Mt. Everest Base camp (“Yeti Abhijaan “) or flying high inside an aircraft in peril( “Cockpit”) Projapoti Biskut appeared to saunter in with a breath of fresh air. I dare say hopes were raised both for a different aesthetic and commercially viable experience. The former because Anindya Chatterjee’s previous film, although pandering to the nostalgia of the long lost North Calcutta of the 90’s and the early 2000’s, had captured the somewhat bored and freely accepting whatever is served (read scene by scene remakes from films down south) on the silver screen. And the latter, as the production house of Shiboprosad Mukherjee and Nandita Roy do manage to churn out commercially successful films, no matter how much it reeks of middle-class Bengali compromise and sexism. But a man cannot live by hope alone. And although, the Box Office reports have hinted at adding wind to the sails, Projapoti Biskut is like the cookie, after it has been dipped in the tea too long.
Centring around a premise which has not seen too much exploration in the Bengali cinema circle, that of a young couple looking to start a family and for various reasons (be it the over-the-top timidity of the male protagonist Antar, or simply a lack of ” Netflix and Chill ” time) are unable to do so. Things to ponder upon: 1. Even though they have been married two and a half years and are relatively young (presuming being married for a longer period of time calls for heckling from members of the family to carry the family tree forward and the more practical issue of complications in pregnancy for women over 34), there seems to be a sudden uncalled for urgency in wanting to consummate their marriage. Hence, the visit to the Doctors and exploring options of IVF (quite the buzzword these days). 2. If you are expecting to see a sensitive issue being talked of/ spoken of for the first time, without the usual Censor Senguptas with a scissor in their hands, then think again. The film flatters to deceive.
Anindya Chatterjee, frontman of the Bangla Band Chandrabindoo, along with his band-mates Upal Sengupta and Chandril Bhattacharya, has been known to pen quirky lyrics, talking of urban sensibilities and sometimes urban insensibilities. Their lyrics are sarcastic and satirical, unearthing society’s obsession and idiosyncrasies with a surgeon’s precision. But satire is brilliant when subtle but not so when exaggerated and over the top. The captain of the ship, (the director) starts by placing the female (Shaon) protagonist in a familial set up, which is upper/ upper middle class, showing the done to death stereotypes of Tagore veneration in the household, a distaste for Popular Culture, and communist/ Marxist leaning (isn’t the sharing of the same ideological space by Marx and Tagore a bit problematic? One only wonders.) Other stereotypes are pandered to too, the most striking being the sketch of the male lead. Back in the 19th Century, when the British were consolidating their strangle hold on the Indian Terrain and subconscious, one of the ways was to create a binary, of the virile active British Male and the effeminate, lazy Indian counterparts (except the Sikhs and the Gorkhas of course). Their chosen targets were the Bengali “babus”, who were indolent, lazy, seen to be wasting time in luxury and privilege, not fit for any physical activities and hence the perfect fit for the “writers’” profile and thus the emergence of a particular class of individuals and government servants in the “Writers’ Building.” (For a detailed analysis, one may look up Colonial Masculinity by Mrinalini Sinha.)
Over the years, the stereotype has festered and taken up different forms, but the central core remains the same, that of the Bengali Man as a man of thought, words, a part of the intelligentsia but hardly a robust, active do-er. Our hero in peril, Antar is a caricature of this done to death perception. Hardly having an opinion of his own, a firm stand or say in matters of the office or the family, his character sketch is drawn, with the intention of making us laugh at ourselves, but where we end up only cringing at the exaggeration.
The problematics of the film deepen further. With a rift in marital harmony regarding a failed adoption attempt, Shaon returns to her parents. Having done so, she starts sporting a short hair-cut, undergoes a metamorphosis in terms of her apparel(The apparently more progressive Jeans replacing the Saree), and experimenting occasionally with alcohol and cigarettes, signifying a liberation of sorts which underlines the assumption that it is kind of impossible to portray a free thinking strong willed woman wearing traditional Indian/ ethnic wear and being a teetotaller. The case with our male lead is rather more baffling. In a world where Macho ( growing beard, beefing up the physique ) is the new cool, Antar goes clean shaven (reading too much into emasculation am I? ), starts wearing T shirts instead of the more formal attire and out of nowhere seems to acquire the confidence in speech, action and decision making that his previous self had been totally lacking. There is a very vague element of Amol Palekar of Choti Si Baat in this transformation, but if that was subtle, funny and heart warming, Projapoti Biskut fails to live up to the promise of that charm.
The film is slow in most parts. Except for a few witty exchanges, which are a trademark of the Anindya Chatterjee/ Upal Sengupta/ Chandril Bhattacharya stable, the film lacks a nuanced presentation of the issues, be it pregnancy , adoption or class and ideological conflicts within the familial, Bengali societal set up. Caricature or exaggeration works only to a certain degree. This “biskoot” (a very Bengali way of pronouncing ‘biscuit’) seems to have been dipped in froth.
-Sayan Aich Bhowmik