Four love stories, all connected by a single woman (Sushmita Sen).
The four stories that comprise Nirbaak are Tree, Reflection, Bitch and Corpse. They cannot express themselves through language. But according to the story, except the corpse, they have their own language which may or may not be understood by humans. The film is set against the backdrop of contemporary Kolkata with Soumik Haldar’s camera playing merrily around with colours to express the perspective of the tree as it throws its shadow on the people who visit the park, its branches swaying in the breeze, its leaves dripping with monsoon showers, a blend of neutral observer of events unfolding below, witnessing the karate boys leave the park as it begins to rain heavily, watching the two lovers joke about the bird-dropping that falls on the young man’s hair, etc.
The first story, Reflection, deals with an elderly man’s (Anjan Dutt) narcissistic personality disorder carried to great extremes. He hardly speaks because his reflection cannot answer him back. He kisses his reflection in the mirror, he caresses himself in the bathtub, he almost cries when he cuts himself while shaving, and masturbates at night. His only exchange is with the young woman (Sushmita Sen), who sits beside him on the bench under the tree in the park. When she laments the loss of one more boyfriend, he suggests she love herself for a change and leaves. The ironical twist in this tale of self-love and self-indulgence happens when, after a freak accident in his bathroom, he loses his memory and cannot recognize his own reflection anymore, much less remember his name.
Imagine the sixty-plus, pot-bellied, bald and bulging-eyed Anjan Dutt displaying his near-obese torso clad in briefs, or soaping himself in the bathtub. The visuals are not only disgusting but sadly lacking in aesthetics. If this was by design, frankly, it makes even the most tolerant of viewers look away. Anjan Dutt is brilliant but his portrayal is undercut by his repelling screen characterization and by the weakness of the script.
The camera telescopes at jet-speed into the next story featuring the same woman in the park. She finally finds in Rahul (Jisshu Sengupta) the boyfriend, who is prepared to settle down in Kolkata with her. But there is a problem. He has an over-possessive bitch named Bingy, who cannot bear to share her master with the new girlfriend. Bingy refuses to mate with a dog when Rahul takes her to mate. She stays back home and denies Rahul’s offer to take her on a daily walk in the park if the girlfriend is going to come along. When left alone with the girl, she injures her badly. They decide to take her to Rahul’s mother. On the way, a restless, disturbed Bingy opens a rear door of the car, Rahul turns around and the car crashes, killing the girl and sending Rahul into coma while Bingy escapes with a minor cut.
This segment is a delight to watch by virtue of the magnificent performance of Bingy, the bitch. The sound track imaginatively captures her heavy breathing, her silences, her loud and angry barks, her lavishing in the luxury of sleeping beside her master, and finally, sticking out her tongue happily, band-aid plastered to her nose after she learns that her master’s girlfriend is dead. Her distinctly different interactions with her master versus his girlfriend are incredible in terms of performance. Soumik Haldar uses grainy Black-and-White to capture the perspective of Bingy which goes back to colour when the perspective shifts to the audience.
Cut to the cold interiors of a mortuary. The beautiful corpse of the woman is placed in one of the dozens of drawers and pushed back, waiting for her family to claim it. A mortuary man (Ritwick Chakraborty) accidentally catches a glimpse of the beautiful face of the girl and falls in love. He has no gross intentions hinging on necromancy. He truly loves her and talks to her everyday, pulling out the drawer in which she is placed, keeping it that way as he talks to her or stares at her, promising his love without any ulterior motive.
The picturisation of his fantasy about getting married to the corpse on a drawer beside her, taking her to honeymoon at a beach resort and then bringing her back to savor small drops of happiness is beautiful. He sits on the floor of the mortuary, keeps smoking and just staring at her with love. In the climax, as the drawer carrying the dead girl’s body is pulled out for her family, the next drawer is pushed in with the mortuary man’s body pushed in, beaten and battered to death because he refused to point out the right drawer to a ruffian and his goons for their perverse necromancy. Though the necromancy part might appear a bit melodramatic and forced in order to portray a violent end for the kind lover, this segment is brilliant, standing apart from the rest of the film. It is also a social comment on class and caste distinctions when it comes to romantic love. Chakraborty as usual, steals the show from everyone else.
Neel Dutt’s background score is mood-cenrtic and changes from one segment to the next adhering to a theme that perhaps reflect the feelings of the tree. Tree turns out to be the least unexplored among the four stories and the one woman who appears in all four stories could have been played by four different actresses because there is no basic continuity between one story and the next. Besides, it does not do much justice to the Bengali ‘launch’ of Sushmita Sen who deserved more. It is the editorial strategies and Haldar’s cinematography that seams the rough edges and makes the narrative smooth-flowing. When the story moves from Reflection to Bitch, an aesthetic ‘leap’ is effected beautifully by Haldar’s camera and the editing where Sushmita with her laptop speeds through the streets and lanes of Kolkata, a city she has grown to love and cannot separate herself from. The cinematographic markers to distinguish between and among different perspectives is commendable.
The most outstanding feature of Nirbaak lies in its credit titles demonstrated through the hand shadowgraphy by Amal Sen and Sabyasachi Sen, who are among the nine remaining pillars of the art and craft of hand shadowgraphy in the whole world and the only two in South East Asia. Nirbaak is definitely a ‘different’ film where you like some and you do not like some. But it deserves to be commended for the courage it took Srijit Mukherji to write it, direct it and cast it.
Bengali, Drama, Color