The tremendous pre-release hype for Praktan that brings the hit pair of Prosenjit and Rituparna Sengupta together after a 14-year hiatus was superfluous because the film is so substantial that it did not need any hype at all. Praktan (Former) is perhaps the best film among the works of Shiboprasad and Nandita.
To give away the story even in a few lines would be a big spoiler. Suffice to say that the two lead actors, Prosenjit and Rituparna have matured in their individual performances over these 14 years. Praktan reflects this maturity of experience on the one hand and restraint on the other. The story is placed within an AC First Class compartment of a long-distance train zooming all the way from Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus to Howrah that defines the anchor of the narrative. The main story appears in slices of flashbacks and sparks, some dark, some bright, some striking like lightning during the journey, flitting back to Kolkata where a man and woman fall in love, marry and the rest of it.
The speeding train is not only the anchor but also a sub-plot and an integral part of the narrative itself as it unfolds stories of other characters as well that do not form a part of the flashbacks. The rhythmic beats of the rushing wheels keep time with the music created within the compartment that also becomes an intelligent editing strategy for the editor. The compartment is a microcosm of humanity from the affluent class comprised of three different Bangla music bands, an aged couple, a newly married couple on their honeymoon and two women bunched together with Putul, an eight-year-old girl of one of the two women in a four-berth coupe where the fourth berth is empty for a major part of the journey.
The sub-plots in the present time are as important as are the flashbacks that weave together an interesting and exciting story of love, separation and a discovery of the varied shades these two emotions stand for. The AC First Class reflects a niche only a niche audience will identify with. But the emotions, interactions and behavior they represent are universal, timeless and classless.
The multi-dimensional script and the performance by every actor including tiny cameos (Saswata Chatterjee) and the ticket checker who turns out to be a violinist, or the bearers, are natural and spontaneous infusing life into the characters you carry with you outside the theater. The lovely antakshari that is a fine blend of old Hindi film music through famous Bengali film hits to soulful Tagore numbers is an example of pastiche, an exclusive feature of post-modernism in cinema. The song is one of the brightest points of the film because it colors the cinematography with a happy sense of camaraderie tinged with the heavy underpinning of nostalgia. Pastiche stands for an amalgamation of several styles which is unique to this directorial pair.
Erasure of the boundary between the past and the present, another feature of postmodernism is also present in the film. The same antakshari achieves this when the old gentleman (Soumitra Chatterjee), suddenly belts out Shing Nei Tobe Naam Taar Shingho, a famous Kishore Kumar nonsense number from a rollicking comedy, while the character played by Rituparna mouths a noted Tagore love song that goes Shokhi Bhabona Kahare Bole and so on. The time-leaps sometimes get blurred during the scenes in the train when Prosenjit and Rituparna are thrown together unwittingly and do not really know what to say. History and temporal reality are presented in a fragmented manner. The tour guide leading the walking tours in Kolkata, portrayed by Prosenjit, dots his talks drawing from little-known nuggets from the history of Kolkata during the British rule, an original investment in character profiles within Bengali cinema.
So far as the acting honors go, top marks go to Rituparna Sengupta who, for once, strips herself of the star persona and gets under the skin of Sudipa, the modern-day, ambitious conservation architect –another unique input, – whose low-key performance at times outstrips her co-actor’s. Prosenjit, who has the great gift of shedding at least 20 years off his real age, hops, skips and jumps through the time leap of at least ten years in the footage and though he looks like the star Prosenjit, he enriches the performance with feather-light touches of subtlety and softness. Aparajita Adya as Malini is the happiest housewife and mother the Bengali screen has seen in recent times and does her happy bit extremely well. But her character tends to go over the top when the going gets tough till, a twist in the narrative mellows her down and the seriousness hidden behind the cover of laughter comes through. Special kudos to Sabitri Chatterjee for bringing out the tragedy of alienation from the son and the fun of talking Hindi in Bengali.
Music is one of the biggest highlights of the film though it has three music directors, each one talented in his own way more out of cinema than within it. The lyrics by the music composers are eloquent in the richness of their emotions specially the Tumi Jaake Bhalobasho number written beautifully by Anupam Roy and sung in two versions, one male and one female placed on the soundtrack that spell out the pain of lost love, love reborn love redefined and love reinvented.
Ideologically however, this critic found the script too patriarchal in its elaboration of relationships within marriage where there is happiness encrypted for the woman who turns compromise into victory (really?) and tragedy written into the woman who is ambitious and loves to retain some control over her own life even when she is married. Nevertheless, the entire team of Praktan will find it really tough to live up to the standards they have built with this film. It has every commercial ingredient one can imagine – love, conflict, marriage, divorce, remarriage, senior parents estranged from their son, songs, music practitioners of great repute, the speed, the suspense, the thrills and the adventure a long train journey can inject and invest into a script, the works. So, there is no reason why one should not conclude that the box office takings of this film might, sorry, will far outstrip that of its predecessor, Belasheshe.
Bengali, Drama, Color