There is possibly no such thing as a pure freestanding “thriller thriller” and this comes across lucidly in film critic Pratim D Gupta’s second directorial feature Shaheb, Bibi, Golaam. The boundaries of this film are rather amorphous and one cannot pin them down in a clearly defined genre or category. The story is about three, unrelated individuals and the conflicts in their personal lives that make them get helplessly entangled and embroiled in one another’s lives in ways that are irreversible and perhaps, in certain senses, open-ended but tragic.
Jimmy Luke (Anjan Dutt) or Shaheb is an Anglo-Indian contact killer who, when he is not busy planning how and when to hit which target, (no women or children he insists) repairs back to his small, cluttered room to play on his cello which doubles up as a weapons case when he goes out for a killing. He is a lone operator, an ex-police officer whose wife was killed and son was crippled in some error of judgement. But he too makes a single error of judgement and hits the wrong target to find his life slipping out of control. Jaya (Swastika Mukherjee) is Bibi who finds that her dutiful role as wife, mother and daughter-in-law has not only become static and dissatisfying, but also that sex has disappeared from her marriage completely, leaving her empty and unfulfilled. She chances upon an alternative when she is introduced to The Housewives Club, a clandestine, upper-class bordello in a seedy bylane where the prostitutes are all housewives. Suktara is the name she is christened with by the brothel madam Ms Lily and another mother of a child from her daughter’s school brings her to the bordello. She begins to enjoy this second role thoroughly, selling sex in a multitude of ways to elite clients. Javed (Ritwick Chakraborty), the Golaam of the story is a cabbie who lives with his invalid father in a narrow and shabby room and drives till late night. He sometimes doubles up as a pimp bringing foreign customers to the Housewives Club. He falls in love with one of his commuters who happens to be the daughter of a very rich family and comes home drunk every weekend. How a combination of happenings and incidents that also do not involve them directly bring them together makes for an interesting climax.
The three characters are often more acted upon than they act and are swept up in a rush of events over which they have little control. The film begins with an interesting structure where the plot is episodic, character-driven as it moves from one character to the next– Shaheb to Bibi to Golaam and then, post-interval gets mired in traps that remained invisible to the characters. Towards the end, Gupta seems to have either lost his perspective or things got out of control as the closure turns out to be open-ended and confusing. The structure, however, comes back to where the story began, and this adds the circular element to the episodic build-up.
With the overload and combination of feelings Shaheb, Bibi, Golaam creates produces a strong sense of vulnerability and a loss of control that emphasises how, in a single twist of circumstances, the superbly confident Jimmy can throw his hands up and surrender to what is happening as he tries to make amends. Can he? The unhappy housewife Jaya is not only thrilled with her new and clandestine life as Suktara, the prostitute, but also begins to feel a confidence she lacked all along as the good wife and mother. However, it would be interesting to find out how she gained the skill of performing the strip tease and other sizzling and erotic acts with her back story of a very middle-class no-sex-within-marriage. Swastika runs away with the credit for a superb and layered performance underlining the failure of good directors in tapping her unexplored talent. She is brilliant, both in the looks department and in her performance in both roles. Javed’s character, though, is not fleshed out fully and leaves some logical lapses specially when he begins dating the rich girl and even dares to imagine further. Ritwick as usual is very good while Anjan Dutt who wears his attitude on his sleeve simply has to carry this over into his screen character of Luke and he does this well. One can hear a cat mewing in his flat but one cannot get a glimpse of this friend. Parno is good but she seems to be getting ghettoised in stereotyped characters.
The music is a bit too loud for the ambience of mystery the film is filled with and the songs are redundant. The film has a very fast pace that helps in keeping the action alive and going, helped by the cinematographer (Gairik Sarkar), the art director (Mridul Baidya)and the editor (Sanjib Kumar Datta) who do not permit people or incidents to dominate the action beyond a given point and this restraint saves the film from slipping into a deep morass of depression and darkness.
Gupta has introduced too many layers of events to the narrative such as a solid black villain in the name and style of Zeco (Vikram Chatterjee), a brutally cruel rape that is kept out of the screen – no thanks to the CBFC, the minister ordering the rape victim to be killed, Jaya’s husband playing hooky with girls on the side and so on. The most powerful statement of the film lies in the blurring of lines between the housewife and the prostitute with Basu Bhattacharya having laid the foundation with Astitva many years ago. God alone knows what hit the regional board of the CBFC to put its clams on this feature of the film!
Bengali, Thriller, Action, Drama, Color