Monday, May 20, 2013
Last Updated: 20 May 13:25 PM IST
1 December 2012
LONG before the present crop of supposedly “different”’ film-makers appeared in Bengal, Anjan Dutt had shown the way with a kind of cinema he could convincingly claim to be his own. It was evident as far back as the ’90s when he made Bada Din. It appealed to the contemporary urban consciousness with not just generous doses of nostalgia that always drive him but with human insights that were intensely personal and yet relevant on a larger canvas. Some of these films never went down well with audiences at a time when multiplexes were yet to come up. The regular theatres did not seem to be suited for his kind of work. He never gave up nor did he fall in line with conventional patterns adopted by the industry. It had led him into dry patches as when a remarkable film like Bow Barracks Forever — on the Anglo-Indian community living in a neglected corner of the city – never got the response it deserved, either from audiences or from those who claim to recognise merit. But it is equally remarkable that Anjan’s tenacity has survived over a period of nearly three decades since he first acted in Mrinal Sen’s Chaalchitra, which won an award in Venice but never got released.
This tenacity is confirmed in the personal idiom that he persists with in his latest work. Dutta vs Dutta, by its very name, would suggest autobiographical elements.
A Hollywood film called Kramer vs Kramer with Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Steep as a warring couple had wider social ramifications and came up with a final statement. A similar sounding title would seem to be as ambitious in content and raise fresh expectations from the actor-director. But Anjan Dutt has seldom extended beyond a limited area of personal concerns. This doesn’t prevent him from exploring truths with a relentless energy and intuitive strength that few of his contemporaries have been able to match. Set in the years that witnessed a socio-cultural churning that could not but influence young minds, the film is part fact and part fiction but leaves distinct traces of a generation struggling to break out of old bonds.
While the father and son confrontation has its sharp edges with the debutant Ranadip Bose striking superbly authentic notes as the rebel with a career in acting stuck in his mind, there is a somewhat awkward tendency to make casual references to the turbulence of the times that has no real impact on the central concerns except in the marginal case of a sister running away with a Naxalite. Here is a young actor with a promising future. He is fortunate in getting a role that suits his restless temperament but he adds an instinctive understanding of the charcater that is as remarkable as the confidence that he brings to his performance. The script explores the decadent world that first hits the boy when he is withdrawn from a school in Darjeeling for compelling reasons and then throws him into a painful circle of illicit relationships from which the only escape is the dream to become an actor. That the dream is fulfilled becomes a personal document enriched with excellent performances by Anjan himself as the briefless lawyer who insists on drawing his son into his profession and by Rupa Ganguly, Dipankar De and Kaushik Sen who contribute credible cameos.
Anjan’s films have generally stood out on account of the sense of conviction with which he looks at forbidden relationships. Whether the setting is Darjeeling, where he goes again and again, but specifically for films like Crossroads of Love or America where he explored The Bong Connection or the interiors of the dilapidated mansion in Kolkata where Dutta vs Dutta reveals a complex web of personal weaknesses, there is an element of intensity that makes the film look different. There have been occasions when he has moved into other territories as when he made the Byomkesh films with reasonable success. But he is on stronger ground when he returns to his contemporary personal roots enriched with the urban folk tunes that he had popularised on stage.
This film has generous doses of nostalgia on the musical side, beginning with the Rabindrasangeet presented with the boisterous elegance demonstrated in Ranjana Ami Aar Ashbo Naa and then moving into the country tunes that Anjan has a capacity to adapt to local sentiments. It creates a package of music, milieu and mannerisms that keep the script bubbling with interesting observations. It keeps the audience engaged without necessarily taking the overall idea or the film to great heights. This film, like several of Anjan’s earlier works, wouldn’t claim lasting significance but it certainly can be appreciated and enjoyed within its limited objectives. What is more unfortunate is that the actor Anjan has been slotted in limited territories. Beginning with the art films that he made through the ’80s and ’90s, he has been seen as a screen personality suited to “alternative”’ situations, somewhat like the tunes he has been composing. While Dutta vs Dutta keeps the spotlight on a teenage prodigy, it also confirms the possibilities of the actor Anjan that can still be explored.