A Muslim man (Abir) washes up on the Bangladesh side of the Ichhamati and is rescued by a Hindu widow (Jaya). Can he escape the watchful eyes of her suitor (Kuashik) to return to India?
They’re still sorting out how to share the Teesta waters, but the other forms of sharing — cinematic, artistic, aesthetic — between India and Bangladesh are paying rich dividends. Bishorjon presents to you probably the best fruits of that creative collaboration — the jodi of Kaushik Ganguly and Jaya Ahsan — which can now be anointed the best actor-actress pair in Tollywood.
In a simple, telefilm-like story, the two of them unveil a masterclass in acting: Jaya’s subdued performance, built around unspoken words and a wounded gaze, perfectly balancing Kaushik’s part-menacing, part-comical loverboy schmuck. Her antagonism towards him works in mysterious ways to create sparkling chemistry on screen. That is not to say that Bishorjon is only about love. There’s jealousy, intrigue and the pain of separation for good measure. And then there are the fences of the mind — Hindu and Muslim, Indian and Bangladeshi, rich and poor — that run like barb wires through the narrative.
The Ichhamati’s languid pace mirrors the story. This is the river that Abir’s Nasir Ali crosses on the tumultuous night of Bijoya Dashami, when the riverine border become fluid and boats from both sides complete the bishorjon midstream. Jaya plays Padma, a Hindu widow living with her ailing father-in-law in a border village of Khulna, who finds a bruised and unconscious Nasir on the riverbank and brings him home. This sets off a chain of reactions in the tranquil village, with Kaushik’s Ganesh Mondal, an influential businessman and Padma’s suitor, playing a cat-and-mouse game to blow Nasir’s cover.
It’s this triangle that gets the most airtime. Kaushik is a marvel, starving for Padma and wanting to control every bit of her existence. He is a powerful man, but his stranglehold on the defenceless widow’s life — a terrifying possibility — is never allowed to get out of hand. The character is comical, but only just about. He revels in his own physical attributes: he is dark and overweight. But the mind that plans Jaya’s slow and insidious capture is sharp as a razor. Padma’s indifference to her surroundings hides a deep yearning for the joys of existence. Jaya gets the pitch and cadence — of both her accent and character — just right, ebbing and flowing with Padma’s emotional life. Out of the three, Abir’s portrayal of Nasir is more or less a flatline throughout. His romance with Padma, which should be brimming with warmth and love, seems insipid, even in the emotionally charged prelude to their lovemaking.
Kaushik’s script invests his own character with the most nuances, followed by those of Jaya and Abir. The other characters are stock insertions — the well-meaning and naïve village doctor, the slimy sidekick, the childlike sister. The story, though nice, has its limitations. There are some bits of lazy writing: there’s nothing to explain how Padma gets an injured Nasir home from the riverbank in broad daylight without anyone stopping them. The didactic bits of dialogue about India-Bangladesh relations stick out like a sore thumb. The one cringeworthy scene is where Padma stitches the flags of the two countries as a gift for Nasir to take back home. Thankfully, there are no white pigeons to be released.
For a film that portrays the lives of people in a border village, Bishorjon is a strikingly ‘indoor’ film. Most of the scenes take place in either Padma’s hut or Ganesh’s ancestral house, pointing to the limitations of budget. But soaring beyond all restraints is the swan song of Kalikaprasad Bhattacharjee. The film’s music pours into your ears, drenches your heart and fills your soul, the pick being the Shah Noor song Bondhu tor laigya re, whose keening loneliness and yearning stay with you far after the visuals have faded from your mind.