Misplaced human emotions and lack of subtlety take a toll on the film in parts. Give it a watch to know Kheya's story.
Kheya's body is recovered from the Hooghly, leading to a series of protests by theatre lovers in Kolkata. Did the actress willingly jump off the launch while acting the part of a blind mother, was it murder or just another accident? Truth must be told. Calcutta Port Police begins a probe that throws light on the actress and her life on stage.
She died young. And sank without a trace from public memory. If not for
, Keya Chakraborty may have been carried away by a buoyant tide to anonymity. This was a distinct possibility. But like a mystery that she was in life, the lioness on stage, who met with a tragic ending, continues to haunt, even in death. Suddenly, she is everywhere. Two of this week's plays —
Sher Afgaaner Tiner Talowar
, based on Brecht's The Good Woman of Setzuan, where a young Sohini Sengupta led from the front — mentioned Keya in passing, during and before the performances. And then, there's a Friday throwback to the past.
Those not in the know, in March 1977 Keya, 34, a popular theatre actress, lost her life reportedly by drowning near Sankrail during the shoot of Swadesh Sarkar's
Jeevan Jey Rokom
. The circumstances were mysterious and the versions of eyewitnesses, bystanders and acquaintances varied. While that was the end of a young dream, it is the starting point of Debesh Chattopadhyay's film. And like in real life, Calcutta Port Police takes charge soon after. Through interactions with characters surrounding Kheya (Paoli), Bhobodulal Roy (Rajatava Dutta) pieces together events and in the process, uncovers facts piecemeal. What is unveiled is the journey of a lone woman and her fight for love. Kheya says her only love is theatre, though she falls for Prosad (Saswata Chatterjee), her college senior, early in life. Their meeting scene at the football ground coupled with an ebullient song,
Pasha pashi hete jete jete
, is one of the best moments in the film.
also touches upon Kheya's bonding with Amitesh (Bratya Basu), her mentor in the theatre group Notokar, Monoranjan (Sujan Mukherjee), her professor, and throws up a few pertinent questions on love and relationships. But beyond the physical manifestations of love — she cooks and cleans for Prosad, leaves her job when Amitesh suggests theatre needs full-time involvement and takes money unhesitatingly from Monoranjan for her mother's treatment — there is the call of the unrequited... Knowing well that theatre would take from her more than it would ever give, Kheya gives everything to it. Paoli internalizes Kheya and surrenders completely to what the role demands. Even in the in-film plays like Antigone, Noti Binodini, Proposal, she shines — like a star would from a distant horizon and another era. She shows her mettle even while singing
Ami jokhon meye thaki
, a fresh new composition by Debajyoti Mishra for
and leaves us wondering if Kheya and Keya are indeed one.
The scene based on Keya's own Mrs RP Sengupta, where tears wash away the letters of a poem the actress had started translating, signifies her longing to stay alone and fight a battle, her own. Debesh has based much of his film on the book he once edited: Keya, and other reference points available since the late '70s. But the film doesn't go beyond what's already there in the public domain — though it does bring back good old memories, with a bit of spite. It's strange when Prosad faces an unassuming Bhobodulal's queries right after her death. His answers drip with arrogance and sarcasm, and was he really crying just before the cremation?
Misplaced human emotions and lack of subtlety take a toll on the film in parts. But then, the director has mentioned that the film is a work of fiction and therefore taken creative liberties, though resemblances with real-life characters are too close to ignore. In the scenes where life transforms into the stage, the first-time director, who has a huge body of work in theatre, manages to freeze-frame important aspects of Kheya's life and highlight her pathos. Though many actors in bit roles are in character — Sujan particularly looks good — a few interactions are glaringly 'natoker moto'. Like the way, Kheya's mother (Roopa Ganguly) walks out on her after a heated exchange with her suspecting husband one night.
Indranil Mukherjee's camera effortlessly captures everything from the close-up of a face contorted with pain to the long shot of Kheya's mortal remains wrapped in a Murshidabadi silk floating downstream as Moushumi Bhowmik's Ami shunechhi sedin tumi plays in the backdrop. Then, there are important questions that have plagued group theatre time and again, as Amitesh puts it, "Dol-er jonyo theatre na, theatre-er jonyo dol". The depiction of '70s Kolkata is authentic, not the portrayal of every character who lived and breathed during that era. In the end, we come back to where it all began — did Kheya jump off willingly, was it someone else's doing or was it a stroke of tragedy? We'll never know. The truth is buried in her watery grave.