Do watch Praktan. It's a simple tale of a married and a separated couple. Ride with them from Mumbai to Kolkata. Who knows, you just might bump into a pinch of wisdom to take home.
Praktan is a journey within a journey that simplifies the complexities of most modern day relationships. And as with the director duo's earlier films, its beauty lies in the clear-headed approach and the ideal climax. But yes, it does fall a mite short on the expectations raised by their earlier beauties, Ramdhanu and Belasheshe.
The reasons, I feel, are primarily three — under-utilization of interesting side characters, lack of logical continuity vis-a-vis character interactions and excessive screen-time for the central characters.
Let's look at the first two issues. The film has several interesting side characters — the newly-weds, Biswanath Basu and Manali Dey, the old couple in Soumitra Chatterjee and Sabitri Chatterjee, the group of singers (Anupam Roy, Anindya Chattopadhyay, Surojit Chatterjee and Upal Sengupta), the violin-playing ticket examiner and the service boys. Of course, the presence of the band of musical boys creates the perfect alibi to weave in the truly great songs into the storyline, but expect Biswanath and Manali, none of the other characters get much screen time. They have, however, shone in whatever roles they have played. Be it Biswanath as the paunchy loverboy, Manali as his bubbly wife, or Sabitri Chatterjee as the AC-tormented old lady. Anupam, Anindya, Surojit and Upal...well, they played themselves with elan. As for Soumitra Chatterjee, all I can say is that he had too short a screen time to outperform his on-screen wife, who nailed it with her Hingali — or should we call it Bhindi? — that hilarious mixture of Bengali and Hindi. But apart from a scene that shows all of them suddenly playing antakshri in the train corridor with the primary cast of Prosenjit, Rituparna and Aparajita, there's hardly any interaction among them after that.
The honeymooners I can understand, but why did everyone else just lock themselves up in their cabins and never even say hello again? Not even a goodbye at the end? If 11 odd people can sit together and play a round of antakshri like long-lost friends, why would they part ways without even exchanging one phone number or a goodbye? Where are the smoking or adda sessions by the open door, feeling the rush of electric pole after pole? In that, I feel, the film focused so much on past relationships that it misses a chance to create foundations for future ones.
Now let's come to the third issue — of the primary characters getting too much screen time. Well, the audience gets to spend most of the two-and-a-half odd hours of the film either inside the train cabin housing Manali, little Putul, Sudipa and Ajaan or in the memories of the latter duo's life together. That, by itself, is not boring. The actors, primarily Aparajita, manage to keep one and all glued to their seats with their performance. But in giving them screen time, the story misses out on the dynamics of a train journey — the chaotic humaneness of stations, the occasional intrusion by hawkers, etc etc. This effectively makes the train a highly under-utilised prop in the scheme of things. And that's very un-Nandita-Shiboprasad, who, generally pay attention to every last detail in their films.
But yes, despite the presence of two mega stars like Prosenjit and Rituparna, the one who virtually carries the film on her shoulders is Aparajita. Right from her repetitive 'mandatory' phone calls, her spontaneous giggles and expressions to her subtle moment of realization, she nails every emotion perfectly. Not for one moment does she allow the audience to feel that she's not Manali Mukherjee. Prosenjit and Rituparna, too, do justice to their roles, but somewhere, those familiar mannerisms and expressions never allow them to truly become the characters they play on screen. You have that feeling that you are watching the stars, not the characters they are playing.
The music is fabulous. The songs are beautifully knit into the narrative and so is the subtle background score. The lyrics, too, are bang on, adding to the storyline. And the visuals of the original singers crooning the numbers makes the whole experience truly wonderful.
Technically speaking, the camerawork is really great, especially the shots taken using drones. Even in the in-train scenes, the beauty of the framing is such that at no point does a shot seem cramped or too tight. The way the team has worked to create a perfectly designed train set is truly amazing. I could count at least a hundred different angles! But one flaw is jarring — ambient light. The play of external light sources in a fast moving train is missing in most shots. In a shot where Ajaan stands by the open door, his face and body are lit up by a flat, almost constant source. That's not how light falls on things or people in moving trains. The fluctuations are erratic, but there's almost a constant play of light and shadows. But yes, the constant rolling of a moving train has been recreated perfectly.
As for the story and the inherent message, the director duo has delivered yet again. So have they managed to create another palate of diverse characters — each with a different approach to life and its myriad issues. On one hand, there's the beginning of conjugal life (Biswanath-Manali), on another, there are the epitomes of marital adjustment and wisdom (Aparjita, Soumitra and Sabitri) and then, there are the praktans — Prosenjit and Rituparna. Each present a different aspect of married life, of ego, emotions and perspectives and each drive their points home, more or less. True, it's a palate with a lot of colours, but the directors have mixed these well to create the right motion picture.
Do watch Praktan. It's nothing spectacular. But nor were Belaseshe or Ramdhanu. It was their simplicity that touched a chord. This film, too, is a simple tale of a married and a separated couple. Ride with them from Mumbai to Kolkata. Who knows, you just might bump into a pinch of wisdom to take home.