Rajkahini's flaws don't take away from the beauty of the concept or its execution. It still remains a must watch for you. It demands and deserves a standing ovation.
When the agents of Partition threaten to tear down Begum Jaan's brothel, she and the other prostitutes retaliate with all they have, earning the respect of the very men who see them as nothing more than objects of pleasure.
is one of those films that demands a standing ovation -- despite some obvious flaws. And the reasons are many — right from the splendid visuals, which flood the senses and bring a dark phase of India's history back to life, to the many emotions that define and redefine the numerous characters. Each frame is pregnant with some emotion, each emotion rooted in some form of injustice, each injustice ultimately linked to a man-dominated world.
And in a world where men rule and call the shots, Begum Jaan (Rituparna) holds her own. The enigma of a courtesan, who courts everything, from the local Nawab to death, with the same death-defying bravado, rules a barren oasis with her small following of subjects — a handful of women who earn their bread satiating the urges of men. Rituparna, with her curly locks and slit-eyed gaze, manages to create quite an interesting character of a woman who has seen the dark side of life intimately. But, there are gaps. She's good but fails to perfect that rough and rustic sketch of a village prostitute, appearing too suave and polished at times. One feels there could have been a lot more to the character, though this one will certainly go down as one of the actress' finest performances to date. The other girls in the gang hardly get enough screen time. There are no back stories -- another script weakness -- though Jaya shines in a rather intimate yet emotionally charged scene with Rudranil. Ridhima, too, does a really good job of playing a girl struggling with deep mental and physical trauma.
As for the male characters — be it Saswata or Kaushik, who play two friends who find themselves on opposite sides of the border, the small-town cop played by Kanchan, the pimp with a heart played by Rudranil or the ruthless contract killer played by Jisshu — all shine in their well etched-out roles. Saswata and Kaushik have shown the turmoil brewing inside two friends who have seen the worst of Hindu-Muslim riots and are faced with the task of uprooting Begum Jaan from her tiny queen-dom. Even Kanchan has managed to nail it as a vengeful cop. But the show-stealer by all means is Jisshu. It's not just his physical transformation for the role, but the way he has gone about changing his entire persona — right from minute gestures to the murderous glint in the eye. Speaking of murderous glints, all would have come to naught had it not been for the excellent camera work. Every frame seems to speak for itself — be it the ones capturing the minute emotions on Saswata and Kaushik's faces as they walk back through the horrors of the riots, or the expressions of boredom on the women while satisfying clients. Towards the end, the smoke rising from the smoldering building adds to the touching climax.
The music blends perfectly with the storytelling, especially the closing Jana gana mana track. Even the background score goes beautifully with the narrative. But like many things of great beauty, Rajkahini has its share of obvious flaws. For one, continuity errors. In a scene when Sir Cyril Radcliffe meets Lord Mountbatten in Delhi, the latter is first shown in uniform and then in a suit, though the scene apparently doesn't involve a time-jump. Then there's the glaring geographical error. The area that houses Begum Jaan's brothel is shown in an arid, low-rain area. It is so obviously Purulia-Jharkhand-West Midnapore. But the entire stretch of the Bengal-Bangladesh border from Cooch Behar to South Bengal receives too much rainfall to look so arid. True, it gives the brothel and its surroundings a Wild West feel, but that doesn't match the geographical or historical characteristics of the region. Then comes the graphics. That used in the climactic fire scene is pathetic. It's apparent that the flames licking the wood in the crumbling building are not real, but computer generated. In today's time and age, that's unacceptable. And speaking of the fire, it seemed really too far-fetched for someone as old and frail as Thamma (Lily Chakraborty) to keep reading out Abanindranath Tagore's Rajkahini amid the roaring flames without dying of asphyxiation first.
But Rajkahini's flaws don't take away from the beauty of the concept or its execution. It still remains a must watch for you this Puja.