Parineeta - An Unique Take on the Sarat Chandra Novel
Few Indian filmmakers have attempted an imaginative and contemporary take on Sarat Chandra Chatterjee’s Parineeta, one of his sweetest romantic novels that remain timeless to this day among filmmakers. The only individualistic conception of Sarat Chandra Chatterjee was Anurag Kashyap’s Dev D. But Devdas lends itself to improvisations and innovations while Parineeta does not.
Raj Chakraborty, the young maverick director in Bengali cinema has done it. He has taken just a single scene from the original story around which he spun his own inventive cobweb to make the new Parineeta. It is an entertaining mainstream film but minus songs, item numbers, syrupy melodrama and so on. Songs and music are used with great economy and discretion.
Mehul (Shubhashree) is madly in love with her much-older neighbour Babai-da (Ritthik Chakraborty) who tutors her for her Std XII board exams without any fee. Mehul is a naughty prankster with two plaits tied in red ribbon (sic) and hair flying all over the place who plays cricket with the local boys and has lots of fun with her two classmates who are desperate to have a boyfriend.
There are some very funny and sweet little cameo scenes of teenage girl gossip where they chat about the “sexy smell of sweat on men” and the “wonders of kissing the whole night long” which is not commonly found in Indian cinema. Mehul’s crush is entirely one-sided and her Babai-da has no clue about this though she throws enough hints at him during the tuitions as she also plays around with Babai’s widowed mother who is desperately looking for a “girl” for her son.
Then, a few minutes into the film, all hell breaks loose. Within these few minutes, the director fleshes out the main characters including a glimpse into the contented middle-class Bengali portrait of Mehul’s family – devout mother, naughty kid brother and affectionate father. The bombshell that changes Mehul’s life forever is Bappa-da’s suicide. No one gets to know why because he left no suicide note but he handed a letter to Mehul who did not bother to read it. She had cut off with him when, on Holi, he had introduced her to Sayantika, his colleague and the girl he had decided to marry.
The second half opens after four years. We see a very quiet, cold and withdrawn Mehul doing an ordinary secretarial job and looking after her own family and also Bappa-da’s paralysed mother. How she manages so much with a clerk’s salary however, is a mystery. The link between Sarat Chandra’s Parineeta is very subtly revealed in the end.
Shubhashree, trapped in song-dance-maramari-item number films with lots of masala for more than a decade is given a complete turn-around by the director. She justifies the makeover by throwing up a brilliant, multi-layered performance as Mehul, both as the prankster, the adolescent girl who has remained a kid in certain ways, and also as the mature, completely cold and withdrawn adult who gives herself a makeover when she joins a big firm in a well-paid job. She gives no one any explanation for this sudden change. Shubhashree holds on to her own even beside the extremely versatile Rittik Chakraborty and the smashingly upcoming Gaurav Chakraborty who plays her new boss in the new firm.
The first half is shot entirely in North Kolkata in its narrow lanes, modest terraces that offer a relaxing and stress-free outlet to the tenants and residents, old houses with steep staircases while the second half is shot outside glass-windowed, multi-stories skyscrapers that dot the office localities of central Kolkata. The art direction keeps pace with the aesthetics and plot of the film very well and the minimalistic music enriches the tapestry of the ambience as it changes over time.
Every single actor has done his/her job with complete commitment by fitting into their character smoothly and seamlessly. The editing has a few jerks with a few “bridge” shots of the city lit in the night with twinkling lights in the dark adding to the mystique of the city which also backs the mystique of Mehul’s life. The cinematography uses just the right shades of lighting to reflect the changing moods of the story, The scenes in the maidan along the tram tracks where Bappa-da and Mehul walk hand-in-hand are beautiful. The film is flush with delicate and insightful touches.
One is when Babai-da’s mother pulls the sari drying on her terrace to cover her son bathing in the open as she catches Mehul ogling at him from the terrace opposite. The other scene reminds us of the last scene in Aparna Sen’s Parama when she allows Babai’s long letter to her to slip out of her hands and into the air, flitting away in the breeze.
The two office gold diggers are too crude and cheap to fit into this serious film while the suave, handsome and very young boss Rono Sen (Gaurav Chakraborty) is just too good to be true. Mehul’s sudden make-over to short-skirted dresses with slit backs, a spanking new hairdo, and carefully designed make-up is a bit absurd even given the intent behind it. She avoids her earlier office’s male colleague Ananda – a sparkling performance - who likes her and then we learn that she considers herself a “parineeta” – the married one.
The film is a wonderful insight into teenage crushes that can sometimes turn to eternal love which people do not tend to take seriously. One big flaw the intelligent director could and should have avoided are the two complaints of rape, the second one being a Xerox copy of the first which is impossible. The other flaw is that rape cannot be proved without the medical examination of the victim and the DNA test of the accused. If the first complaint was doctored through power, how was the second complaint ‘doctored’ since the complainant had no power? The climax is hurried done over with, not permitting one to breathe and leaves us guessing as the “scam” has no back-up.
Having said that, one must concede that Parineeta infuses the air with some fresh breeze with the story of a teenage crush turned awry. At the same time, one cannot deny the screenplay’s strong patriarchy that shimmers brightly even in the darkness of tragedy,