Debutant young director Devayush Chaudhary’s Bengali film Adda, redefines this age-old word in his film in different ways. Having been educated in cinema in New York (Tisch School of the Arts) with specialisation in films and television, Devayush offers both a subjective interpretation and an objective comment on the term adda. The concept of adda is universal, especially among the youth, but it has cultural specifications and this film deals with the cultural identity of adda as it has evolved in the city of Kolkata.

“Anywhere where two or more people begin to chat without any purpose becomes a place for adda” he says and the film bears this out. There is no conventional storyline that has a beginning, a middle and an end but this character-centric film shows how several stories emerge out of the idle chatter the characters engage in. In Calcutta, adda is not confined to the youth though the young and the unemployed have time and create the space for an adda as and when they can. Senior citizens who have retired from their regular jobs also create their own spaces for a daily adda session. An adda is a stress-buster, a debate trigger, an argumentative space and may even lead to quarrels and fisticuffs, splits between life-long friends and bonding with new ones. It is neither idle” nor “chatter” but is in no way economically productive. It has a strong current of emotional fulfilment and is an effective way to combat loneliness.

Devayush’s film opens with two angels “shada” (White) and “kaalo” (Black) emerging from heaven to function as self-appointed commentators on the evolution of adda among four unemployed friends and four senior citizens over time and ends when the four friends are older and successful, meeting at one of the successful one’s new apartment in Kolkata to retrospect. Within this time bridge of four years, the senior ones have found space in framed photographs garlanded with flowers.

These four friends and a young, struggling actress are the main characters. The group of four was originally five but one of them, a bit on the wild side, walks away from a Pooja pandal and never comes back. The other four are never serious about looking out for him and his story remains a mystery. The struggling actress is also struggling within a bad marriage and her career too is doing no good. For some reason or other, adda is a very gender-specific activity indulged in more by the male than by the female. But of late, women have also created their own adda groups, generally at coffee shops and corner tea shops and these are almost exclusively female because the subject of their idle chatter is generally related to boys, men, sex, gender bias and so on. Adda, the film, has a delightful scene where young women are indulging in adda at a coffee shop on various subjects – marriage, split, relationships, etc till shouts of “cut” tells us that it is a scene from a film being shot!

The four friends and the senior citizens group which choose two benches outside the window of another senior member who participates through the window as he is bedridden, unfold how the topics of discussion vary between the young and the old. Devayush plays around with different spaces – the terrace of an apartment complex, the space just beyond where the Durga idol stands at a para Durga Pooja, the spacious apartment of one of the friends who is professionally successful but personally unhappy as the couple cannot have kids, two benches outside the window of an old house, and so on, thus widening both the canvas and the definition of the term adda as we understand it. The scenes on the terrace by two friends, one of them the husband of the struggling actress, offers the cinematographer a wonderful opportunity to capture the Kolkata skyscape with the Howrah Bridge looming on the horizon, sometimes sharply defined and sometimes blurred to indicate the distance of the subjects from the bridge. The discussions range from Marx to Michael Jackson to Che Guevera to Tagore to politics and history, from unemployment to corruption to sex and relationships but everything about an adda is that the discussions and debates and arguments are indulged in quite unwittingly and without any specified design.

The rape scene inside an elevator by one of the friends is well-shot and imaginatively inserted, but on hindsight, appears superfluous. The same applies to the two fantasy characters Shaada and Kalo who do not really belong and the film could have stood entirely on its own minus these two. The music is a bit too loud that tends to blur the sharpness of the narrative running in the foreground. The Tagore song towards the end is well-placed and executed, bringing a swift change in the drama out on the balcony where the friends are almost getting into a fight. After a long time, we get a very refreshing performance from Soumitra Chatterjee, the widower who never stops grieving over his lost grandson. The relatively unknown actors who portray the friends and the two women they marry are very spontaneous right through. Sabyasachi Chakraborty as Shaada and Deepangshu Acharya as Kaalo do their bits but they are almost redundant and therefore, marginalised.

The director veers away from any reference to Kolkata’s historically classic Coffee House which is invariably linked to the concept and practice of the culture of Adda indulged in along with the delicious eats served by the liveried bearers of the two-storey coffee house on the northern outskirts of Kolkata near Presidency University. He does not refer to Manna De’s famous song Coffee House-er shei Addata aaj aar nei, aaj aar nei which invests the film Adda with the director’s distinct flavour. According to him, as told already, adda does not demand a specific space or members and can increase, decrease or completely vanish over time.

The film is fluid in movement and style, moving spatially beyond a time-warp to reach out to infinity. This infectious fluidity of the narrative touches the characters too, resulting in colouring them in all hues and shades of the rainbow, no Blacks or Whites, but shades of gray with other colours thrown in for good measure. So, there are no heroes and no villains and no character actors either.

The film demanded some clever editing which is achieved seamlessly by Saikat Sekhareshwar Ray while the cinematographer Roopesh Shaji excels specially in the rape scene in the elevator followed by the running away by one of the friends who dashes against a Durga idol each time he feels he has really run away. The shots of the Kolkata horizon are beautiful too. However, the film suffers from a dragging closure which should and could have closed when the four old friends unstrap their watches and step into the football field against lashing rains to kick a ball for old times’s sake. But the film stretches itself some more when the story and the film have already had their say. But adda is a very good first-time effort all the same.