One is familiar with the short story stretched to make a full-length feature film for many years. No problem with that if the director can do it with conviction and without losing out on the aesthetics, the approach and the treatment. But to transpose a short story on celluloid by adhering to his precise brevity is not very easy. But Bauddhayan Mukherji did not have problems with the footage because he has honed his skills in commercial shorts and one award-winning public service campaign on domestic violence.

Till this day, Ray’s Teen Kanya(1961) remains the most outstanding celluloid adaptations of the short story adapted from Tagore’s works. Before Sujoy Ghosh’s short film Ahalya hit the headlines across the media recently, the best full-length feature film with four independent short films directed by different contemporary filmmakers was Bombay Talkies (2013). The stories reflect the aura and the storytelling styles of four distinguished contemporary Bollywood filmmakers – Anurag Kashyap, Karan Johar, Dibakar Banerjee and Zoya Akhtar. It was a tribute in celebration of 100 years of Indian cinema.

Teenkahon charts a completely different journey through three stories distanced in terms of time, place, characterisation, plot and everything else. Different in what way? According to the director, it is his tribute to 100 years of Indian cinema. His choice of stories for the three segments of this film therefore, was pitched to different time-zones sourced to different authors whose creativity reflect the times they lived and wrote in. Therefore, the last story in this three-story film is authored by Bauddhayan himself.

Director Bauddhayan Mukherji

Says Bauddhayan, “Each story stays true to the filmmaking style of that period. I have tried to use the methods, techniques and tools available in that era. Each story is a vignette of the period it is set in and looks at the populist trends of the time which has been painstakingly restored in terms of props, costumes, make- up and hair etc These films have been digitally manipulated to imitate color processes available in India during the periods in which each film is set. The language of cinema keeps changing over the three films - rules are formed over the first two and broken in the third!”

The first story, called Nabalok (1920 – 1954) is based on a story by noted Bengali littérateur Bibhutibhushan Mukhopadhyay (not Bandopadhyay). This film is shot entirely in Black-and-White and introduces two new faces, Ananya Sen and Barshan Seal. Post Mortem (1978) based on a story by Syed Mustafa Shiraz tells a thrilling story of a dialogue between the husband (Sabyasachi Chakraborty) and lover (Joy Sengupta) of a woman who committed suicide the evening before. This has been shot in Technicolour.

The third story Telephone (2013) is by the director himself. “This Roald Dahl-esque story with a series of twists and turns looks into the darkness that looms beneath the surface of human beings and how manipulative human relationships have become. It is a film that captures the superficiality of modern day life and the emergence of the strong figure of the woman in Bengali society, through the lives of a police officer and his wife,” Bauddhayan elaborates. This film features Rituparna Sengupta, Ashish Vidyarthi, Dhritiman Chatterjee and Sumanta Mukherjee. This is a digital film and this completes the evolution of technology in cinema while the stories themselves flesh out the changes in manifestations of love beyond the framework of marriage. There is a third dimension which has to do with the change in the Bengali language and speech patterns from the first film to the last which also depicts the cultural and lifestyle changes between 1954 and 2013.

Nabalok explores the first stirrings of adoration, fascination and infatuation the eight-year-old Shailo feels for the 16-year-old new bride Nayantara who has just arrived to live with her husband’s aunt with the husband working in Kolkata. Nayantara can feel the special liking of this boy for her but she is madly in love with her husband and uses Shailo as courier to post her letters to the husband and bring his letters from the post office to her. What happens in anyone’s guess. This story is narrated in flashback by a grown, 40+ Shailo in a friend’s house where he has come to play a game of cards. It is a night of thundering rains and lightning and the game of cards is replaced with this love story against a ghost-story ambience. There is a beautiful twist in the end but before you can understand what hit you, you are on to the next story.

In the last week of September 1978, many parts of Kolkata were so flooded with water that traffic had stopped completely and in some areas, water did not recede for ten long days. The second story, Post Mortem is set against the backdrop of these floods when, early in the morning, an elderly man, drenched to the skin, comes knocking at a flat at the top of a flight of stairs. A young man opens the door and is surprised to meet this stranger. This triggers a strange dialogue between the two men with the older man telling the younger one that his wife committed suicide the previous night. The younger man was the wife’s lover. The dialogue reaches an impasse because after deliberating about the causes, they agree that they are both ‘responsible’ for it in different ways. “Responsibility” is the word on which this dialogue rests and the two men respond differently to the word. But then there is the twist in the end that shakes you from any kind of predictions about a different climax.

Telephone, despite its name, is a microcosmic glimpse into the fast speed with which technology has swept our lives in every way from the cell phone ringing incessantly to create, sustain and break relationships through IVF pregnancy, to an adulterous relationship to murder, mystery and the thrill of forbidden love. The film moves at jet speed since the hero is an ACP whose marriage is almost breaking till his wife becomes pregnant through IVF. The doctor is more sympathetic than the husband who is glued to his cell-phone though the other woman in his life is shown only twice. This story has a Roald Dahl-eque climax that shakes you up completely and you wander what happened as you walk out of the theatre.

All three stories are pitched on atmosphere, low-key music and sound effects with the editing keeping pace with the rhythm of the different stories. This makes the stories incredibly beautiful and memorable at the same time. The acting honours are almost equally distributed among the stellar actors except for the two debut-making actors Ananya Sen as Nayantara and Barshan Seal as the eight-year-old Shoilo.

Teenkahon has was screened at the Goa IFFI’s Indian Panorama last year, won the award for the Best Screenplay, Bridge Film Festival, Mitrovice, Kosovo 2014 along with Special Mention of the Jury at the same festival for cinematography done by National Award-winning cinematographer Aveek Mukherjee. It has been screened at more than 30 international film festivals across the globe and has bagged around 20 awards and nominations. It also won the Aravindan Puraskaran at the Kerala State Chalachitra Academy festival last year.