Sunday, March 03, 2013

Shunyo Awnko (Act Zero)

Holiday Album

The Bengali film Shunyo Awnko, written and directed by Goutam Ghose, is one of those films that have plenty of grand ideas rolled into one, so much so that each of these points degenerate into discourse that was too serious for its own good, meandering around presenting scenarios without as much as suggesting solutions, laying things out like a complaint letter and making it all seem rather awkward and clunky for the film medium chosen. It's a sprawling epic over ten disparate acts together with an interval, and would have benefitted if the narrative got ironed out and with plot points clearly gelled.

It had notions of the evil profit driven corporation up against the lifestyle of the rural folks, where the former is seeking to displace hundreds, if not thousands of poor farmers and their families, so as to mine valuable bauxite, used in aluminum. Being a private company, making money is first and foremost, and they send one of their top executives Agni Bose (Priyanshu Chatterjee) to go broker a deal. Needless to say, in that part of West Bengal, the film touches upon the Maoist rebels operating insurgencies against forces of the authorities, and this displacement becomes a political pawn, with the rebels gaining brownie points for putting up resistance, and championing the cause for the rural poor. Goodwill attempts at bettering the livelihood of those affected only becomes an afterthought in the final act, and I guess this mirrors what life is all about, with quarters thinking that throwing money at a problem will lead to solution.

But while that served as the grand background in which the film played out, Shunyo Awnko becomes a curious piece of character portrayals, introducing an ensemble, each with different motivation, with most of the separate acts concentrating on their personal adventures that didn't seem to be headed anywhere, or to make anyone seem a little bit more appealing. Being a little bit indulgent as the story wore on, we really don't care too much about the characters, nor the situations they get put into, which is a pity. Agni Bose by Priyanshu Chatterjee is that corporate rat climbing the ladder at work, focused and negligent toward his wife Jhilik (Priyanka Bose), who suffers some manic depression, and as if a solution to that problem, Jhilik got raped by her husband.

Time out. Yes, this was one of those sensibilities that didn't quite work, which immediately after sets off a series of romantic interludes that bring the couple some time out from their work, and into the nice sprawling, snowy mountainous grounds where they meet a reclusive scientist Dr Kabir Chowdhury (Soumitra Chatterji) and his wife Laila (Lolita Chatterji). It may seem like the perfect homestay holiday, if not for the narrative to drag its feet with uninteresting domestic scenes that could have been done without, what with celebrating of birthdays, plenty of acapella singing, and what not. And to expand it even further, we learn of Layla's innate hatred for Hindus, blamed for her son's death, and the scientist's rather amateurish plan of hacking and virus creating from a Mac desktop, to disrupt the networks of his enemies. That's a James Bond plot and arch enemy there for you!

Perhaps the only saving grace here is the character Raka, played by Konkana Sen Sharma, a reporter with the Indian Times out to seek the truth, being that embedded journalist with the rebels and doing some decent investigative journalism out in the field. Linking her character to the main narrative came courtesy of Agni Bose, with whom she communicates frequently with, much to the chagrin of Jhilik, but that's another melodrama of jealousy that comes to haunt the plot in the latter half. The film has grand ambitions in making statements, drawing sides and having grand plans in tackling political touch points, but found itself wandering aimlessly within the uninteresting character subplots that were aimless to begin with, that don't engage the audience because of weak writing.

While cinematography is great and gorgeous, thanks to the lush, natural landscapes in which this film was shot at, it's most unfortunate that it didn't have that strong core story to exploit its visuals. Music and songs were conveniently worked into the plot either as montages, or having Jhilik exercise her melodious voice to while the time away when stuck in the reclusive scientists home, where she got a fan base of one in Laila. Supposedly a successful woman herself with the promise of a budding business taking off, the most startling issue brought out would be that domestic set up, with the wife undermined by societal expectations and the glass ceiling, and making desperate pleas of needing and wanting a man in her life.

And this rather bigotry outlook, will undoubtedly go back to the filmmaker, perhaps wanting to challenge these norms and turn things for the better with greater awareness that such issues still exist.

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