Satyanweshi (2013)

Like all other adapted films, I went into watching Satyanweshi only after reading the original text by Saradindu Bandopadhayay hurriedly today. But despite the film starting with the announcement, stating that it has been adapted from Saradindu’s ‘Chorabali’, it rarely follows the plot, so comparing it with the original would be needless. So Satyanweshi as a matter-of-fact is not truly the story of Byomkesh’s search for truth. In-fact, Rituparno Ghosh only takes the original idea of chorabali (quicksand) and some characters, which he then weaves into a completely new story, which misses the suspense and pace of a detective story, by a beat. The story starts at Balabantapur, with a hint of a hidden mystery behind the name, and pushing through this mystery, comes out the characters of King Himangshu (Indraneel Sengupta), Queen Aloka (Arpita Chattopadhyay), Steward Kaligati (Sibaji Bandyopadhyay), his daughter Leela (Anandi Ghosh) & librarian Harinath’s (Anirban Ghosh) resounding biography. Each character comes out as a layered portrait with their own sets of ups and downs in their lives, some of them only a set of tools in the original text. Our own bhadralok Bengali detective Byomkesh (Sujoy Ghosh) and his writer friend Ajit (Anindya Chattopadhyay) gets called into Balabantapur, seemingly for hunting, but a deeper reason is revealed as the film unfolds. This story never fully remains only a detective thiller, but here love, passion, greed and guilt makes the film murkier. Maybe that’s because Ritu-da takes into account the fact that Byomkesh never likes to be called by stringent words like detective, this fact is supported by the dialogue stating the similarities between a detective and a hunter. Much of the first half unfolds like a claustrophobic chamber drama. There is very little camera movement, characters are stationed in richly upholstered sofa and they speak in a stilted fashion. In contrast, the inquisitors, Ajit and Byomkesh, are almost effervescent. Alaka moves from glazy-eyed indifference to heavy-lidded desperation through a series of well-written conversations with Ajit. The gradual crumbling of the Alaka-Himangshu marriage — a leit motif in Ritu-da’s films — is coaxed out with a mix of empathy and clinical indifference by both Ajit and Bymokesh. It makes for really good cinema. Interestingly, Ritu-da  makes a point of establishing Ajit as an intellectual equal and not just a passive crony to Byomkesh in his interpretation. The second half is more outdoorsy and the mood lightens. Things stumble out of the closet in a picnic sequence where all the lead characters are involved in a game, an obvious tribute to Ray’s famous memory game sequence in Aranyer Din Ratri. But if these things work for the film, there are many loopholes that pull it down to level of being just a good film from the distinction of being a truly layered psychological exploration. The background score in the film by Debojyoti Misra is appropriate, always maintaining the theme of suspense and thrill, even at times when the script falls loose. The song from Meghdootam and Tara Dim, written by Ritu-da himself gives a mystic touch to the film. The film benefits from strong performances from the lead actors, especially Sibaji Bandhopadhyay as the old doctor Kaligati, his movements always very circumspective, shrewdness in his eyes and the slippery voice. Sibaji’s general appearance is overly fit for the role and the director skillfully utilizes the resource. All the characters except Kaligati speak occasionally in English, which seems inappropriate for most except for Himangshu, who has returned from England. Anandi Ghoshe is strong as Anandi although her screen time is short. Sanjay Nag as the Dewan has limited screen time. Comparison comes naturally when same characters are portrayed by two different actors. Here in case of Byomkesh, Sujoy Ghosh is a little dumbstruck and lean in comparison with Abir’s Byomkesh, although the posters left a mark portraying the highly intelligent Byomkesh. Anindya as Ajit is good, but in front of a strong actor like Saswata he remains in the backseat. And somehow both parties are unable to render the deep friendship between Byomkesh & Ajit. The mystery behind the name Balabantapur comes as a real surprise in the film. I am going with three out of five stars for Rituparno Ghosh’s Chorabali. If it hadn’t been for the complex mash up of the truth and life, weather this would become Ritu-da’s last masterpiece, remains a question.