‘Jyeshthoputro’, now streaming on ZEE5, is a classy melodrama with Prosenjit Chatterjee and Ritwick Chakraborty

Posted on December 15, 2019

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The screenplay expands on the theatre- vs-cinema conflict that was a small part of ‘Nayak’ and ‘Autograph’. Here, the theatre artist becomes an entirely different person.

Spoilers ahead…

When Srijit Mukherji did a take on Nayak, in Autograph, he got all kinds of tricky with the narrative. It’s a film with two layers. In the outer layer, Prosenjit Chatterjee plays a matinee idol. He is approached by a young, Ray-worshipping filmmaker (Indraneel Sengupta), who wants to remake Nayak, in a sense – and he wants this superstar to play the superstar Uttam Kumar played. In Kaushik Ganguly’s Jyeshthoputro, Prosenjit, once again, plays a matinee idol whose layers are gradually peeled off. In the first scene, he literally peels off his old-age prosthetic makeup on the set of a shoot. We first see the star, the actor – he’s playing a part. And when the makeup comes off, the real man – Indrajit – emerges. That’s one layer of this movie.

The other layer of Jyeshthoputro – based on an original concept by Rituparno Ghosh – has to do with Indrajit’s brother, Partho (Ritwick Chakraborty). And we get to the stroke of genius at the heart of this movie. In Nayak and Autograph, the movie star had abandoned his theatre roots. That was part of his guilt. But here, the theatre artist becomes an entirely different person: Partho. This allows Jyeshthoputro to expand on the theatre- vs-cinema conflict that was a small part of the earlier films. It becomes the thrust of this screenplay. The estranged sibling arts are now… actual estranged siblings. Indrajit ran away from Ballavpur to Kolkata and became a star. Partho stayed behind in their crumbling boro bari, writing plays and acting in them and looking after their father and sister Ila (Sudipta Chakraborty). He is perpetually clad in a dhuti and a vest. Indrajit, even casually, wears delicately embroidered kurtas. We all know the real money is in the movies.

Indrajit is visiting because their father has died. Superficially, the brothers are close – but the events that follow reveal the deep fissures between them. Depending on which brother’s side you stand on, you could label Jyeshthoputro a chamber play, like the ones by August Strindberg, or chamber cinema, like the ones by Ingmar Bergman (who was hugely influenced by Strindberg’s theatrical techniques). Kaushik Ganguly seems to follow both approaches. But first, the dramatis personae. There’s the entourage clucking around Indrajit. There are the fans who begin screaming right from the time Indrajit lands in a helicopter. (He’s a star. He, quite literally, descends from the heavens.) Inside the ancestral mansion, there’s the faithful family retainer. There’s Partho’s pregnant wife Rai. (Shreya Bhattacharya imbues the character with such unquestioning kindness, such docile decency.)

And there’s Ila, who stays locked up in her room. She’s been unhinged by a tragedy, and Partho is afraid she will turn violent if let loose. Imagine his irritation, then, when Indrajit waltzes in – after ten years – and orders Ila to be released from confinement. Imagine his further irritation, in a later scene, when Ila slips on a pair of ghungroo-s and begins to dance. She’s practising to be an actress in the films, she says – not theatre. Here’s Partho, taking care of her, night and day, and yet, his sister wants to be a part of Indrajit’s world. Sudipta Chakraborty is superb as Ila. Her soft features often acquire a manic edge, and you’re never sure what she is capable of. Ila gets the film’s best line: Such a big house… so many empty rooms… These big houses are built for big families, and then people die or move away and all that’s left is a space haunted by memories.

This cast of characters is sometimes put through theatrical techniques. A scene where Rai leaves Indrajit just as Partho enters through another door is practically a stage instruction: exit stage right , enter stage left. And sometimes, we get purely cinematic passages, as when Ila screams from the window in her room and the camera drifts upwards, as though following that scream as it rises to the heavens. Another superb stretch revolves around a missing Ila. The others search for her, against the backdrop of a dreamlike flute and strings. (The music is by Prabuddha Banerjee.) And when she is found, it’s the most graceful of reunions – but this delicate, private moment becomes a public spectacle as a crowd gathers around to gawk.

Partho is upstaged at every stage by the manic fandom around Indrajit (even their relatives are starstruck), and this leads to the centrepiece of Jyeshthoputro: a magnificent pair of mirror scenes between the two brothers. Both scenes are filled with regret and recriminations, a lot of cigarette smoke, and very similar background sounds: a periodic guitar twang that’s spooky enough to suggest this house is indeed haunted by memories. In the first scene, Partho has the upper hand. In the second, Indrajit takes ice-cold revenge. Both actors are stupendous. They even look like how you’d incarnate theatre and cinema – Ritwick’s reedy austerity versus Prosenjit’s perfectly manicured sheen.

The women in Jyeshthoputro appear symbolic, too. Parul (Daminee Benny Basu) is the obsessed fan. Sudeshna (Gargi Roychowdhury) is the objective critic. The former barges into Indrajit’s room and throws herself at him. They used to be a thing. Now, she’s a housewife and he’s a star. His awkwardness around her stings. As for Sudeshna, she’s the headmistress of the local school. She wears formidable glasses. She’s punctilious to a fault – she says “whom”. She’s still angry with Indrajit for leaving her and running away to Kolkata (they were going to get married), and when Parul teases her about her reaction to Indrajit’s re-entry into their lives, she says, very quietly, “One doesn’t blush at this age. One feels uncomfortable.” Her moment of triumph comes when she studiously edits a copy of Indrajit’s biography, which is not just whitewashed but also filled with spelling and grammatical mistakes. Without mentioning a single word, she lets him know she would have made his life right.

Copyright ©2019 Baradwaj Rangan. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.