Readers Write In #238: What the fish! (‘Maacher Jhol’)

Posted on August 7, 2020


(by Vikram MN)

Some movies just happen. As if the whole universe conspires towards it. On a fine midweek which has become a new Sunday due to the full lockdown restrictions on Sundays, where one goes off to buy non veg. One such morning of ours was reserved in selecting what fish to buy. Apart from regular anchovies, we bought black mullet too, something which we haven’t tried before.  But as someone who’s always interested in trying out something new, I was excited. On the same day evening, I had this movie named ‘Maacher Jhol’ in my list to watch. Having no clue what it means and the title cards too not having English translation for it, I was totally unaware of what I was going to watch. So, in the end when I got to know what it meant, I thought how destiny has conspired me into something fishy.

The movie opens with food, that too in a foreign locale. Being a foodie who has just come out of a nap after lunch, it was so appealing. I guess in this lockdown, next to movies I’ve watched more food videos than anything else. With others, food videos might have been topping the list. So, the immediate feeling was a pleasant one. For some non-Bengali who watches Bengal film as an outsider, the general notion of watching a Bengali film is to expect a slow movie with peeled off walls and poor people. Thanks to all the Ray concoction. So, to see France, see an exotic dish and wide landscapes,it felt as if like a breath of fresh air. I could literally breathe the fresh air when the protagonist walks around Paris. Having been house arrested, the feel was so liberating because it came out from quite an unexpected film. Watching an Imitiaz Ali film and having that feel is quite natural, its like you’ve signed up for a travel package, even if you don’t read the itinerary, you know that you’re going to see new things and be amazed by it but here its like taking an office bus and going to Ladakh. Maybe I’m being a hopeless romantic here but that’s how it was.

Dev D/Devdatto (Ritwick Chakraborty) is a Paris based master chef who returns back to Kolkata as his mother is too ill. We quickly get to know about him. But its not as simple as it sounds. If the movie had been named Dev D, even then it’d have been apt. There are various layers of him we see before he even meets his mother. In the very first scene, he shouts at the guy who makes a mistake in the dish and tells him he’s fired, which shows him like a tough task master, he then adds something and makes the dish like how its famous for, showing that he’s a perfectionist, but he sends the same dish back asking the waiter to say that it’s a new one, there goes his practicality, he finally asks the chef to continue working, is he really a good guy? Like so many flavors in one dish, so many layers of him come out in that one scene. It continues with rejecting a proposal and not giving a lengthy dialogue, not showing visible unhappiness of mom’s health deterioration and not getting frustrated at flat tire. He sends up asking for front seat as one of his fans request him accompany them. Again humor. So many layers in those few minutes. Brilliant.

When we see him talking to his mom, we get to know where all that came from. Those fish cutlets, seriously. That goes so well with the advice. We slowly get to know about his past. Interview is a great tool employed for it and we also get to know it through his own thinking. We know about his wife with whom he’s not living, his unhappy father etc. Conveniently, he stays in hotel where he’s adored and he conducts workshop so that he can cook that Maacher Jhol his mom wants. The sequence of events is brilliant and forms a cohesive screenplay together.

The part where the cooking expedition starts, looks like something which was going slightly out of the track. It looked too modern and didn’t exactly fit into the movie, much like Maggi’s (Sauraseni Maitra) character in the movie. It couldn’t really bring the punch like other characters in the movie but she exhibits a youthful exuberance which makes us forgive the naivete of her role in the film. Much like how elders are expected to forgive little mistake of younger ones, her not so perfect act too could be forgiven. Even her attraction towards Dev doesn’t feel like something she’d feel bad about once she leaves. It’s a nice little crush projected in a good way.

Like any film which focuses on a male individual, it’s the strong female presence which makes the film from becoming a misogynist one. The lady to have topped in that aspect in the film is Dev’s mom (Mamata Shankar). She earns respect just by the look of it. Such a confident character. Even the way she deals with an operation of herself and casually tells about stuff is so good that you can’t help but fall in love with the character. Each and every action of hers reminds us from where Dev had got his confidence.

The most depressing character out of the lot is Sreela (Paoli Dam) who’s life is tattered but the way she handles it is beautiful. She doesn’t vent out in every single scene but one could sense a constant irritation whenever she’s talking. Years and years of loneliness and having to deal life on her own would have taken a toll on her. Her tired looking face shows resignation and she doesn’t want to deal with it in future. The breakup scene where she asks for divorce could have been a great Mani Ratnam melancholic moment but ends up pretty casual,much to our respite. Its like seeing friends of us fighting with their spouses. It’s always awkward to sit there when it happens.

The beauty of the film is how in spite of a failed marriage, rift between dad and son, nothing really ends up well, yet Dev goes out as a man whom we all like. Because his character is written in an unjudgmental way. If it had been with a Ranbir Kapoor in his early 30s, he’d have made peace with at least one of the characters and would have given us an emotional moment with the other. We don’t really see him come off age but go into the same shell again. Life doesn’t really happen like thus. After not talking for twelve years its not easy for a son and dad to hug each other, especially from a middle-class family like that, hugging is never an option. Same about her ex, its not necessary to feel bad for the other one. It got messed up and that’s how it is, that’s life. Not trying to find the reason why…