[L]et me start with the story of a teenager some twenty years back. He loved and wanted to study literature. His academician parents were wiser – “There is no future in General stream that too Literature”. The boy grew up believing that he probably didn’t have the merit to pursue arts.
Watching Nandita Roy and Shiboprasad Mukherjee’s debut film Ichchhe (meaning ‘wish’), I was suddenly reminded of that boy whom I knew quite well till a time. Ichchhe deals with a reality which is a perceived reality of the Bengali middle class. Long back Rabindranath Tagore was miffed by the hapless Bengali psyche and wrote “saat koti sontaner hey mugddho janoni, rekhecho bangali korey manush koroni” (a crude translation is – “Hey mother of seven crore children, you have kept them as Bengalis but did not let them grow as complete individuals”). Bengali population has multiplied from that seven crores in these years but the truth of the situation remains almost unaltered.
The film opens up with a kid Rana getting up from sleep and his mother Mamata (Sohini Sengupta) readying him for school. In the short journey in a rickshaw to school, Rana is hammered with ‘knowledge’ from the mother. And this continues, from home to school, on the way back and almost all the time the child is awake. He is threatened, loved, blackmailed and cornered – to fulfill the ‘wish’ of the mother that he stands first in the exams every time. Soon we find Rana a pawn to his mother’s irreverent desire – a cherished dream of self-respect and status-quo in the society which her LIC-agent husband cannot provide. In a touching sequence she breaks down in front of her sister and confesses that she has nothing more to do – she wanted to make it big through some one, if not the husband then at-least the son.
This sad revelation immediately strips off the mother from a villainy badge, making her emotions logical even if her actions were not. In one of the altercations the father (Bratya Basu) tells his wife that as parents they have done their duties in bringing up their son and she should not ideally confuse it with her own sacrifices towards making a better future for Rana. Mamata couldn’t take it internally, her life revolved round her son, how can she now try to dissociate herself from this? Near the latter part of the film there is a stunningly tragic representation of the repressed anxiety of Mamata, her world where Rana is still a kid – his cups and medals where Mamata can feel her efforts into the achievements. The message is strong and clear – how parents mummify their children as toys for their own ego satisfaction.
Through the father’s character in direct comparison with Mamata’s, the dilemma of attention over intrusion is conveyed well. It was an interesting code where the father being un-interested from the beginning is not Rana’s biggest threat, but is distant from him. On the other hand, the mother trespasses Rana’s life and drifts away from Rana to an extent that he sees her as his enemy and revolts from time to time. So where does the son go? In Sanskrit there is an adage – “prapteshu sorosho borshe, putra mitra badacharet” (meaning “attaining the age of sixteen, the son should be treated as a friend”). Unfortunately even now, in middle class Bengali houses, the parent-son relationship lacks this maturity. The film doesn’t answer this dichotomy but reflects it truthfully.
Interesting also is the politics of gender where the homo-gendered rivalry of the coveted object (the ‘man’) leads to a tussle of emotional tug-of-war. While Rana’s first girl-friend was passive (whom Mamata initially nipped off brutally from Rana’s life and at a later time wanted to implant back to get rid of his second girl-friend), Jayanti, his second love-interest is charmingly effervescent. Bidita Bag as Jayanti exudes freshness which is natural and real. To her credit she managed to uplift the character from being a baby-doll at the hands of Rana or the director-duo! Her effortless flirtations from being an extrovert to the moments of psychological crises are praiseworthy. With few more films lined up for release, Bidita hopefully will get the variety to portray a range of characters. She holds promise as an urban youth who is familiar to us.
Her leading man in the film Samadarshi Dutta (who played the grown up Rana) is a find. His big eyes are innocent till you beat his ego hard and he can be stinging in his cold stare. With a stubble he at times resembled the young Soumitra Chatterjee of Apur Sansar (remember, The Times reviewer wrote, “Actor Chatterjee, as a young man too gifted to be strong, provides an unforgettable object of the Biblical lesson (Luke 10:8) ‘ the children of light'”). This is Samadarshi’s first film (like Bidita’s) though not the first released since Ichchhe was delayed exhibition by three years! Both Samadarshi and Bidita launch themselves whole-heartedly into the filmscape – we can hope they can be the face of Bengali cinema to the world.
Sohini Sengupta as Mamata used her stoic physique to create a sense of un-relented destiny for a Bengali child – a different mother archetype which is less benevolent and more strict and fearful. At times she was melodramatic, her theatrical overtones being overtly underlined. But those can be treated as aberrations. Her own sense of void that leaves her hitting at the door of communication with her son and returning empty-handed are carried through deftly. Sohini as Mamata, is a different image in the collage of character acting in Bengali cinema and it’s sure to be held with high esteem in future as well.
The film that can boast so highly of acting however did not do justice with its soundscape. The background music is too dramatic and intrusive. Rupam Islam added some decibels of noise. Anuseh Anadil of Bangladesh sang a poignant song which when juxtaposed with Rana’s emotional outburst to Jayanti seemed a little lengthy defeating the purpose of drama needed there. The costume as in most Bengali films raise the same question – why will most of the characters remain so immaculately made up even if they are in the comfort of their homes?
Ichchhe is a good attempt. It holds on a palette that has all the colours that we are familiar with. It is rare to find a Bengali film devoid of any nostalgic reference. Rather it encouraged the audience to tread nostalgic remembrances about their own childhood and others surrounding them. The making is not outstanding, as a result of which there is a feeling of looking at the sky through a small window rather than the whole sky itself. Yet, such effort is praiseworthy simply because it tried to look at different aspects of life that contemporary Bengali film makers choose to ignore. Ichchhe probably cannot become a phenomenon in itself the way Taare Zameen Par happened to be. But Ichchhe did create a ripple that transmitted across successfully and that is no mean achievement.
Postscript: That boy, whom I mentioned in the beginning, never had the courage of Rana to revolt nor did his mother push him to that extreme. He is now a man in his late thirties who toils hard in a software company. I happened to ask the toiler, “Are you happy with what you do or do you wish you were in literature today?” I got a corporate-like response “well it depends”. But I already know that art has left him long ago.