When I went to see this latest Bangla film released at a nearby multiplex, I must confess that I wasn't much clued in on the buzz about it. The name, "Clerk", itself was a tad awkward for a Bangla film. I must confess that I even missed out on seeing the earlier film made by the director Subhadro Choudhury, "Prohor", though it has been screened many a time on television. All that drew me to the film was the innovatively designed poster (one of the best in recent times) which had Tollygunge's mightiest star, Prosenjit Chatterjee, in a bath-tub.... and only the first names of the key collaborators: the director, the aforementioned star, the director of cinematography (Sirsha Ray) - suggestive of the creative teamwork... really impressive!
The film caught me unawares.
I was pleasantly surprised.
I felt rewarded.
It has to be said at the onset that "Clerk" is not an easy film.
That's why I mentioned in the title of the post that it is not at all the kind of cinema that one can watch munching popcorn, reclining cosily in the slide-back chairs of the multiplex.
No, not at all!
In stead, it is the kind of film that makes us sit upright
and get rid of our slumber.
It challenges our sensibilities.
Yes, it challenged my faculties as a cinema junkie too!
How can I sum it up? Well, in just two words: Unapologetically indulgent.
Reminiscent of the cinema of Mani Kaul.
Yet, refreshingly original.
Prosenjit in the eponymous role is shorn of all excesses.
He is the loner who is seen brooding..
There are no song and dance routines to establish love, pain and loneliness.
Yet, we get a taste of all the awkwardness that grips him in the real world,
and we get an insider's view of him basking in an interplay of the real & the surreal.
We soak in the madness;
Biplab (played by Prosenjit) has a stereotypical clerk's job in an office that sees all the strains & the conflicts that are bypassed by him, there's labour unrest unfolding, and ultimately the downing of the shutters, yet he is ensconced in a world of his own.
We soak in the familiar routine that we see unfolding, with him, and about him.
He relishes the schizophrenic fantasy of engaging in telephonic conversations with the Bollywood heroines: Kareena Kapoor, Rani Mukherjee, Priyanka Chopra, Urmila Matondkar.... all typefying the male fantasy about the nubile damsel in the mainstream potboilers... the walls of his room plastered with their blow-ups, the umpteen burning candles casting an unearthly feel all night.
He is seemingly oblivious to the young girl who eyes him passionately, or the colleague in office who is a desperate widow.
We as audience are not given much scope to probe the protagonist's condition. The languid frames are just enough to involve us in his intense pleasurable moments, and then again we find ourselves distancing from him as we catch the neighbours' reactions to his non-conformity. There is an attempt to create a morbidly intoxicating routine about apparently trivial, yet symbolically significant details. Be it the drinking sessions at a sleazy bar, or a libidinous gentleman's purchases of Black Molly for his aquarium, or a housewife's attempts to figure out the truth behind the protagonist's midnight-stupor-linked obscure behaviour, and more.... we, as audience, are never given an opportunity to be judgmental.
There is a bit of a dramaturgy in two successive segments, first the protagonist fantasizing and then, in his fantasy, forging an illusory bond with Aishwarya Rai, the Miss World turned Bollywood heroine, and then the news of her betrothal becoming the most talked about thing all over, we find an upheaval of sorts as the protagonist's world comes crashing.
Curiously, the protagonist is named Biplab, which means 'revolution' in Bangla, and the film itself if not quite revolutionary is quite a milestone in the history of Bangla cinema, as never before has a director risked making an experimental film with the most commercially viable name in the lead. There are several distinctive moments, especially towards the end of the film, which I would not want to elaborate on, as I do not want to spoil the fun (for the lovers of serious cinema only) for those who chance upon my blogpost before watching the film, and these are a key to our understanding too. I would also like to say that the silent moments in the film speak brilliantly, the splendid cinematography heightening the effects. Hardly does one come across such brilliant moments that speak a thousand words without any of the on-screen characters speaking a word. My most favorite sequences are those which has Prosenjit twisting and contorting his face in front of the mirror, and the bath-tub sequence of course.
Let me thank the makers and those who backed this experimental film without bothering about general or mass acceptability. "Clerk" is not a film for all. It is absolutely a niche film, and may it just seek & find its viewers.
Apart from Sirsha Ray's amazing camerawork, the film also boasts of briiliant art design by Tanmoy Chakraborty, an apt background score by Raja Narayan Deb, and a credible act by the cast of the film (other than Prosenjit, who must derserve the highest praise for just being a part of such a film, one can find several lesser known names, like Runa Banerjee, Anindita Bose, Debabrato Chakraborty, Kalyan Gupta and several others). My best wishes for director Subhodro Choudhury, and producer Nitesh Sharma, under whose Bangla Talkies banner the film has been presented.