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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

"Clerk" - No popcorn fare this !!

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.


Satyaki said...

Hey, I have to catch it, dude! I hope it plays for the second week too....
I thought it would be yet another pretentious film, and hence had decided to give it a miss....
Will definitely watch it & comment yet again.
Wonderful review. Quite a tease, in fact!;)

Sounak said...

never expected to see Prosenjit in a film like this! That for me was the greatest surprise. I liked the film somewhat for the brooding tone, and the gripping lunacy. But I would have preferred if it had more redeeming moments. I am sure the film would have greater acceptance (I saw it in an almost empty theater!) if the director had woven in more light-hearted situations.
The sequence involving a cross-section of people mouthing their reactions on the Aishwarya-Abhishek marriage seemed forced, and too amateurish, maybe that was done intentionally, but I did not like it. I loved the sequence towards the end with Prosenjit chasing the huge bill-board laden display vehicles on the road.

Piyush said...

Loneliness is a serious issue. The problem of loneliness is consuming more and more people from all walks of life. Biplab, the clerk, is a loner, and his travails with his loneliness is unique, though not quite far-fetched. What I liked best were the poignant tales that he would conceive with each heroine that he desired, and the way he narrated the same, that's really special. I found it a paradox that those tales in themselves held the key to his agony and also to his release.
I wish the film had the end more sharpened by a swift delineation.
Anyways, an intellectually rewarding film. Nice review.

Shreya said...

Thanks for looking through the layers of reality we presented in the film 'Clerk' & appreaciating the cinematic language which seems so lost in commerce-driven films of present time. 'Clerk' is going to do the 2nd week! Catch it in Priya Cinemas (2:40pm)& in Nandan (4:15pm).Show timings will be updated in case of change.

Shreya Nandy
(Bangla Talkies)

Dibyendu Paul said...

Nice review indeed .. Am yet to catch the film ..

It seems from the review too that the film is really a different one in terms of bangla Contemporary cinema..

Bt great job I must admit...

Siddhu said...

The USP of the film is its novel concept.
I think the handling could have been a bit better.
Even though I agree that a theme as bold and unique as this needed a non-mainstream treatment, else it would have seemed too trite.

Aniruddh said...

I have never been a fan of Prosenjit, and that's why I was elated that he had done a film like CLERK, when I came to know about it from the newspapers. However, I must say that Prosenjit lolling in the bathtub isn't exactly titillating stuff. Hence, it feels odd that such a hoo-ha was made of it unnecessarily in the media.
The male fantasizing in the Biplab's world is strangely devoid of sexual undercurrents though. I found that weird. I understand that he has a self-perception of both a confidant and lover boy of the screen heroines, however his drinking sessions and the tender ramblings on the phone fails to blend realism with romanticism.
The camerawork deftly projects the brushing of the real world against the illusory one. It is a splendid job done by Shirsa Roy.

Imran said...

Clerk is a bold Bengali film. Very, very 'hatke' - as it is commonly said for non-mainstream stuff that comes out of Bollywood. It is easy to dismiss it as an art-house type film that many have even labelled as pseudo intellectual, but I liked it....
inspite of the slow pace, and some boring moments.
For me, it was enjoyable largely because Prosenjit oozes unbelievable sex-appeal.... even at this age.... and the director has made a breakthrough attempt, not caring about audience acceptance, that's cool in a skewed manner, ha ha ha.

Shradha said...

I thought it was an English language film going by the film's title. I wish the film had subtitles. Not just for the dialogues, but even for the substance - I found much of the proceedings going tangentially above my head!

Sharmee said...

Nitesh Sharma deserves a fulsome praise for having dared to back an experimental film like 'Clerk'. I saw this film at an almost empty auditorium (Inox, City Centre) and was a witness to the squirming in the seats, and even giggling, by the few who had walked in cluelessly to the screening. In spite of the marginal reach of the film, I would have to say that the film breaks some new grounds in Bengali cinema. Notwithstanding the commercial fate, we should encourage new filmmakers with fresh ideas, even if the final product appears stilted at times.

Satyaki said...

Hey dude, I was finally able to watch CLERK, in the second week. I have to admit that it is a difficult film, and a brave film too. I am glad that you chose to review it on your blog.
I was floored by Prosenjit's performance. Here is an actor, a superstar at that, who has dared to be shown on screen stripped of his aura (shedding clothes for the bathtub scene is really a non-issue) of stardom! Commendable effort.

jeet said...

Watched this film recently on home video and was thoroughly moved.
It has a certain pensive, brooding quality and it also makes one question. The performances left a profound impression, I would never have known that Prosenjit Chatterjee can play such a complex character had I not seen this film. Thanks for writing about it.