18 October 2016

Zulfiqar

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*** Spoiler Alert ***


Firstly hats off to Srijit Mukherji for attempting to make a bengali film based on Shakespeare's Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra. Also this film is like a tribute to The Godfather. This Durga Pujo Srijit da gave a tribute to Mario Puzo! Interestingly there were references to Julius Caesar in Srijit Mukherji's very first film "Autograph" too.

Secondly hats off to Srijit Mukherji for shooting in the dock area of Calcutta consisting of places like Kidderpore, Garden Reach and Metiaburuz. I don't remember when was the last time that a bengali film was shot in these places. The locations have brought an uniqueness to the film. The locations behave like vibrant and lively characters in the film. Without these locations the film would have been just like any other ordinary film.

Thirdly hats off to Srijit Mukherji for bringing together such a star-cast comprising of the very best of Tollywood. Getting the required dates of all these actors and actresses at the same time must have been a himalayan endeavour. All these actors and actresses are very busy people and are involved in various projects throughout the year. Getting all of them together in the same film must have been a herculean task. Also shooting for this film started in winter when actors and actresses are very busy with various shows and events throughout Bengal.

Whenever I think of underworld films, the first thing that comes to my mind is Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather trilogy, then I think about Martin Scorsese's films like Mean Streets, Goodfellas, Casino and The Departed, Brian De Palma's Scarface, Carlito's Way and The Untouchables, and lastly I think about Ram Gopal Verma's films like Satya and Company. Also the TV series The Sopranos comes to my mind.

Zulfiqar is the first true underworld bengali film in the history of bengali cinema. It portrays a vivid picture of the dark underbelly of Calcutta. However the film only portrays a slice of Calcutta's underworld. The real Calcutta underworld is much more violent and there are certain evil aspects which cannot be shown on the screen. In this film organised crime functions mainly in the dock area in a corporate way with various layers in its hierarchy and is known as the Syndicate. The Syndicate behaves like a wolf-pack and if any one wolf tries to become greater than the pack then he is immediately eradicated for the greater good of the Syndicate.

Last year Srijit Mukherji met with an unfortunate accident in Delhi and his leg was badly damaged. As he lay on the hospital bed with a plastered leg, he conceived the idea of Zulfiqar. Interestingly the first scene of the film begins with a shot of the plastered leg of Parambrata Chattopadhyay as he is lying on the hospital bed.

At the very beginning of the film the director gives us a detailed history about the crime syndicate which functions in and around the dockyard and about its mode of operations throughout the years. The audience must know the background of the area before it can proceed with the story. The protagonists of this film mostly belong to a particular community and this film is mainly about love, friendship and brotherhood within that community.

Loved Kaushik Sen's (Brutus/Basheer Khan) acting the most. He had a lean-mean look in the film. Also loved his unique accent. Loved the scene where Sachin Tendulkar gets out at 98 in the India-Pakistan match during the 2003 Cricket World Cup. Jisshu Sengupta (Cassius/Kashinath Kundu) looked convincing in the role of an evil conspiring man. Parambrata Chattopadhyay (one half of Mark Antony/Tony Braganza) looked cool and smart and his English dialogue delivery was too good. Also loved his Rastafarian wig and he carried it off quite well. Prasenjit Chattopadhyay (Julius Caesar/Zulfiqar Ahmed) was as usual at his very best in a calm and composed way. 

Nusrat Jahan (Cleopatra/Rani Talapatra) looked beautiful and sensuous and delivered her lines quite well. Loved the tattoo of an asp on her neck. What Egypt was to Cleopatra, the Blue Nile Bar was to her. Loved the decor of the Bar too. Ankush Hazra (Octavius/Akhtar Ahmed) was okay, nothing extraordinary. Rahul Banerjee (Lepidus/Laltu Das) was good. But I however felt that Sabyasachi Chakraborty would have been a better choice for this role. Paoli Dam (Calphurnia/Karishma Ahmed) was again okay. Loved that scene where she was walking on the ledge, where she was walking in snowfall and also that scene where she was hallucinating and the walls of her room were closing in on her. Kyra Dutt (Octavia/Albeena Ahmed) looked cute and promising. Kanchan Mullick (Enobarbus/Chheno Bablu) was good. June Malia (Portia/Pariza Khan) and Sujan Mukherjee (Cinna/Kaushik) were okay. Bharat Kaul (Parvez) was fascinating. Interestingly the poet Srijato (Tribhuban Gupta) looked extremely natural in his role and was quite good.

We all make fun of Dev's (the other half of Mark Antony/Markaz Ali) dialogue delivery and his acting skills. Facebook is full of memes which ridicule Dev. However in this film we all must appreciate Dev's effort to first learn sign-language within a short span of time and then to beautifully enact it on screen. Dev was fantastic in the film. His physique, his body language and his charisma helped him to carry this film on his shoulders. Dev deserves full marks for this film.

Also loved Srijit Mukherji's brilliant idea to split the character of Mark Antony between Tony Braganza and Markaz Ali. (In an unrelated topic, there is a music shop at Marquis Street in Calcutta named Braganza and its owner's name is Tony Braganza. There was a time a decade back when I used to play the guitar and I used to go to this shop regularly to buy my guitar strings and various other things).

The dialogues in this film are good and sharp. The audience inside the cinema hall also loved the use of profanities in the film. The aerial camera shots were great. The action sequences were as good as any Bollywood film. The motorbike race sequence was gripping. The costume and make-up department did a good job too. The editing was crisp. I however didn't like it that the scene where Ankush and Kanchan are walking and talking was put inside Kaushik Sen's dream sequence. The dream sequence begins in an interesting way but then suddenly it cuts to Ankush and Kanchan's scene and then again cuts back to the dream scene. The dream sequence should have continued as one continuous scene.

The famous "Et Tu, Brute" became "Tu Bhi" in this film. The Roman Senate became the Syndicate. The "Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears" scene was good but it could have been better. Srijit Mukherji's cameo was good and the audience inside the cinema hall loved it. Loved Kalyan Ray as the soothsayer. The "Ides of March" became Eid. The shayari used in the film is not extraordinary. Dev commits suicide inside the bathroom and falls into the bathtub. Nusrat Jahan had a personal liking for bathtubs in the film and she ultimately commits suicide not with the bite of an asp but electrocutes herself inside her bathtub. I loved the name of the nurse "Niyoti Dey" who poisons Parambrata Chattopadhyay. In the very last scene of the film Rahul Banerjee is killed by Ankush Hazra and he makes it look like an accident.

The songs are okay, nothing great about them. Only 'Qatl E Zulfiqar' is fascinating. 'Aami Aajkal Bhalo Aachi' is typical Anupam Roy. 'Ek Purono Masjidey' is quite ordinary and falls flat. 'Ghawrbari' is sweet. However I didn't like the inclusion of the song 'Katakuti Khela' in such a crucial and tense moment in the film. I loved the background score of the film by Indradip Dasgupta.

This Durga Puja it was strangely fashionable and the "in" thing to lambast Zulfiqar. Facebook and various Blogs were full of bad reviews of the film. Just as Brutus and Company enjoyed stabbing Julius Caesar, some people also ganged up to stab this film and bitch about it on social media. I however liked the film though Zulfiqar will never be ranked among Srijit Mukherji's best films. It could have been better obviously but we have to keep in mind that there were some pre-release controversies surrounding this film and reports suggest that the director had to succumb to several cuts in the film...







P.S. : I have not read the two Shakespearean tragedies in their original texts. Before going to watch the film, I thoroughly read about them in Wikipedia. Many years back in school we first studied Shakespeare through Charles and Mary Lamb's book named "Tales from Shakespeare". I still have that book. It still reminds me of my childhood days...   

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