True Review



by Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri June 11 2024, 12:00 am Estimated Reading Time: 5 mins, 44 secs

"Despite the charm of a fairy tale reference, Kaushik Ganguly's Ajogya struggles with a muddled narrative and underdeveloped characters, falling short of his acclaimed cinematic standards,” writes Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri.

Once upon a time, there was a princess. One day when she was playing with a golden ball, it fell into a pond. Sitting at the pond’s edge, hoping it would surface, she heard a voice that said, ‘What do you want, tell me.’ She gazed in the direction of the voice and saw a green frog smiling at her. The princess pleaded with the frog to retrieve the ball for her. When the frog asked what it would have in return, the princess, desperate to get her ball back, said, ‘Whatever you wish.’ The frog said that it wished to spend some time with the princess inside the palace…be with her, eat, drink, and sleep alongside her. Eager to get the ball back, the princess agreed. As the fairy tale goes, the frog followed the princess back into her palace and into her room. Though she was initially repulsed by the idea of a frog on her bed, eventually, it transpired that the frog was a handsome prince on whom a witch had cast a spell, which could be broken only if it was able to spend time with a princess in her palace. And as fairy tales end, they lived happily ever after!

Moral of the story: ‘Don’t judge anyone by their appearance.’ We must treat people with love, no matter how they look. One’s physical appearance can be misleading. There’s also something in it about honouring promises.

Now, before you begin to wonder if there’s been a printer’s devil at work whereby a children’s fairy tale has replaced a film review, or the state of Bengali cinema has finally driven me round the bend so that I am rambling nonsensically, rest assured. There’s a reason. This fairy tale appears in Kaushik Ganguly’s new film Ajogya, being feted all over Bengal as the fiftieth collaboration between its lead stars, Prosenjit Chatterjee and Rituparna Sengupta.

However, and that’s a big however, fairy tales come with a clear-cut message and moral, and generally end happily ever after. Though one can dispense with moralizing, and a happy ending in a film often for the better, if you are using a fairy tale in the service of your narrative, there has to be clarity about what it’s trying to say through the tale. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure why this fairy tale finds repeated mention in the film, even though one of the characters does make an attempt to get some explanation in sideways, articulating how the hero is deserving of love though he might be ‘ajogyo’. The link with the tale is so tenuous that it only ends up being muddled, which is Ajogya’s biggest bane. What is it that the film is trying to be? A love story? A thriller? A revenge drama? The film never seems to know for sure.

It begins well enough with an exciting montage involving a body tied to a railway track, an approaching train, a thumb impression, all playing to appropriate music. But no sooner do you settle down for a thrilling ride that it fizzles out. We have a young woman, Parna (Rituparna Sengupta), arriving at a job interview and breaking into tears in front of the board. She eventually lands the job. We learn that her husband Raktim (Silajit) has lost his job in the aftermath of COVID, and that there has been a loan scam he may have been involved with. They have a young daughter who wears braces on one leg (rather pointless, that bit, because there’s nothing that it adds to the story or is relevant for the narrative). A spat with a bartender leads Raktim, yes, they are on the verge of penury and despair but he still has the money to splurge on drinks, to befriend the mysterious Prosen (Prosenjit, ‘“jit” ta baad din,’ he says in introduction and a hat-tip to his stardom) who, it soon turns out, has a secret involving Parna.

And then, you keep waiting for something to happen. The story meanders from Kolkata to Puri and to an expository flashback on the beach, involving the political badlands of Bengal, that is supposed to provide the film’s big reveal. Except that there’s nothing quite big about it. As reveals go, it’s pretty lame, and unforgivably talky for what is a visual medium. I mean, the narrative is so lax that we never question why Raktim and Parna’s child is so young till Parna explains (in what is a redundant clarification) the past to Prosen in the film’s climactic sequence (beautifully shot on the beach, but to what avail?).

The climax never quite lives up to the enigma the film seeks to create about Prosen’s character. Kaushik Ganguly has a penchant for crafting nifty thrillers with good climactic twists. Here, that faculty deserts him. And, whatever potential the film had is lost in a sea of dialogues, some of them surely in the running for Bangla’s cinema equivalent of a Razzie: ‘it’s not whisky, but risky’ or that mawkish and unending sequence on the beach (‘let’s unburden ourselves by confessing it all to the sea’), or the one gem that equates marriage to a thermocol – who speaks like this, I couldn’t help wonder.

As for the performances – well, it surely is bad news for a film celebrating its stars’ fiftieth collaboration if another actor walks off with the honours. Which is what Silajit does. Not that Prosenjit and Rituparna are bad. They are too seasoned to be that, but here they are hampered by underdeveloped characters that give them little scope for showcasing the fireworks they brought to Praktan or Drishtikone together or to countless other films over the past decade and more independently. In Ajogya, they are simply going through the motions so that not even that lip lock on the beach sizzles.

If it were helmed by any other director, one could have been a little more forgiving of the film’s failings – of which mediocrity is the greatest. However, coming from a filmmaker like Kaushik Ganguly – undoubtedly the finest filmmaker in the Bengali industry over the last two decades, with veritable classics like Shobdo, Bisorjon, Cinemawaala and Nagarkirtan to his name – Ajogya is, if not quite ashojyo (unbearable), a major disappointment.  

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