Directors: Srijit Mukherjee (Forget Me Not, Bahrupiya), Abhishek Chaubey (Hungama Kyon Hain Barapa), Vasan Bala (Spotlight)
Cast: Ali Fazal, Shruthy Menon, Shweta Basu Prasad (Forget Me Not); Kay Kay Menon (Bahrupiya) ; Manoj Bajpayee, Gajaraj Rao (Hungama Kyon Hain Barpa); Harshvarrdhan Kapoor, Chandan Roy Sanyal, Radhika Madan (Spotlight).
It is never easy to bring a novel or short story to life through images. There have been exceptions though, like Satyajit Ray and Adoor Gopalakrishnan among a few others. Both Ray and Adoor did justice and more to adaptations.
Ray himself was a brilliant writer, and four of his short stories have been filmed as a four-episode anthology titled, Ray, and is now streaming on Netflix. Handled by three directors, the work leaves room for improvement in its structuring, scripting and editing. A few of the performances do stand out.
Ali Fazal is interesting as Ipsit in Srijit Mukherji’s Forget Me Not. As a dashing, debonair and extremely intelligent corporate partner who arrogantly prides himself as one whose memory never fails, he runs into a personal and professional disaster that is orchestrated by one he trusts. One evening, he meets a woman at a bar who tells him that they have had a sexual fling in a hotel close to the Ajanta Caves. Ipsit cannot seem to remember that at all, despite the woman minutely detailing the encounter. This segment loses its clarity towards the end, and Shweta Basu Prasad as Ipsit’s secretary, Maggie, is trifle too wooden.
The other episode by Mukherji, Bahrupiya, has Kay Kay Menon playing a movie makeup artist, who uses his skills to destroy his adversaries, but soon reaches a point of utter helplessness. Menon is not bad as Indrashish, trying to change his appearance by using different kinds of prosthetics. But is not prepared for the tragic consequences.
Abhishek Chaubey’s Hungama Kyon Hai Barpa tackles a very distressing condition, kleptomania. Shot almost entirely inside a first-class airconditioned coupe (I could not believe that A/C coaches are so swanky), this part is the most engaging. Manoj Bajpayee’s Musafir Ali is shocked to see Baig (Gajraj Rao), also travelling with him.
A kleptomaniac, Ali remembers that he had stolen a classy dress watch from Baig ten years ago. Baig does not seem to remember the incident, and the twist at the end is just superb. Chaubey’s episode has been handled with a lot of care, and Bajpayee is an excellent performer with a range that is amazing. I remember him as a cowering homosexual in Aligarh, as a wily young man who tries to break the system in Satyagraha, as psychological wreck trapped inside a room in Gali Guleiyan and as a ruthless Chambal dacoit in Sonchiriya. Rao is also great as one who pretends with marvelous alacrity.
Vasan Bala talks about religion vs cinema in Spotlight, and is markedly different from Ray’s Ghanshatru, a magnificent take on religion vs not entertainment but science. Adapted from Henrik Ibsen’s Play, An Enemy of the People, Ray’s work had the late Soumitra Chatterjee essaying a medical doctor who tries hard to convince villagers that the temple prasad is responsible for the outbreak of an epidemic. Spotlight focusses on the life of a film star, Vikram (Harshvarrdhan Kapoor), who gets angry when he realises that the sadhvi, Divya Didi (Radhika Madan), draws a much bigger crowd in the hotel where he is staying than he could ever hope for.
The climax is engaging and lays bare what Didi really is. Chandan Roy Sanyal as Vikram’s agent, Robby, actually overshadows the rest of the cast. The actor may well be the one reason to watch Spotlight.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran is a movie critic and Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s biographer)