Dr. Shoma A. Chatterji offers an in-depth review of the remarkable Bengali film *BE LINE*, directed and written by Samik Roychoudhury.

May 17, 2024 - 21:35
May 17, 2024 - 21:54
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Old age and loneliness always walk hand-in-hand towards the destination in a person’s journey through life. Some mellow people teach themselves to cope with their loneliness. Some cannot and might be pushed to the edge of sanity. While some keep vacillating between their ability to cope and their failure to understand loneliness and make it their company in the last stretch of life. Writer-director Samik Roychoudhury has created a film that uses cinema both as medium and message and has done it very imaginatively and convincingly in his film Be Line in Bengali.

An old man (Paran Bandopadhyay) lives alone in an empty, plain room within its ageing walls and its grey surroundings with a very old television set and an old telephone for company. The television set seems to have conked off and a mechanic steps in to set it right. Later, after he has left, the old man gets accidentally connected to a wrong number and the old man’s life takes an adventurous and novel turn. He happens to overhear strange conversations between a very young couple (Shreya Bhattacharya and Tathagata Mukherjee) who make love, argue, fight, debate, and then make up to begin fighting or making love again. The old telephone becomes the old man’s strange companion and his life begins to revolve around the telephone expecting it to ring. His entire day and night is spent with the anxiety that builds up waiting for the phone to ring.And it does ring even when he is eating and he quickly tries to attend to the ringing in case it conks off.

The old man actually visualizes the young couple in their home, while the young couple has no clue of their being spied upon in their very intimate moments. Neither actually meet each other but the audience is witness to this strange communication that breaks the timeline through the old telephone in the old man’s sparse room and the mobiles being used by the two partners of the young couple. 

Does this suggest a time gap between the old man and the young couple? If that be true, how do they communicate? But, they don’t communicate and the lives of the young couple – married or living in – is kept vague deliberately, while the old man never actually confronts the couple. The old man often sees terribly scary nightmares in his sleep and wakes up in a sweat and then begins to wait for the telephone to ring. He gets panicky and calls the police when he suspects from his eavesdropping that the woman is intending to commit suicide or might be killed by her lover. The police come but draw a naught. 

When the conversations between the young couple turn hot and sexy, the old man begins to feel hot and sexy and discovers that his lonely life has finally found a ray of light waiting for the telephone call which is always the wrong number connecting him to the strange couple. The desperation of his loneliness slowly and surely dissipates as he vicariously participates in their squabbles, their love-making and their conversations and messages surfacing on their mobile phones though it is purely visualized by the old man who cannot actually see them but gets emotionally involved in their mood changes, squabbles and even love-making and imagines what is actually happening at the other end of the wrong number.

The audience is held captive by actually experiencing the two worlds the old man begins to reside in, surprised, shocked, amazed at the volatile relationship between the pretty young woman with long hair, the young man who cannot cope with his woman on the one hand, and the old man’s boredom being relieved through his insight into the life of a couple young enough to be his grown children on the other. The audience therefore, is unwittingly invited to participate vicariously in the lives and struggles of these three characters. 

The camera and editing keep chopping and changing from very dull visuals and art direction in the sparse room of the old man filled with grey shades and the television set. The old man is disinterested in his meals because he is afraid of being lonely and old to bright colours when the camera keeps cutting into the modern apartment of the young couple, offering viewers a juxtaposed image of two generations where the younger couple feel lonely even when they live together while the old man is lonely but is able to accept his loneliness with his ‘touch’ with the young couple. The cameraman resorts to large close-ups of the old man but these add to perspective instead of cutting out perspective because it is necessary to show the old man’s face with its changing expressions of fear, sadness, surprise, cheer to make the audience try to feel his loneliness seen up close.

The music remains low-key and the two parallel plots do not run into each other except through the eyes and ears of the old man who is a character unto itself and is, at the same time, a kind of a strange audio-voyeur into the lives of a young couple. One must however, concede that Be Line  would not have become the quality film it has turned out to be had Paran Bandopadhyay not portrayed the grayish and multi-layered role of the old man. Shreya Bhatacharya as the young woman does very well too.

Some scenes of the young couple are fraught with gore and blood specially the scene where the young woman sits with her back on the bedstead and with blood flowing down her thighs and legs. It might have been integral to the relationship but it somehow cuts into the finely tuned rhythm of the film. The film does not demand location shooting so has been entirely shot indoors vacillating between the sad interiors of the old man’s large room and the bright set up of the apartment frequented by the young couple. While the old man is weighed down emotionally by his loneliness, the young couple is always in a conflicting situation though they are almost always together.

According to the young director, “Be line tells the story of a time when things were changing. Landline phones were being replaced by cell phones, and people weren't sure yet how to have fun by themselves. The movie shows how loneliness can mess with people's minds in different ways, depending on their age group. The film portrays the psychological toll that loneliness can exact, manifesting in contrasting ways across two distinct generations. Despite its exploration of this weighty subject matter, "Be line" never loses sight of its core purpose – to entertain and engage its audience.”

The twist in the tale is truly quite unexpected which sort of changes our perspective built so carefully across the film that went before. But it also writes a logical finish to this extraordinary film. 

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