RAKTABEEJ – AN EXCELLENT POLITICAL THRILLER BASED PARTLY ON REALITY
In her comprehensive analysis, Dr. Shoma A. Chatterji provides an in-depth critique of the recently released political thriller titled RAKTABEEJ.
The film opens with the President of India, Animesh Chatterjee (Victor Banerjee) signing his rejection of a mercy petition for an extremist sentenced to death. It then moves to a suburban town which is the ancestral residence of the Honorable President where he is arriving after many years since he became President to personally perform the Durga Pooja his family is famous for. His widowed sister Gauri Debi (Anasuya Choudhury), lives in the neighbouring village looked after and supervised by a host of caretakers, driver, manager, maids and so on. Gauri Debi and the Hon President have shared a very close bond since childhood and the narrative is dotted with small, nostalgic bits of their childhood.
The apparent peace of the Pooja and the small town is extremely disturbed by a sudden blast in a fireworks factory in the neighbourhood. In addition to the State Anti-Terrorist Force, the central government sends its own team to take over the investigation while the air is filled with fear of some terrorist attack any time and the investigating team is on a rapid fire investigation to find the back story. Was it really a fire in a fireworks factory? Or, does this signify something much more dangerous and threatening as the area is filled with terrorists preparing to launch a bomb attack?
Image: Victor Banerjee and Anasuua Majumdar
For the first time since their debut film Icche (2011) the director pair of Nandita Roy and Shiboprosad Mukherjee have made a film based on a real political terror incident that happened in 2014 near Burdwan in Khagragarh changed in the film to Khairgarh. After Icche, which probed into the psychological impact of Oedipal Complex on a mother-son relationship, Roy and Mukherjee decided to go on an extensive tour of mainstream films, each one a big commercial hit with a social agenda that might not have been either “social” or an “agenda” but were intelligently fitted in to silence critics and discerning viewers and also, to sustain the entertainment factor with a loud, extended and dramatic climax.
With Raktabeej, the directors have broken the barriers they had carefully created to fill their films with as much mainstream masala as they could and have challenged themselves to make a hard-hitting film that all audiences will fall in love with.
The narrative is split into two halves which often cut into each other as they are directly linked to the President’s security while his sister and the rest are more surprised than afraid and is busy with the elaborate rituals of the Durga Pooja. The air alongside the sound of the drums and the music and the Pooja songs and the chants of Mahalya’s Chandpath, is filled with a heightened sense of anxiety, an electric tension that lurks in the hidden corners of the small town.
Image: Mimi Chakraborty
The jet-paced and sharp editing keep cutting sharply into the ancestral Chatterjee home to the anti-terrorist squad where Pankaj Sinha (Abir Chatterjee) the police chief who tops the Central squad and Sanjukta Mitra (Mimi Chakraborty) heading the State Police Squad are invested with the challenge of investigating the blast in the fireworks factory. There is not much love lost between them as they differ strongly on their ideas of torture of prisoners or suspects not arrested yet. The only touch of humour comes from Nityananda Patitundi (Kanchan Mullick), the local police head who is more knowledgeable than he appears to be. The humour does not intrude into the serious tenor of the film but Mullick is very good.
The narrative is subtle and celebratory in the Chatterjee ancestral home closing in on the rituals performed by the President himself which suddenly becomes angry, loud and violent when the camera cuts into the police chasing to catch a fleeing terrorist as they now suspect that the President’s life is in danger though he is not aware of it.
The directors and script-writers never shy away from visualizing terrible scenes of extreme violence which does not differentiate between men, women and even children, does not veer away from using the gun though Sinha does not quite like it. We are often brought back to scenes of sweets being fried on a gigantic kadhai in Gauri Devi’s house filled with domestic staff she has taken in voluntarily to offer them food, clothing and shelter. The film also cuts into scenes of sound and colour at the local fair held in the small town where the staff repairs either to play target games or buy trinkets while the shadow of terror looms large which only Pankaj, Sanjukta and their very efficient team is aware of.
Image: Mimi and Abir
Among Gauri Devi’s sheltered ‘help’ is a pair of stupid-looking identical twins, sons of the gardener, Mala, a maid who helps Gauri Devi with her wheelchair who has as a son who never speaks, a middle-aged maid who supervises everything, a young girl, Jaimini Haldar (Devlina Kumar) who is in love with the young and new manager Nishikanta Manna (Satyam Bhattacharya) and one more – the outsider photo-journalist Bhaskar (Ambarish Bhattacharya) who keeps chasing Patitundi for info about the danger from the terrorists but finally is discovered to have a strong strain of patriotic conscience. Roy and Mukherjee have drawn up each character in the minutest of detail never mind the footage they occupy.
The background music is a bit too loud and there is one song too many. One finds the song-dance number “Gobindo Keno Daant Majena” quite misplaced in this film but the twist in the tale sets that right. There is another song sung by lots of women wearing the Durga mask, which this critic found a bit crudely political reminding one of the Modi masks everyone wore before the general elections which set this trend in political campaigning.
Of the two halves of the cinematic narrative, while one harps on the genre of the family drama filled with soft scenes touching on a bit of melodrama in the scenes between the brother and sister, the other thrives on the constant and dynamic action-filled scenes of chases, violent interrogations, blood, gunshot wounds suffered both by suspects and cops which falls in the genre of an action-filled political thriller. Abir Chatterjee and Mimi Chakraborty seem to be constantly at loggerheads but not very sharply yet soften towards each other when the mission is accomplished and Singha has gone back to Delhi while Sanjukta gets promoted to a high post. The running race between them is a nice stroke hinting at a softening of emotions towards each other. The dialogues, especially when the President questions the moral judgment of Lord Krishna of his sister, or the soft touch when Sanjukta lifts the two toddlers when their mother is being interrogated and cuddling them, add to the humane dimension of the film.
The acting is one of the highest points sustaining the two-track polar opposites of human emotion and political thrills intact. The subtle and low-key track is sustained beautifully by Victor Banerjee and Anasuya Majumdar, filled with an air of dignity, close bonding and sharing while the electrically charged track of the two police superiors and their committed team is sustained extremely well by Abir Chatterjee, an outstanding but under-utilised actor and Mimi Chakraborty who never wears the sari during the entire Pooja much to the lament of her off-line mother. The editor and the cameraman have given award-worthy performances because this was not an easy film to deal with.
Why is the film called Raktabeej? That too, has its explanation. Raktabeej is an asura in Hinduism. According to the Puranas, he fought with Shumbha and Nishumbha against the goddesses Kali and Chandi, both different forms of Durga. Shiva gave a boon to Raktabīja according to which if one drop of blood from his body fell on the battlefield, one Raktabīja would arise from one drop of blood and fight the enemies. The eighth chapter of Devi Mahatmya narrates Durga's battle with Raktabīja as a part of her battle against the asuras Shumbha and Nishumbha, who had disenfranchised the devas from Svarga.
After the deaths of Dhumralochana, Chanda and Munda, Shumbha sent Raktabīja to fight. Raktabīja was wounded, but his drops of blood falling on the ground created innumerable other Raktabījas, and hence Durga and the Matrikas struggled to defeat them. Durga issued the following instruction to Kali –
O Cāmuṇḍā! Open out your mouth quickly, and no sooner I strike Raktabīja with weapons, you would drink off the blood as fast as it runs out of his body. Instantly I will kill those Dānavas sprung from the blood with sharpened arrows, clubs, swords and Muṣalas; and you would then be able to devour them all at your will, and, then, roam in this field as you like. O Large-eyed One! You would drink off all the jets of blood in such a way that not a drop of it escapes and falls on the ground.
This film offers a different climax. You must, but must watch the film. Thank you, Roy and Mukherjee for extending the borders of your creativity, your aesthetics to bring across such a wonderful political thriller.