The wounds of partition perhaps will never heal. The scars are reminiscent of hundreds of stories which continuously remind us of the horrors which displaced more than a million people from ‘their home’ to ‘our home’ or ‘another home’.
There have been quite a few powerful films made on the subject and even television films (Tamas) which went on to receive national and international acclaim. But never has there been made such a film with the subject of the displacement of prostitutes in the given backdrop of partition.
Srijit Mukherji’s Rajkahini running at 160 minutes is bold, brazen, a bit trying but well-received and will go down in the history of Bengali cinema as one of those as coming-of-age.
Begum Jaan (Rituparna Sengupta) runs her brothel with a gaggle of ladies and does quite brisk business enjoyed under the royal patronage of the local Nawaab (Rajatava Dutta). So when two officials representing the governments of India and Pakistan (East)- Prafulla Sen (Saswata Chatterjee) and Ilias (Koushik Sen) respectively, come to order her out, as the Radcliffe line will pass through the courtyard of the brothel, the Begum is amused and shoos them off telling them that whosoever tries to dislocate her, will be ‘partitioned’ into pieces.
The exodus begins (a very scant one though, given the magnanimity of the dislocation of people) and Begum Jaan still holds out, till Sen decides to rope in the local thug Kabir (Jisshu Sengupta) who says he will kill Hindus, Muslims or anyone for the sake of monies and also demands that he and his men be given a free hand to enjoy the women completely, after they displace them.
Ilias is very much against it but Sen tells him to remind himself the way his wife was mercilessly raped and so were others. He asks Ilias to build hate within him so that the mere function of carrying out the partition exercise is done fruitfully.
Will the rest fall into place with this? ‘Freedom will fight Independence’ is the aptly given bye-line especially as thamma (the old grandmother) reads in the last scene, paragraphs of Abindranath’s (brother of Rabindranatha) Rajkahini; Rani Padmini and the hundreds of Rajput princesses who willingly committed jauhar.
I personally liked Rajkahini for its powerful performances, story, plot and haunting music (Bharat Bhago Bhidaata is a rage on YouTube), yet some critics will disagree with me, to which I offer no resistance. Srijit has come a long way but certainly has miles to go.
His faults? The scenes are too prolonged, loose editing, 160 minutes for a historical-political drama is a bit too much (perhaps the reason why Lagaan failed to impress the jury at the Academy Awards) and above all the pathos could have been one notch above.
Yet given the standards of current Bengali films (they are all going the local Bollywood way- dance, drama, foreign locations) Rajkahini stands out.
Like several other core fans, I miss the great actor/ director Rituporno Ghosh; but if Srijit spruces himself and his style, he could be the next Rituda.
Rajkahini is no match against Mandi and Mirch Masala but watch it for the bold scenes, dialogues and some great performances.