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Doodhpither Gachh review: Bid to reintroduce rural audience to Bengali cinema hampered by flimsy storyline

Release Date: 03 Dec 2020

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Roushni Sarkar

The storyline suggests a lack of cohesion as the film appears to document village life rather than present a fictional account of a boy’s journey

Ujjwal Basu’s debut feature film Doodhpither Gachh generated buzz because of the director’s successful attempt to integrate a rural audience into a Bengali film. The project was entirely funded by 930 families residing in Nadia district's Aranghata village along with close to 200 film lover friends of the director. To make the film the villagers’ own undertaking, the director has tried to retain their presence as well as mirror their simple lifestyle in every frame of the film.

There is no doubt that Basu’s target audience will be initially overjoyed to see familiar locales and their daily customs and rituals reflected on the big screen. However, the film fails to engage on a deeper level.

Doodhpither Gachh's protagonist is a child, Gour (Harshil Das), who has an acute speech problem and follows his heart’s diktats even if it means breaking the rules now and then. The film focuses on the child’s innocence and his penchant for mischief. Gour and his two sisters (Riya Das and Debangana Gon) mostly remain at the heart of the film and their dreamy playfulness, lack of interest in studies and innocent bickering cover the first 40 minutes. Meanwhile, the audience learns that Gour firmly believes in the existence of rice-cake-bearing trees and gets infuriated if anyone dismisses his conviction. Meanwhile, Gour’s parents (Daminee Benny Basu and Abhishek Roy), who are visibly more attentive towards Gour than his sisters, are worried about his speech defect.

Until Gour’s grandmother (Shibani Maity) drops in to visit the family, various insignificant incidents take place that don't quite add to the narrative. While pastoral vistas, shots of Gour’s school and the account of a businessman masquerading as a doctor contribute to the rural ambience, the disjointed sequences hinder the film's momentum. In a rather sudden revelation, when Gour’s sister converses with her grandmother, the audience comes to learn that the lad has sown a rice cake hoping that it will go into a tree one day.

Doodhpither Gachh's storyline finally begins to take shape once Gour’s grandmother stokes his imagination with tall tales of various kinds of imaginary rice-cake-bearing trees in Kashi, where she will be heading soon. Gour’s fascination turns into desperation as he expresses the desire to accompany his grandmother.

However, Gour’s obsession could have been better established had Basu devoted an entire sequence to the significant moment where he 'plants' the rice cake, instead of showing his sister mentioning it casually.

While the film is concerned with Gour’s adventure to his dreamland, undue emphasis is placed on depicting the change of scenery. Though Gour’s journey piques interest, one wonders whether audiences will be able to stomach the camera aimlessly roving around the village instead of propelling the narrative. 

Basu also misses out on establishing another important sequence in the end, while concentrating on the visual of Kirtaniyas singing on the boat in the river. While the twist at the end doesn’t make much of an impression, the film also fails to project whether it successfully convey the metaphorical significance of Gour’s search for his dreamland.

The lyrics of the Kirtan hint at the philosophy of achieving salvation through following the heart’s diktats. The significance of the name Gour, another name for spiritual icon Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, becomes clear in this sequence as well.

The lack of attention to characterisation robs audiences of opportunities to celebrate the performances. While Harshil as Gour builds a sense of wonder through his expressive eyes, Daminee Benny Basu hardly gets to exploit her acting prowess, appearing as a dutiful mother, either cooking in the kitchen or expressing moroseness for her son and departing mother.

Riya and Gon help the plot to a certain extent and so does Maity by bringing colour to Gour’s dreams and expressing helplessness in the face of Gour’s obdurance.  

Shantanu Mukherjee’s camera work sometimes fail to capture the depth of the characters' emotions and editor Anirban Maity could have focused on making the disjointed sequences gel together.

Joy Sarkar’s background score does the job of transporting the audience into a serene world in the very beginning; however, the oft-repeated leitmotif eventually loses its charm.

The storyline suggests a lack of cohesion as the film appears to document village life rather than present a fictional account of a boy’s journey. Perhaps Doodhpither Gachh authentically mirrors the lives of Aranghata's denizens, but it is doubtful whether the film can keep the village people themselves at the edge of their seat for more than one and a half hour. On the contrary, Basu could have achieved his goal of generating interest in Bengali cinema among a rural audience by crafting accounts of their lifestyle into a completely alien experience, helping them discover unexplored areas of their own lives.

Doodhpither Gachh has released in theatres across West Bengal.

Watch the trailer and let us know if you are keen on watching the film.

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