Kolkata, 13 Oct 2018 12:58 IST
Though there is no dearth of research material on the facts of the court case, the script lacks engaging dialogues.
When it comes to making period films, directors often get carried away with recreating the era. Srijit Mikherji’s Ek Je Chhilo Raja, seems to have suffered from this too. Also, when a film is made on a well known story, the audience expects certain dramatic intensity or cinematic finesse so that the predictability of the storyline doesn’t hamper the interest of the audience. Mukherji’s film mostly fails in producing those engaging factors.
Ek Je Chhilo Raja is based on the intriguing story of Maharaja Mahendra Kumar Chowdhury of Bikrampur Estate of undivided Bengal under British India, who returns as Bhawal Sanyasi after he has been presumed dead and claims back his estate from the British rulers. Mukherji has also taken ideas from Partha Chatterjee’s books A Princely Impostor? The Kumar of Bhawal and the Secret History of Indian Nationalism, and Dead Man Wandering: The Case That Shook a Country. However, the film depicts a little beyond the audience's knowledge and mostly remains predictable till the end.
The first half of the film, with a very flat screenplay, mostly documents the Raja’s (Jisshu Sengupta) grand lifestyle in his palatial mansion, his hunting missions, amorous trysts with a courtesan (Sreenanda Shankar), love for animals and his benevolence towards his subjects. Though created after due diligence, the ambience of the film does not complement the dramatic unfolding of the storyline. For the most part of the film, the intricate sets and the beautiful play with lights overpower the characters of the film.
The king, who is referred to as the "ladies' man" is forced to get married to Chandrabati (Rajnandini Dutta), sister of one of his close subjects (Anirban Bhattacharya). The Raja spends his wedding night attending a mujra by his favourite courtesan and hardly spends time with his wife. However, two of his subjects begin conspiracies behind his back and trick him to sign an insurance policy in Calcutta. While in Calcutta, the Raja expresses his wish to drown himself in the indulgences offered by the city. He returns ailing with syphilis and this lets the conspirators lay his death trap.
However, the Raja miraculously escapes death and returns as Bhawal Sanyasi. While his closest relation, sister Mrinamayee (Jaya Ahsan) and his loyal subjects believe that the Sanyasi, is none other than the missing King, the conspirators employ all means to prove that he is an impostor. On Mrinamayee’s insistence, the Sanyasi claims back his estate. From here on, in the second half, the drama in the courtroom unfolds with a few engaging moments.
The jump between the courtroom scenes and the Raja’s past doesn’t really offer much cinematic delight. The director only manages to engage the audience when a few truths behind the conspiracy come out during the trial and also, as he weaves mystery around the Sanyasi’s newly developed Hindi accent while he is originally from East Bengal.e
The entire journey of the Raja is extremely linear and way too simple to hold the interest of the audience. During the trial, the courtesan reveals that she was in love with the Raja but there is no trace of it on screen. While the film remains predictable throughout, the moments of suspense of building conspiracies don’t intensify enough.
Sengupta owns the first half of the film with his performance as he gets into the skin of the Raja. Needless to say, he has pushed his limits in bringing alive the various episodes of the character's journey. He lends weight to his avatar, when he commands his subjects, expresses his wish to spend a few more days in Calcutta and remains entirely focused on hunting while lending ears to his subject’s advice at the same time.
The second half offers some commanding performances by Ahsan, Ajan Dutt and Aparna Sen. While Ahsan delivers honest expressions as the sister attached to her favourite brother, Dutt and Sen leave their marks as the lawyers battling head on.
Anirban Bhattacharya delivers a one dimensional act as the cold blooded conspirator and Rudranil Ghosh does justice to the character of his confidante.
The monochrome colour tone used by Mukherji rather appears as a sleeker version of the black and white era that he has attempted to recreate in the film. Leaving a few sequences, the film is loaded with heavy background score, classical and semi-classical songs. On the one hand, the songs and the background score add to the grandeur of the ambience, on the other hand, it seems the director has tried to compensate for the lack of dramatic intensity with music.
Though there is no dearth of research material on the facts of the court case, the script lacks engaging dialogues. Perhaps, in his attempt to retain the authenticity, the director refrained from lending the climax any surprising element as well.
As according to the historical records, the case of Bhawal Sanyasi still remains to be a mystery, the director too tries to leave a twist in the end of the film. He also attempts to bring a feminist angle to the story as Anupama (Sen) fights for Chandrabati.
Apart from the decent performances, the film manages to retain a certain enigma around the King, who was perhaps given two chances by the destiny to live his life.
Mukherji's dedicated attempts at recreating the era deserves special credit, so does his production unit comprising of cinematographer Gairik Sarkar, art director Indranil Ghosh and others. But the story is not about the palace or the grandeur surrounding it, but about the interesting accounts that grew on them. Thanks to his thorough research, the facts of the trial manages to save this courtroom drama.
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