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Review Bengali

Nagarkirtan review: Sensitive film delivers a compact, yet emotional experience

Release Date: 22 Feb 2019 / Rated: A / 01hr 53min

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Roushni Sarkar

Directed by Kaushik ganguly, Nagarkirtan is a must watch for its rare performances by Riddhi Sen and Ritwick Chakraborty.

In an interview ahead of the film's release, Kaushik Ganguly had stated that he could not imagine anyone other than Riddhi Sen playing the protagonist of Nagarkirtan. It turns out that without Sen’s multi-layered and sensitive performance, it would have been almost impossible to make such a bold film.

Sen’s act is adequately aided and complemented by Ritwick Chakraborty’s rock-solid performance. Chakraborty seems to have intuitively understood that the film’s journey had to be explored through Punti, while his character would be at the receiving end, building his quest on the consequences that occur in Punti's life.

As per Ganguly’s promise, Nagarkirtan is truly a celebration of towering performances. Sen’s act grows and gradually encompasses the entire psyche. His wide eyes speak with the innocence of a girl, who is so much alive despite being trapped inside the body of a man. Sen’s act makes it clear that Punti’s quest for identity is synonymous with the search for a true love that is built on honest acceptance and recognition. Thanks to Ganguly for making Punti’s journey so nuanced and full of textures.

The remarkable factor is that Sen brings alive the character’s passionate urge to become a woman more than merely portraying a transgender. When he lovingly opens the door for Madhu (Chakraborty) in the hotel room after getting prepared for him, the smirk in his eyes and the smile convey the coyness of a girl who has just fallen in love.

Riddhi Sen as Punti

Punti knows her Madhu da is madly in love with her yet he struggles to come to terms with Punti’s physical attributes of a man. She is desperate to win Madhu’s love as a woman and continuously struggles with herself though Madhu lends her the comfort and promises her all the support in her journey towards becoming a woman.

Punti, who was born as Parimal, secretly bursts her anger on the night of her sister’s wedding, when she realises that she will probably never wait for her husband, clad in a wedding dress, for the much hyped wedding night.

The sensitive Punti adjusts herself in her den with a group of transgenders until Madhu makes an appearance. As they fall in love, she runs away with Madhu and meet Professor Manabi Bandopadhyay, a real life transgender, who has gone through gender transformation. They eventually reach Nabadweep, Madhu’s hometown, where Punti lands in a different atmosphere than the one she is used to.

The crisis, which she carefully hides within, is gradually exposed when she is suddenly revealed in front of the body of a full grown woman. She freezes in thought when Madhu’s sister-in-law (Bidipta Chakraborty) explains the troubles of getting pregnant for the second time.

Ganguly here doesn’t maintain a sequential plot progression. The story goes back and forth and the crisis of Punti., revealed by both incidents in the flasbacks and of the present time, suddenly hits hard. Punti gets beaten up by other transgender women when they discover that he has a body of a man.

Madhu, who, despite being genuinely in love with Punti, doesn’t like to see Punti in her true avatar. While Madhu asks Punti to wear her wig, it becomes apparent that he himself is struggling to grasp the nature of his emotions for Punti. While Madhu’s realisation eventually comes a full circle with the climax and he reaches in a kind of resolution, the film raises the question, where does Punti belong?

With the turn of events in the second half, the climax might appear predictable at certain moments, but both Sen and Chakraborty’s acts magnify its effects and take it to another level.

Throughout the first half, the audience is fed a mature love story that is built on commitment and promises more than a passion without rein. It is hard to discover the exact point from when the immersive love story begins to take a turn that lays bare the stark reality of eunuchs for the audience.

It is a fascinating journey in itself to see the way Sen internalises all of Punti's conflicts and indomitable passion. His on screen presence shows how close his soul was to that of Punti's while he performed. Sen rather lives Punti than acting her out, turning the experience of watching Punti's softness, deep sensitivity, fragility and pain into a lived journey. 

Chakraborty’s subtle gestures, movements, as well as intense expressions during the climax remain in the heart for long. He beautifully expresses his emotions as he begins to sense a failure after all the dreams he wove with his beloved.

Ritwick Chakraborty as Madhu

Bidipta Chakraborty plays the most resolved character in the film with finesse in her brief performance, oozing compassion and empathy.

Ganguly could have easily taken Punti and Madhu to a doctor, but he consciously chose to honour Manabi Bandopadhyay through his film and pay his respect to her journey as well.

In recreating the den of the transgenders, Ganguly leaves mark of his long association with them as neither their performances nor their rituals and ambience look imposed or superficial even for a moment. The character of Guru Maa, might appear a bit negative but it shows how the manipulation of society can turn a transgender into a cold-hearted person that cannot empathise with other humans with the same attributes.

Normally, Ganguly’s films have dialogues that separately leave a mark of his writing prowess; here his writing seems to be extremely restrained and economical. The way he has sketched Punti’s character — fearless yet deeply vulnerable — deserves accolades.

Both cinematographer Shirsha Ray and editor Subhajit Singha have contributed to retain a sense of transience throughout the film. The sequences in the streets where Punti collects money and Madhu secretly observes her and the one of the climax deserve special mention in terms of significant cinematic moments. The way Ray manoeuvres his camera on Punti’s face, he captures the intricacies of her expressions with utmost detail.

Prabuddha Banerjee’s background score play an important role in all the defining moments of the film, as well as the soulful Kirtans churn out the repressed emotions within Punti.

The association of Kirtan and Radha-Krishna’s story with that of Punti and Madhu’s, as well as the reference to Sri Chaitanya prove the sorry and vulnerable state of lovers who don't fit in the conservative norms of society.

Ganguly has not made any statement through the film, rather he has carefully brought out the grey aspects of the transgender people, their continuous struggle to attain an identity, their emotions and the complexities of love in the mirror of society. He did not need to depict any external conflict between the transgender cmmunity and society in this regard.

Nagarkirtan is a must watch for its rare performances. The short length of the film delivers a compact, yet emotional experience that comes across as raw and devoid of any kind of melodrama.



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