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Bilu Rakkhosh – How Does One Define ‘Success’?

September 20, 2017 | By

There are two opposite dimensions that reside in every individual. These opposing forces are inherently balanced beyond our recognition. Bilu Rakkhosh is the story of a man in whom the negative side begins to overwhelm the positive one. It destroys his life and that of his near ones. Metaphorically, the man, Bilu becomes a ‘rakkhosh’ (meaning demon) because he is too obsessed with his past. Is there a ‘rakkhosh’ hiding inside all of us? Veteran film critic Shoma A Chatterji finds out.

Bilu Rakkhosh

A poster of Bilu Rakkhosh

‘It is different’ is an oft-repeated refrain from almost every filmmaker, new, experienced and veteran. We take this refrain with a tablespoon of salt but at times, the refrain bears some element of truth. Indrasis Acharya’s Bilu Rakkhosh is the story of the two different dimensions that reside in every personality but are so inherently and unconsciously balanced that we are hardly aware of their existence. What happens when the negative side of a person’s identity begins to overwhelm the positive and ambitious side and sucks in the positive dimension? That, in brief, is the evolving character of the protagonist Bilu in Bilu Rakkhosh.

Bilu (Joy Sengupta) is a man who once lived on his dreams but when his dreams failed to translate into reality, the demon within him begins to surface and unknown to himself, he loses interest not only in his music, but also in his personal relationships, his social life and his professional career in the corporate world. The film meanders, ever so slowly between the past and the present, between the real and the surreal, between darkness and varied shades of light, and between belonging and alienation that the slowness and meandering pace bestows it with a structure that is distanced than the routine storylines one is used to.

It is natural for the audience to be weary of larger-than-life heroes with tanned, muscular bodies who can overturn a truck  with bare hands or bash up dozens of goons at a single stroke and in its place, accept this normal man with extra-ordinary dreams who cannot cope with failure and walks out of life because of his personal failures. Yet, Bilu is a demon you just cannot hate or be disgusted with. In certain senses you identify with his feelings of life having failed him even though that is not entirely true as per the narrative. Nonetheless, a certain element of empathy seeps into us when we find him trapped between his vulnerability on one hand and his failure on the other.

Sohini in Bilu Rakkhosh

Sohini (Konineeca Banerjee) in Bilu Rakkhosh

Bilu has had a very encouraging, middle-class upbringing and open-minded parents who do not raise an eyebrow when he brings girlfriend Sohini (Konineeca Banerjee) to meet them. He has inherited his musical talent from his mother.  But his academic achievements pushed him into the corporate world that slowly chipped the music away from his life. Director Indrashish Acharya keeps explanations about why he had to give up his music away from the narrative, choosing to keep it in suggestion for the audience to infer from. He also uses the telescoping between the past and the present without the usual editorial clichés so we are left to guess and understand when Bilu is functioning in the present and when he is in the past. The same extends to Bilu’s dream world intercut with nostalgia and his real world soaked in sadness, loneliness and depression. This in some way takes the audience’s patience and intelligence for granted but it also gives a different touch to the unfolding of Bilu’s psyche and an insight into his inner conflict. This impacts on the editing quite severely, at times creating confusion.

Music that also brought him the love of Sohini, failed to play any role in this self-respecting woman’s life, caught as she is between a perennially unhappy husband and a not very satisfied mother-in-law who silently disallows the space she desires in the house and family. The ancestral home in North Calcutta leading through a narrow street to the world outside with a platform in front like ancient homes used to be in North Calcutta till tall and arrogant multi-storied buildings began to chew and swallow them up evolves into a distinct character in the film. The slowly disintegrating building, captured from every imaginable angle – the platform (‘rawk’ in colloquial Bengali), the lovely, grilled and painted balustrade that runs along the veranda, the kitchen, the bedroom, the living room and the room downstairs where Bilu and his friends gather for their regular pegs with Bilu in depression is done beautifully by Santanu Dey’s camera that takes on the challenge of keeping the lenses so much in control that shades of darkness do not overwhelm the lonely figures standing in relief. There are many overhead shots that control the scene below such as the scene where Bilu’s office colleague’s body is being carried into the hearse as his silently grieving wife cries that suddenly cuts into Bilu’s father’s (Pradip Mukherjee) dead body in the bier, bedecked in white floral finery, waiting to be carried away. The aristocratic mansion is a silent witness to the changes and fragmentations taking place in a once-happy family.

Joy Sengupta in Bilu Rakkhosh

Joy Sengupta as Bilu in Bilu Rakkhosh

Bilu is so obsessed with his mother and her memories that he cannot even see, much less feel what his wife wants for the happiness of the entire family. The little boy, caught in the crossfire, hardly talks and walks away with his mother though he also wants his father to be with him. This offers a glimpse into the future that the children of today are likely to confront, accept and find a comfort level with.

The biggest star of the film is Joy Sarkar who has composed, orchestrated and synchronised the music, completely in control, matching the subtlety of the visual frames with equal restraint, and the song numbers that slowly float across the ambience and then fade away into the horizon. Joy Sengupta in the title role shows once again how, with a slight twitch of an eyebrow, or a stoop of his shoulders or that sudden, stinging slap on his wife’s face can express reality on celluloid so eloquently. The mutual attraction between him and his Ranu-di (Kanchana Maitra) is restrained and halted before it can slide down into something predictable and ugly. Konineeca proves once again how the Bengali film industry has lost an outstanding actress simply by ignoring her or imagining she does not exist. One hopes that Bilu Rakkhosh will change this view.

Joy Sengupta and Kanchana Maitra Bilu Rakhhosh

Joy Sengupta as Bilu and Kanchana Maitra as his Ranu-di in Bilu Rakhhosh

The three downswings of the film are – (a) its inordinate running time which drags the film at several points; chipping away at least 15 to 20 minutes of the running time would have added to the intensity and the drama of the film; (b) repeat shots of Bilu and his friends drinking away for different reasons tend to spoil the metaphoric impact they were intended to instil; and  (c) last, but never the least, the suicide of Bilu’s mother is a too melodramatic that does not conform with the mood of this film or the character of this dignified woman. The scene, shot and composed in suggestion, is well-handled but it reflects poorly on the mood and core of the film’s message story.

The surrealistic climax creates an open end and it could not have ended any other way. Bilu became a ‘rakkhosh’ (meaning demon) because he was too obsessed with his past and his present and his future got sucked into that childhood he could never walk away from. Is there a ‘rakkhosh’ hiding inside all of us?  Why are heroes who are failures so famous? Remember Devdas and Hamlet? They are not tragic heroes. They are failures and that is a fact. So is Bilu.

Bilu Rakkhosh Trailer | Music: Joy Sarkar

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Dr. Shoma A Chatterji is a freelance journalist, film scholar and author based in Kolkata. Her focus of interest lies in Indian cinema, human rights, media, gender and child rights. She has authored 24 books mainly on Indian cinema and on gender and has been jury at several film festivals in India and abroad. She has won two National Awards - for Best Film Critic in 1991 and for Best Book on cinema in 2002. She has also won four fellowships over the past 10 years.
All Posts of Shoma A Chatterji

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