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Postmaster Review – The Tagore Connection is Superfluous

July 2, 2016 | By

Postmaster marks the directorial debut of Srijon Bardhan. Parts of the film are engrossing though at times the narrative is too loose to sustain interest. The film mentions that it is adapted and inspired from a short story by Rabindranath Tagore. There are no prizes for guessing the same on which Satyajit Ray as well made a film with the same name. However viewers are well-advised to keep their Tagore and Ray links to the story outside their mental and literary mindscape before coming to watch this version of Postmaster. A Silhouette review

Postmaster the movie

Postmaster marks the directorial debut of Srijon Bardhan who has also scored the music for the film.

One fails to understand why some filmmakers choose to peg their first film to a Tagore “inspiration” when they have a script complete unto itself as a new love story. Take away the Tagore link from Postmaster a new film that, the director claims is “adapted and inspired from a short story by Rabindranath Tagore” and yet, very paradoxically, gives himself credit for the “story.”  Therefore, viewers would be well-advised to keep their Tagore and Ray links to the story outside their mental and literary mindscape before they come to watch this version of Postmaster.

Postmaster marks the directorial debut of Srijon Bardhan who has also scored the music for the film. Ishaan Majumdar makes his maiden appearance as Nando Sen, a city-bred young man of an affluent Bengali family that lives on Beadon Street in north Kolkata. He decides not to join his father (Biswajeet Chakraborty)’s business but instead, take up the job of a postmaster in a very remote village in West Bengal. The screenplay (Tapan Bhattacharya and Srijon Bardhan) is completely silent about what draws this handsome young man to take up the very humble job of postmaster in a village post office where correspondence is limited to a few postcards and money orders moving back and forth. The time setting of the main story is placed 36 years back into the past. If the village is a big attraction for the young man, he could have appeared for the administrative services and taken village postings. Why postmaster, for God’s sake?

Pujarini Ghosh as Ratan in Postmaster

Pujarini Ghosh as Ratan in Postmaster
(Pic courtesy: Shoma A Chatterji)

Ratan (Pujarini Ghosh), the maid who works for the postmaster, is a blooming young girl in her late teens. Nando feels pulled to her purely by lust to begin with and then he falls in love. Bardhan stretches the narrative to an inordinate length by filling the cinematic space with lots of songs, repeat shots and exaggerated character sketches like the one of the village mad-man Nando is terrified of and Ratan’s uncle (Kalyan Chatterjee) who did not exist in Tagore’s original story. The four old men from the original story have metamorphosed into gossip mongers with nothing good to do while the village women talk against the young Ratan working almost full-time for the handsome young postmaster.

The film opens in the present that shows an old man suddenly suffering a heart attack and taken to a local hospital by one of his two sons. We do not see his face. Events then move back 36 years into the past and the main story opens on a journey into the village dotted with a Dibakar Das Baul number belted out by a group of Baul performers who come on the same boat Nando takes into the village. It is too long a song that tends to drag the narrative. The music and the songs, specially the Tagore number ‘Tomaye gaan shonabo’ sung by Anwesha Dutta Gupta are really good. This song is recorded without any musical accompaniment to fall back on which suits the situation and the setting beautifully. The ‘bou gaan aaye bodhu aaye’ sung by the village wives adorning Ratan before her wedding is also beautiful. But for the other songs, either on the soundtrack or sung by the Bauls tend to stretch the narrative to reach the borders of boredom.

Other than Ishaan and Pujarini, the rest of the cast is drawn from veteran actors of Bengali cinema and they perform their brief roles to a tee. The four old village gossips are an also-ran that does not add to the narrative in any way. Pujarini, despite her terribly crimped hair let loose almost throughout the film, can be the new face of Bengali cinema because she is natural, smooth and convincing even in a character that leaves much room for credibility. The Ratan of this film may be much older than the original Ratan of the Tagore story but she enacts her role with a happy blend of diffidence and naturalness, of innocence and awareness and of concern and confusion very well indeed.

Ishaan Majumdar and Pujarini Ghosh as Nando and Ratan in a still from Postmaster

Ishaan Majumdar and Pujarini Ghosh as Nando and Ratan in a still from Postmaster

Ishaan, however, is extremely camera conscious and his performance is obviously the result more of effort than of naturalness which makes him appear too artificial to be true. Besides, since it is difficult to cut off from the Tagore original as much as one would want to, the Nando of this film is far more negative, irresponsible and selfish than the Nando of the Tagore story. Not once does he try to establish contact with the naïve wife and son he ditches in the village and has another family. His is not only a weak character but also a thoroughly exploitative one. This ‘weakness’ comes across in Ishaan’s performance right through but whether it is a natural expression of the character or whether it is part of his consciousness of the camera and his artifice remains a moot question. Ishaan has the looks and the X factor of an ideal mainstream hero but he needs desperately to pull up his act in the histrionics department. The two questions that keep disturbing are – why does Nando decide to use carbolic acid to disinfect the open drains while he keeps glaring angrily at the gravy cooking on the mud oven and two, why he tries to smother the infant with a pillow only to be halted by Ratan who steps in at that very minute.

The closure of the film is very eloquent without much dialogue that ends as one of Ishaan’s son walks quietly out of the hospital cabin his face devoid of the grief that is expected from a young man who has just lost a close one which is natural and humane, considering his circumstances. Who, in this entire film, goes home with the prize? It is the art director Kingshuk Roy whose village landscape is imaginatively controlled and used with the right economy and discretion. Rana Dasgupta’s cinematography, for some mysterious reason, seems over-exposed in the village scenes and the film is set almost entirely in the village. Ujjal Nandy’s editorial skills are limited and controlled by an extremely meandering screenplay. One is constrained to point out that the 150-minute footage could easily have been tightened to 100 minutes which works very well with festival screeners that seems to be this film’s target audience.

May I please point out that next time round, it would suit Bardhan better to follow his own “inspiration” and not to be needlessly “inspired” by Tagore.

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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.
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