Atanu Ghosh’s Robibaar is a languid-paced, deep probing study of two past lovers who meet on a Sunday. A Silhouette review by Bhaskar Chattopadhyay.
A new character is introduced merely five minutes before the credits start rolling in Atanu Ghosh’s latest film Robibaar. This character brings with it a whole gamut of new meanings, an entirely new perspective from which we see one of the principal protagonists of the film, and leaves us rethinking our impressions of what we thought we knew so far. This, if not anything else, is the distinctive filmmaking style of writer director Atanu Ghosh, who clearly believes in giving his audience information in carefully controlled measures.
Paradoxically enough, while on one hand his films are an exercise in economy, there are evidences of indulgent filmmaking too, as I shall explain later in this review. In one of his earlier offerings titled Mayurakshi, I had felt a bit overwhelmed by this indulgence. But in the case of Robibaar, it is the economy that left a warm feeling in me.
The story of the film is set on one Sunday – from daybreak till nightfall – marked by intermittent rains that come and go like a beautiful rhythm on which the mood of the film seems to ride. Sayani and Asimabha are the two main characters of the film, the story revolves around them. Sayani is a corporate law officer moonlighting as an expert researcher and author on the psychology of fraudsters. Asimabha is a brooding serial fraudster himself. The two had had a romantic relationship in the past, followed by a breakup. On the Sunday in question, the two meet (not by happenstance, evidently), and Sayani finds herself slowly slipping back into her ex’s life against her better judgment. She makes several attempts to leave, but fate seems to have made them inseparable, at least for one Sunday.
The greatest strength of the film is its writing. Ghosh regulates the story, releasing tiny bits of information at a time, from which the audience is expected to join the dots to create entire character sketches. A number of characters are introduced, and they all bring something fascinatingly new to the story. Despite the fact that all these characters – without exception – are inserted in the film in order to enrich Asimabha and Sayani’s story, what is really admirable is the fact that each and every single one of them has a strong backstory of their own. Their own motivations, beliefs and tragedies therefore seem to ‘rub off’ on the protagonists. The entire process is like a painting, in which not only are the individual colours significant, but the juxtaposition of those colours against each other also carry both message and meaning.
In my review of Mayurakshi, I had written about the fact that after Rituporno Ghosh, no other filmmaker has ‘used’ Prosenjit Chatterjee as beautifully as Atanu Ghosh. In Robibaar, Ghosh goes one step further, and adds another dimension to the actor’s performance – one of childlike innocence. Asimabha is not your regular brooder, he has the capacity to break out of his shell and show glimpses of a happy-go-lucky child, one without a care in the world. And he seems to do this at a time when you would least expect him to. He sees the world through a very unique lens, and Sayani just does not seem to concur with his views, despite being immensely attracted to them. Her own life, one must remember, is a series of routine steps, never deviating, even to stop by at a neighbourhood park for a couple of minutes. Understandably, she has perhaps brought this humdrum life upon herself, after a tragic loss that was the result of her own decision. When she tastes the freedom of Asimabha’s way of life after many years, she is confused. On one hand, there is the thrill of waywardness, and on the other, there is the discipline of the career she has chosen and worked very hard to build. It is this predicament that leaves her restless and forces her to constantly question her next steps. Both Prosenjit Chatterjee and Jaya Ahsan are a treat to watch in Ghosh’s film, and it is impossible (and rather unnecessary) for me to choose who fared better.
However, Robibaar is a film that calls for the patience of its audience – perhaps to an unfair degree. There are several extended periods of time when nothing much seems to be happening on screen. This is the indulgence that I was referring to earlier, and it can be very, very testing. But if you are willing to invest in the film, the final outcome, especially the climax will leave you satisfied. In this sense, I would not blame the editing so much as I would do the writing. This extravagance (as opposed to the economy in messaging) is something which is the director’s signature. You may or may not like it, and while it has not worked for me in the past, it merely happened to do so this time around.
The supporting characters all play their roles to perfection, with a special mention to the child star Srijato Bandopadhyay, who emotes so well with his eyes that I wouldn’t be surprised if he grew up to be a brilliant actor in the years to come. Appu Prabhakar’s cinematography is highly commendable, and the sound design by Saugata Banerjee deserves all the kudos. I was not too impressed by the music by Debojyoti Mishra though, I am usually a big fan of his work, but on this occasion, he left me quite dissatisfied.
Overall, I quite liked Robibaar. It’s a slow-burning, languidly paced, careful, rigorous study of two extremely well written characters that simply needs time. It is a work of cinema that needs to be relished, not rushed. To be understood, not explained. To be felt, not told. ‘Watching a film’ is rarely so beautifully exemplified these days.
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