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Uttam Kumar craze projected in Srijit Mukheji’s latest venture

The Uttam Kumar mania, or craze, has not waned even after forty-four years since his demise in 1980. Dubbed at one time the “Mahanayak”, his presence is still felt in the hearts of cinephiles in Bengal even in this new millennium. His film premiere, Oti Uttam, directed by Srijit Mukherji, was screened on Wednesday, 24 March. It stirred up a wave of curiosity among Kolkata’s cinegoers present on the occasion to view the first screening, which after some time left them quite high and dry.

Apparently, a new concept like this left no stone unturned to explore the celluloid possibilities of ideas, even to the extent of beating a dead horse or killing the goose that laid the golden egg. Such was filmmaker Srijit Mukherji’s enthusiasm in bringing Uttam back out of the mothballs of time and re-enshrined him with the crown of glory from the world of the dead to take captive viewers by storm. Of course, Mukherji deserves kudos for his unstinted effort and painstaking labour in putting his acts together by creating a script and story line tailor-made to his requirements. It managed to feed his audience with a time capsule that tended to be boring, stretching his point a bit too far, gauging from the film’s inordinate length that ran into excess.

Oti Uttam, was tolerable up to a point by way of viewer-friendly interest but was in need of drastic editing, which enhanced the torture and waning of audience interest. The screenplay ropes in three principal characters, namely Uttam Kumar’s grandson, Gaurav Chatterjee. Anindya Sengupta as Krishnendu (a name borrowed from Uttam’s character in Saptapadi), was a close and intimate friend of Gaurav, and a new discovery was Roshni Bhattacharya, the young woman with whom Krishnendu has a crush. He finally manages to court her after an initial rebuff, with the ghostly assistance of the matinee idol of yesteryear.

Uttam is made to return from the ashes through a planchette session conducted by Krishnendu, and Gaurav becomes the medium at a Tollygunge film studio, where Uttam once made his presence felt during a shoot in an era long gone. The mantras or chantings conjured up by Gourav’s friend follow a formula that cites the late actor’s popular films and favourite delicacies and may well have echoes of the chantings of the three witches in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. The plus point of the film was the technical wizardry of the clever juxtaposition of images of Uttam Kumar in miscellaneous roles from his blockbusters.

His ghostly appearance serves the purpose of solving Krishnendu’s emotional problems and assisting him to successfully capture the girl of his dreams. There are other complications when the young woman, enchanted by Uttam’s spectral visitation, falls in love with his ghost. The absurdity is unending, made worse by the ghastly music and lyrics of the songs forming part of a background score, punctuating the moving images almost throughout the footage. The film was rescued by the climactic sequence ushering in the Tagorean song, a relief from the rubbish that assailed the viewers ears earlier on, juxtaposed with clippings from old Bengali films.

Srijit Mukherji’s film is oriented towards the younger audiences of the new millennium, and their cultural degeneration is made manifest through the vulgar dialogue exchanges and tasteless musical interests. To be fair, the film is worth watching for the first time for what it is worth. It will not remain long in the viewer’s mind, and the volatile impression the film manages to evoke may best be forgotten. Will Uttam himself subscribe to these absurdities of youthful indulgence and dalliance? Director Srijit Mukherji, by his own admission, has the answers when the film, through its dialogues, compares the old Bengali films with the new, which are shallow and frivolous. Maybe his films could be bracketed under that category.

The writer is an independent contributor

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