Movie Review: Rajkahini: Freedom will Fight Independence
Director: Srijit Mukherji
Cast: Rituparna Sengupta, Saswata Chatterjee, Rudranil Ghosh, Zoya Ahsan, Jishu Sengupta and Abir Chatterjee
One of the most defining moments of the 20th century in India was the partition of the British India into the Dominion of Pakistan and the Union of India (later Republic of India) in 1947. The aftermath of partition witnessed the terrifying outbreak of sectarian violence between the Hindus and the Muslims, resulting in genocide.
During that tumultuous period the Indian subcontinent became a cauldron of violence. Vengeance and murder dominated minds of gang of killers from both the communities who set villages into flame, hacked ‘men’ of other communities to death. Amidst blaze, bloodbath, massacres, forced conversions, mass abductions and rapes the two newly formed nations awakened to life and freedom.
In the history of popular cinema, there has been no dearth of movies on partition. The movies simultaneously depicted the sordid tale, underclass confronted while negotiating this ‘political tragedy’ and how few ‘manipulative’ people reaped rich dividends out of this socio-political upheaval.
Srijit Mukherji’s Rajkahini is no exception to this rule. The movie depicts how under dregs of the society and gender intersects to negotiate patriarchal structures and values. It revolves around a brothel located at the border region between West Bengal (now India) and East Bengal (now Bangladesh).
Rajkahini is set in 1947 in Haldibari (north Bengal). But the story is universal and timeless. If the first sequence leaves you shell-shocked wait till the last scene where Rituparna’s victorious-yet-sad stare will leave you numbed. Lily Chakraborty’s voice still rings in my ears; the final passages of Padmini from Abani Thakur’s Rajkahini resonating in the heart. In fact Rajkahini is a film that one must watch out for the performances. In never-seen-before avatars, each actor outdid themselves, making an indelible impression in the heart.
Rituparna as Begum Jaan is stoic yet emotional. The owner of the brothel, she is the matriarch who has not let the woman in her die. Parno Mitra, the gullible sweet woman will win you over with her innocence. Zoya Ahsan, a favourite actor from across the border, is sensuous and earthy. Priyanka, Sohini, Sayoni – all justify the roles they are cast in. Riddhima’s opening scene was shocking and made me skip a beat. Sudiptaa was a natural. Bnuchki will leave you stunned in her final sequence. Rajkahini transforms these girls into women. Nigel Akkara’s support to the ladies as Salim was phenomenal; his death sequence has the power to shatter your hearts.
Among the male actors, Rudranil steals the show with his earthy and innocent portrayal of Sujan. You cannot help must cry out loud when he meets his fate. The romantic sequence between Rudra and Zoya Ahsan was probably the best written scene. The colours, dialogues and the flawless execution through acting just took that sequence to an ethereal level of finesse. Rajkahini is filled with moments which make you go ‘awww’ or ‘Ohhh’. You cannot prevent your heart from melting in empathy and love for these women forsaken by society.
Saswata Chatterjee’s cold, calculating maneuvers, silent stares will freeze your innards. His exchanges with Kaushik Sen are ‘harh him kora’ to say the least. He epitomises the administration that supersedes all laws and rules only to get things, it views as right, done. The pain of Partition is expressed in his tears, the vengeance of the violence during that period reflected in his eyes. How calmly he advises Dr Ilias (played by Kaushik Sen) to incite riots if people do not ‘move’. Between Saswata and Kaushik, Rajkahini transgresses time and becomes epochal.
The icings on the cake are definitely Jishu and Abir. One is the cold-hearted goon who is for hire to instigate violence. The other, the innocent-looking, scorned lover who can to any extremes for revenge.
Finally, it can be said that Rajkahni is essentially a melting pot called India and can be easily dedicated to every refugees in the world. The movie is a must watch.