By Neetole Mitra:
Dibakar Banerjee took the Hindi Film industry by storm with his debut direction Khosla Ka Ghosla in 2006. It was one of those films that just clicked. Scene after scene from the very beginning where Khosla’s worst fears come alive as he dreams himself to be a corpse lying in his front yard while his family goes on about miscalculated bills, cooking rajma with soda and buying imported watches worth Rs. 3,700; till the end where the camera pans down to reveal a newly installed nameplate on a newly constructed building standing out like a sore thumb in the middle of nowhere. The nameplate a resolution to all that Khosla was worried about in the opening shot – the ultimate middle-class dream of being settled in your own home.
There was no doubt Dibakar Banerjee was as talented as they come and maybe a little more. Because someone who can narrate a simple story beautifully, sticking to the basic rules of filmmaking with such clarity, clearly knows what he’s doing. Then, of course, he proved it a second time around with Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! in 2008 winning the National Film award a second time.
What sets Dibakar Banerjee a league apart as a filmmaker is his in-depth understanding of his subjects. He doesn’t isolate his characters and stories to function only in the cinematic space. Instead, he creates an elaborate map, a three-dimensional reality for his stories to exist in.
Lucky is not merely a thief who wants to be cool. It’s about all that lucky sees as he is growing up. It’s about those private school girls emerging from that swanky bottle green sedan in slow motion with that folk rendition of Tu raja ki raaj dulari complete with every screen movement that transpires during that shot. The camera moves slowly from the boys driving the car (their attention completely on the girls), followed by the girls giggling, followed by Lucky and group staring as though time has stopped.
While it would have been very easy to portray a young sardar living in West Delhi who stands by the road letching at girls wearing short skirts, Dibakar Banerjee seizes that moment and leaves it open for his audience to feel what Lucky feels. That longing. That jealousy. And that immense class divide.
Banerjee’s scripts keep in mind everything. They are politically poignant and emotionally ripe. Such as in Shanghai where the auteur uses the death of Dr Ahmedi to create a Roshomon effect where he doesn’t die just once but repeatedly – in memory, in lies, and ideologically a thousand times over at the end of the film. The death metaphor used to sinister effects by Banerjee is a much effective trope in a film like Shanghai, which comments on the moral degeneration of a state.
But it is not just the themes and the metaphors or the script and the camera. It is the logic behind everything that he puts on the screen. The very experimental Love Sex Aur Dhoka is decidedly uncouth and garish. The violence is too real and so is the voyeurism. This one disgusts you completely.
While his last directorial attempt, the Sushant Singh Rajput starrer Detective Byomkesh Bakshy received abundant criticism for being a little too over-ambition (which it totally was), I felt it was somewhat unfair to flack an auteur simply because he tried to achieve something big. The sets and scenes of Detective Byomkesh Bakshy transposes the audience to another era altogether. It’s a visual and emotional treat simply by making you feel that you belong to the 50s! The dampness of Kolkata, the oomph and noir of Swastika Mukherjee and the silly intelligence of our protagonist all work for this film and shows the confident execution of a practised director.
Instead of passing a moral judgment and creating cinema that condemns, Banerjee as a filmmaker simply shows. And it is this showing that becomes his voice, his decision as a director. For, someone, who surrenders to his stories so completely, using contradiction and a fine understanding of people to create such hard-hitting humour and tragedy, must be celebrated more often.