The Bengali film industry is going through a tricky phase. On one hand, directors are crying hoarse about Bengali remakes of south Indian films ‘ruining’ the taste of the audience. On the other, the audience is hardly welcoming ‘clean and original’ content.
Confused? Well, let’s rewind to some years back. 2009- 2013. It was during this time Bengali film industry was going through a ‘golden remake phase’ where many noted personalities of the film fraternity were trying their hands in churning out Bengali versions of south Indian films. Films such as Challenge, Paglu, Shatru, Awara, Boss to Paran Jaaye Joliye Re and Rangbazz were lapped up by the Bengali audience, knowing well that these were already made in the south. But who cares? The Bengali audience loved OTT fight sequences, gyrated to catchy tunes when their favourite actresses and actors romanced on the Swiss Alps, and didn’t mind the “nonsense” storyline.
While the producers had a laugh given the terrific box office records of these remade films, some directors (read intellectual) waited with bated breath for the audience to reject such films and concentrate on ‘real cinema’.
Post 2014, the audience no longer appreciated these Bengali remakes.
The ‘intellectual’ directors, who had ‘original content’ to cater, felt their time has arrived. Critics, too, were pleased to watch some innovative and original narratives with promising performances. And cinegoers wholeheartedly welcomed films like Shabdo, Apur Panchali, Chatushkone, Jaatiswar, Bela Seshe, Ichche, Chander Pahar, Ranjana Ami Ar Ashbona.
But now, Bengali film industry is passing through a phase where both remakes and original films are no longer finding the audience they deserve. Once in a while, a Bengali film does wonders at the box office.
Though Bengali filmmakers and producers keep repeating in interviews that they classify cinema as ‘good’ and ‘bad’. But, in reality, they think otherwise. They, too, categorize cinema as ‘hardcore commercial film’ and ‘middle-of-the-road cinema.’
There is one actor, Dev, who has been part of both the phases. Though he started out as a full-time commercial ‘hero’, with films such as Premer Kahini (2007), Challenge (2009), Paran Jaaye Joliya Re (2009), Sedin Dekha Hoyechilo (2010), Paglu 2 (2012), which made limited sense, he was quick to understand the “shift” in the trade. And gradually prepared himself to suit both the brands of cinema.
When other ‘hardcore commercial film actors’ were still flexing their muscles fighting goons on the big screen, Dev chose to explore both the worlds.
Even while critics kept writing about his ‘poor acting acumen’, which he himself has acknowledged time and again, Dev didn’t lose heart and made his presence felt in so-called intellectual films like Buno Haansh, Chander Pahar, Arshinagar, Zulfiqar.
It might have come as a surprise to many when Dev, a product of hardcore commercial cinema (read south Indian remakes) chose to make his debut as a producer with Chaamp (2017), a film with original content. While Bollywood loves its share of sports films, the same cannot be said about its Bengali counterpart. So, it wasn’t easy for a first-time producer-actor to try something, which did not promise ‘success’.
I watched Dev’s debut production Chaamp (2017) and in the next few paragraphs, I will explain why you might want to watch a sports film made in Bengal.
I can’t recall any Bengali film, which has been based on the game of boxing. So, the team of Chaamp (2017) tried hitting the right notes by picking up a subject which is popular but hasn’t been tried before in Bengal. Now, those of you who have grown up during the late 70s and so on, must have had the poster of Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), a small-time boxer, who went on to become a heavyweight champion. In fact, many of us still watch the many reruns of the Rocky Series as and when telecast on satellite television. In Chaamp, Shibaji, accidently comes across a pair of boxing gloves in Purulia (a district in West Bengal). He harbours the dream of becoming a boxer and yes, predictably, he finds someone who helps him in fulfilling the dream. Thus begins Shibaji’s journey.
He trains (with Chiranjit Chakraborty) as his coach and soon emerges as a champ. Now, if you have seen the Rocky Series, Raging Bull, Mary Kom or even Sultan, you will know how the training session of a boxer looks like. It’s no different here. However, one thing that has remained with me long after the film ended is that I didn’t see the coach giving any boxing tips to the chaamp. Is that weird or am I being too fussy?
Raj Chakraborty, the director of the film, is a popular name in the Bengali film industry. Though he is mostly known as the man who remakes south Indian films, he is also known for bringing out some of the ‘most popular’ emotional sequences in recent Bengali films. So, even if the critics argue the similarities between a south film and his, it can’t be denied that he has proved his mastery over emotional sequences in films such as Bojhena Sey Bojhena, Prem Amar, and the eternally famous Chirodini Tumi Je Amar.
Here, too, he does the same. Sports make us emotional and the director takes complete advantage of it, packing the film with some heavy dose of emotions. So, when a pompous Shibaji faces failure for the first time, you can notice the young college-goer sitting beside me is already in tears. When he tries hard to make his ends meet, sells his medals to feed his pregnant wife (read debutante Rukmini Maitra), you can feel the pain. Dev well expresses the mental state of the character. Though it has the clichés and predictable scenes similar to any “rags to riches” story, Raj manages to melt our hearts, at times.
Sports is about drama. And to bring out the unscripted drama effectively on screen and strike a chord with viewers, you need some stunning, eye-popping, ‘dramatic’ visuals. Soumik Halder, the man behind the camera, has definitely taken the film a few notches higher. Watch out for the bout sessions inside the ring and the low-angle shots. You will feel the adrenaline rush.
Rukmini Maitra is a well-known model in Kolkata and has, time and again, been approached by directors. But she has always been reluctant. When Rukmini agreed to be the lead actress of Chaamp, it came as no surprise. Rukmini and Dev are said to be in a steady relationship. Now, in the film industry it’s rumoured that models can’t act. Well, Rukmini can.
Hers is not an easy character for any debutante to portray. Jaya (Rukmini), comes from a rich family, who falls in love with boxer Shibaji and marries him too. But when Shibaji hits rock bottom, she too suffers in solitude. Rukmini has a brilliant screen presence and the director and cinematographer have captured her looks well. She has a stunning chemistry with Dev (need we say why) and the pair looks fresh.
You will rarely come across actors, who call themselves non-actors in public often? Critics have often argued against his acting chops, but the actor has always smiled back at them. With every film, critics, too agree that he is getting better. As far as his performance goes in Chaamp, he gives his heart and soul into building the character. The hard work he has put in for the film shows in every frame. He toned his body to look like a heavyweight champion and gained weight when he was left without work. He sports two different looks in the film and carries off both with elan. Watch out for his punches in the climatic bout. You will realize how well he trained himself in boxing before coming into the rings.
However, I feel the director should’ve given some more time into building a film around sports than around a hero named Shibaji. Also, the length of the film is a bit too much and some of the songs seem out of place.
I’d also like to mention that Bengali audience should watch films and then decide which one (remake or original) pleases their soul. Sadly, most single screen theatres in West Bengal have shut down. So it’s important to watch Bengali films in theatres to keep the industry alive.