A Srijit Mukherjee film has become somewhat synonymous with Durga Pujo in the past few years. I, personally, have some really fond memories associated with them. Baishe Shrabon released during a rather good period in my life, Chotushkone (I saw him in person for the first time, he was there with Anupam Roy in Medical College to promote this movie) was a deceptively deep whodunnit. My point being : I have always been a Srijit Mukherjee fan and frankly, I am a bit disappointed by Zulfiqar. That being said, it is not as bad as some are making it out to be. As a matter of fact, Zulfiqar is a thoroughly entertaining commercial pot boiler but we, unfortunately have come to expect more from the man.
Plot and Screenplay : Thanks to our really pestering ICSE syllabus there was a time when I knew every line of the play by heart. So it was fun watching all those scenes play out in the big screen. The director gets the setting spot on, placing it in the criminal underbelly of Bengal. A crime syndicate is in control of this Muslim dominated part of Kolkata in and around the port. But it is Zulfikar Ahmed/Julius Caesar (Prosenjit Chatterjee) who is the unspoken emperor of this lawless land. Basheer Khan/Brutus (Koushik Sen) is his close aide. Basheer much like his Shakespearean counterpart is an honorable man. For him the love for his country is above everything else. Tony Braganza (Parambrata Chatterjee) and Markaz Ali (Dev) act as Zulfikar’s brains and brawn respectively. Other notable members of the syndicate include the contractor Kashinath Kundu/Cassius (Jisshu Sengupta), the Police Officer Laltu Das/Lepidus (Rahul) and Kaushik Sinha/Cinna (Neel Mukherjee). Entangled in this mess are also Zulfiqar’s wife Karishma Ahmed/Calphurnia (Paoli Dam), Basheer’s wife Pariza Khan/Portia (June Maliya), Zulfiqar’s nephew Akhtar Ahmed/Octavius Caesar (Ankush Hazra) and a the widow of a very rich man and now Zulfiqar’s lover Rani Talapatra/Queen Cleopatra (Nusrat Jahan).
There is a growing discontent among a faction of the syndicate about Zulfiqar who they believe is becoming a much larger figure than they anticipated him to be. Also there’s petty jealousy and power struggle at work. And these are the places where the movie excels : exploring the hierarchy of power, exploring the zeal, ambition and back stabbing at work in this criminal world. But the screenplay falters when it tries to grasp beyond its reach, when it tries to be too many things at the same time. There is a love story at work (between Dev and Nusrat), there are statements to be made on the gullibility of nationalism and religion (though it does not veer much into such controversial waters), there are scenes of frankly unneeded action and blowing up things thrown in. Thus what was a water tight script for much of the first hour or so gradually loosens as the climax approaches. Most of the character are well written ; the exception being Akhtar’s. His transformation is sudden and jarring and is another reason why the climax feels like a bit of a letdown.
Direction, editing and music : The direction is careful and it is apparent that the director has a lot of reverence for the source material.While the large action set pieces can be a bit of a turn off for the core fan base of the director, they are all very well executed. But it is in the small scenes that the director scores. As usual. Be it the dream that Karishma has or the banter between Markaz and Tony or the scene where, *spoiler if you live under a rock* Basheer dies. It is scenes like these that make you regret for the Srijit we all love, the Baishe Shrabon, the Autograph making Srijit not the Mishwar Rahasya or Zulfiqar making one.
The editing however is extremely choppy, tangential even at times. The climax is hurried, the transitions from one scene to another are often very coarse.
Anupam Roy is as usual at the top of his game. But the background music and the sound mixing unfortunately is overtly dramatic and soap opera-ish.
Star Performances : Prosenjit Chatterjee as Zulfikar is good. He exudes Caesar’s pride and confidence with great acumen. However the performance tends to feel a bit one dimensional at times.
Koushik Sen captures the essence of Brutus’ nobility and innocence in a way no one else can. The man is a genius! \m/ There is genuine heartbreak in his eyes as he shoots Zulfikar. You can literally see both the sadness and his unwavering belief in doing the right thing radiating at the same time from his expressions.
Dev’s Markaz Khan is the actor’s best performance to date (he was quite good in Buno Haans too though, to be fair). Playing the role of a mute and deaf person is challenging for any actor, but Dev surprisingly nails the character.
Parambrata plays the cocky Tony with a lot of swag. The two Antonys (Dev and Param) coming together for the famous ‘Friends, Romans, countrymen…’ scene is indeed memorable.
Nusrat Jahan and Ankush Hazra however fail to capture the nuances and complexities of their characters. While Nusrat’s character seems underwritten, Ankush’s transformation from a guitar toting hero to a gun toting villain can only be explained by suspension of disbelief.
Paoli Dam and June Malya both excel in their small roles as Zulfiqar and Basheer’s spouses.
Last but not the least Jisshu Sengupta makes for an excellent villain. He truly embodies the scheming, cunning Cassius. Jisshu, after last year’s Rajkahini, once again plays completely against the type and is really good at it.
Final Word : Srijit Mukherjee’s Zulfiqar is a complete antithesis to the director’s previous works. He sacrifices subtlety for exposition and poetry for loud explosions. But that doesn’t naturally result in a bad film. What it results in is an entertaining, thoroughly commercial pot boiler that also doubles up as a competent adaptation of Julius Caesar.
Rating : 6.5/10
*All the images are courtesy Sree Venkatesh Films*