'Praktan': A film that knows how to tell a story | Movie Review

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Rated: 4 / 5

For the first time in my movie-watching life have I had the opportunity to find an entire film auditorium's audience stay put in their places until the credits rolled out completely.

Praktan is a movie that demonstrates how to masterfully blend together several storylines with jumping timelines, poetical dialogues with brilliant screenplay writing, handheld camera work with choreographed uniquely-angled shots, stereotypical and "modern" characters, famous celebrities where all of them seem to have major roles contributing to an integral part of the story, promoting a city's culture and keeping it multilingual, and a commercial film that looks like an art film. Praktan manages it all.

For a person who was reading the subtitles to understand, I still walked away with the feeling that I'd just read a great work of literature.

When I wanted to know what the premise of the story was (not a review), not even Google could help me. I watched the trailer - this one to be precise. Crickets. The trailer was beautiful but it doesn't tell you squat about what the story is about. All you know is that they were married and now they aren't.

Now that I have watched the movie, I just have to say there's a good reason why there's no good blurb to explain the plot. If there was, it would be a spoiler.

However, for the sake of this review and because what I found online somewhere was rather grim, I shall try to provide a spoiler-free synopsis that hopefully is more sanguine.

Sudipa (Rituparna Sengupta) is a passenger on a train from Mumbai to Kolkata who is traveling by herself in the first-class AC compartment. In her coupé, traveling with her 8-year old daughter is Malini (Aparajita Adhya), a friendly and oversharing homemaker who regales Sudipa with stories of her husband and family until it is revealed that Malini is somehow connected to Sudipa’s failed marriage with Ujaan (Prosenjit Chatterjee) from 14 years ago. As Malini keeps exuberantly sharing her life with her new friend, Sudipa introspects on her decisions in life as events unfold and she has to face her past. Meanwhile, other passengers in the compartment also tackle their life choices; a musical band where the founding members broke up many years ago, a newly-wed couple learning each other’s quirks and secrets, and an elderly couple who are trying to pass on their traditions to their children and grandchildren. Praktan, meaning ‘Former’, is a tale of retrospection and how emotions guide our life decisions.

It doesn't take longer than 5 minutes into the movie before you will be giggling to yourself and probably leafing through your memories of train journeys in India and the different kinds of people you meet there.

Each of the groups were given their appropriate amount of time to shine and the audience is left feeling they watched five different stories, yet somehow it's all from the same book. On a sidenote, did you know the word for 'book' and 'movie' in Bangla is the same?

So - I do understand some Bangla but it all fairness, who doesn't? So here’s some more deets I asked around about. Praktan means ‘Former’. Now, for us non-Bong folks (not that kind of bong!), it can be used in the context as you would the word ‘ex’, as in ‘ex-student’, ‘ex-boyfriend’, ‘ex-mas’ (err… scratch that!).

Back to the movie!

My favorite part of this movie are the dialogues. For a person who was reading the subtitles to understand, I still walked away with the feeling that I'd just read a great work of literature. I'm sure a lot was lost in translation and this movie made me wish I knew Bangla just so I could understand the subtle nuances in the poetry and the songs as they were beautifully woven into each aspect of the story. The musical band members 'Bhoomi' that make up part of the acting cast as well, use their gifts to create songs that somehow go extremely well with the story.

I was so glad that the songs had subtitles. They were an absolute treat to the ears and lyrically enchanting.

The story telling just flows over you without forcing you to remember tiny details from scenes gone past.

Editing was absolutely brilliant and seamless with the story. It never felt like the cutaway scenes to the past were cutting away from the story. It always added an 'aha' moment that is just something you must experience yourself.

There are some parts where Rituparna's acting becomes overly pretentious and in stark contrast to what the scene requires. She even has some terrible hairstyles in an attempt to capture ‘curly’ hair for all the flashback scenes which make you wonder whether style was really that different in the fictional ten years ago that we are supposed to imagine all her heydays in.

But, even that couldn't mar my viewing experience because the dialogues and brilliant editing ensure that my focus is definitely on the story and the characters - not the people playing them.

All the history thrown down about Kolkata was obviously a fanservice and a very very long advertisement that wasn't quite as subtle as they'd hoped. So, even though the two cities featuring in this movie, Kolkata and Mumbai, were not part of the story, they were part of the lives of the protagonists and that's how intricately these minor details were etched into the storyline. It's like receiving subliminal messages... in a good way.

Interestingly, it so happens that every single actor in the movie could be called a jewel of Bengal!

It's not a poignant story. It's not a moral story. It's not a bid to get all the famous Bengali people under one banner. It's not even a love story!
And, in what is an interesting twist of reel and real life, and what could be called a coup de maître on the director's part, Prosenjit Chatterjee and Rituparna Sengupta, who are the male and female protagonists, used to be an onscreen item about 15 years ago had a falling out and this is their comeback as a pair.

The movie leaves no loose ends and I mean, NO loose ends, and that's hard to achieve when you're trying to create a movie that would look artsy. The low-hanging fruit for such films is usually to leave some stones unturned and have a mystery that would get the audience debating about what it could be. Praktan was having none of that.

The ending was very satisfying and despite the fact that you have been watching the movie, you feel it comes to you almost unexpectedly. Like, how an overnight train reaches its destination in the wee hours of the morning where you knew the exact time it would get there but still feel it creep up on you.

It's a well laid out story. I don't know what the producers are calling it and how people have perceived it. But, here's what I think. It's not a social drama. It's not simply a really long ad about Kolkata and tourism. It's not a poignant story. It's not a moral story. It's not a bid to get all the famous Bengali people under one banner. It's not even a love story! It's just a story; told beautifully, shot spectacularly, and felt deeply.

Rituparna Sengupta, Aparajita Adhya, Prosenjit Chatterjee, Soumitra Chatterjee, Sabitri Chatterjee, Aparajita Adhya, Biswanath Basu, Manali Dey, Surojit Chatterjee, and the members of the band 'Bhoomi'.
Nandita Roy and Shiboprosad Mukherjee
Song List:
Shreya Ghoshal & Anupam Roy - Kolkata, Iman Chakraborti - Tumi Jake Bhalobaso (Female version), Anindya Chatterjee - Moner Guprochar, Surojit Chatterjee - Bhromor, Anupam Roy - Tumi Jake Bhalobaso (Male version)