Mind the gap

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  • Published 19.05.08

The divide between the urban and the rural has been done to death in Bengali films but the one good thing about Phera is that the director doesn’t try to pass it off as a highly cerebral piece of movie-making, expounding theories on class inequalities with dark rooms and long pauses.

Partha Sarathi Joardar tries to lay bare the hypocrisies and class barriers that come to the fore when the urbane comes into conflict with the rustic without the help of stocky heroes, coy heroines or inane comedy. But the cliched storyline is the stumbling block.

Shilajit, a do-gooder doctor, returns to a village in the quest of a tribal woman (Rituparna) he had loved and lost a decade ago. This time, he’s got wife Priya Karfa in tow, who has been made to think they are on a holiday.

As memories come rushing back, Shilajit rewinds to the secret pleasures of the days when he rode a bicycle along the dusty roads, treating villagers and romancing Rituparna.

Of the handful of twists that drive the Phera tale, one has a village rogue (Chandan Sen), who has eyes for Rituparna but undergoes a change of heart (for reasons unknown).

So, on a dark, stormy night — Tollywood is yet to shed the mother of all cliches — the lovers make out. While his last film Premrog was nothing short of a sleaze fest, Joardar has played it safe in Phera, not venturing beyond a cheat kiss. The doctor dumps his lady love, when her bump begins to show, and marries the city girl his well-heeled father has chosen for him.

Shilajit finally stumbles upon his old flame on her deathbed while his wife is busy crooning Rabindrasangeet. And guess who Shilajit and Rituparna’s little son is? The boy who now works as the doctor couple’s servant. In an act of kindness, Priya adopts the kid as her son and no skeletons tumble out of Shilajit’s cupboard. You also never get to know why he came looking for his former love in the first place.

The deglamourised Rituparna makes a mark with her rustic manner and Adivasi accent, transforming from a chirpy village belle to a sad, weary mother.

Although Shilajit makes no overt display of his urbanity, the energy and vivacity he brings on stage as a singer is missing on screen.

The sounds and music blend in smoothly with the green landscape. Tribal boys and girls dancing to folk music, the rhythm of primitive sounds, and the rolling woods and rivers are the high points of Phera.

But pleasing sounds and pretty locales do not a good film make. Even if the occasional emotional outbursts manage to hold your attention for a while, the story drags with a flat narrative graph that has no surprises in store.