If nothing else, the folktale-ish title and a Nandan release might manage to stir up some curiosity for a film that was probably well intended but fails to make any real impact. Taking a leaf out of a civics course book, Kanoj Das’s Ranga Mati is a sleep-inducing record of sermons gone terribly astray. The film opens with a discourse on planting of trees and the need to save the environment from the hazards of pollution. Cut to the first scene. A smoke-filled garden with a red tree and red robed priest trying to behead a woman. If that seems disjointed, the next few scenes will leave you feeling disoriented where an old woman suddenly appears with a lighted torch and burns the face of her childless daughter-in-law.
The film opens in an idyllic rural village that turns into a creepy rundown place plagued by unexplained crises. Parul, the battered daughter-in-law played by Sangita Sanyal, is branded a witch overnight for not bearing a child and hauled amidst villagers every afternoon when her husband sets off for work. In grief she takes a plunge into something like a puddle only to be rescued by a village doctor played by Kunal Mitra. Amitabha is Babulal, her husband with a sissy hairstyle and silly grin who makes his character out to be quite a wimp as he totters around the village and screams at people who abuse his wife. A crestfallen Amitabha retains his stony expressions even after discovering that his wife is alive while Parul thinks she cannot bear a child because of a “pet kharap”!
The story takes the strangest turn when tests prove that Amitabha is sterile and lo and behold! Sangita turns femme fatale. The story is simple enough where in the first half the men chase Sangita and in the second half Sangita chases the men. When everything else fails she dims the lights and takes the bewildered doctor hostage in his room till he succumbs and knocks her up. Predictably in the next scene she stands retching in one corner of her shack while evil mother-in-law stands at the other end thanking the lords above. So much for banishing people’s belief in witches.
The extension to the plot involves Soumitra Chatterjee as Harimohan, the greedy landshark who hires phoney sadhus to victimise women, behead children and snatch their land for his own gain. Nothing really can justify an apology of a sub-plot with Soumitra and his obsession with an obese middle-aged village belle in blouseless saris; he calls her “darling” and is always raring for a roll in the bed.
The performances are uniformly dreadful. One feels sad for Soumitra who after his national award winning stint appears in a role fit for sidekicks. Sreela Majumder has nothing much to do except act mad and run around chasing villagers with a stick. Then there’s Pauli Dam on a witch-hunt probe who arrives from the city armed with animated expressions and an absurd team of do-gooders in dire need of an acting course. Whether they solve things or not they do manage to embark on marathon processions meant to clear ‘mental pollution’!
The storyline baffles and amuses. The director with an abysmally low estimate of the viewers’ intelligence makes over-the-top digs at rustic beliefs and plays needless mindgames. If you still want to risk a trip to Ranga Mati, go armed with the film’s epilogue — ‘Let your mind be transparent’. In other words, make sure whatever you see passes through, just like that.