You can't help but root for a distraught father and his aspiration in Uma, writes actor Gaurav Chakrabarty

Jisshu Sengupta, Srabanti and Jisshu’s daughter Sara in Uma; 
(below) Anjan Dutt and Sara

About eight years ago, I met Srijit Mukherji for the first time. The year was 2010 and we were shooting for Gaaner Opare (where Srijit played a television channel head involved in an extramarital affair). Autograph was going to be out in a couple of weeks from then and Aamake aamar moto thakte dao was already ruling the airwaves. Bengali cinema was about to undergo a huge change. The line between “arthouse” and “populist” cinema was about to start blurring and this man was going to be one of the most influential figures in this transitional phase.

Last week I had the opportunity to watch his latest offering, Uma, a film based on the remarkable true story of a boy from St. George in Ontario, Canada, Evan Leversage. When doctors said Evan won’t make it to December, the people of St. George came together to gift him an early Christmas. 

The very thought of it puts a knot in your throat. It speaks of the triumph of the human spirit, of the power of love and of hope in the darkest of times. Uma could not be a truer adaptation. The concept of akalbodhon (worship of Devi Durga in the month of Ashvin, an uncustomary time for the commencement of the worship) has existed in our culture since ancient times.

When a distraught father (Himadri, played by Jisshu Sengupta) decides to make sure his ailing daughter (Uma, played by Sara Sengupta) gets to experience the festival of her dreams, you can’t help but root for him and his aspiration and feel the fervent urge to join in this tremendous endeavour.

I have always been of the opinion that Srijit Mukherji has the unique ability to extract the best from an actor. He casts some of the best in the business which leads to some unforeseen, pathbreaking performances. Uma is no different. Each actor brings something distinctive to the table. Jisshu Sengupta seems to be moving from strength to strength with each film. This particular performance has to be one of the most difficult for him due to the sheer fact that Sara plays Uma. 
It must have been excruciating to film some of those father-daughter scenes where he tries his utmost to overcome helplessness when faced with the grim reality of his daughter’s fate. 

Sara is a natural. You tend to forget this is her first film. The father-daughter chemistry is a bit of magic and a bit of great casting in equal measure. 

Srabanti is rarely given the opportunity to display her histrionic skills, but like a true champion performer she excels each time.

Rudranil Ghosh’s character could easily have spiralled out of control into the realm of “overdone acting” in the hands of a less capable performer. He holds the reins very tight and refuses to let that happen. 

Anirban Bhattacharya had the tough task of pulling off a character much older than him but he too shines in his own space. 

Anjan Dutt’s Brahmananda Chakraborty binds the film together. It is a masterclass in cinematic acting. A failed director, a failed father, a failed husband, he decides to give himself a chance at redemption. He commits himself to Himadri’s cause and becomes his greatest strength, fighting shoulder to shoulder, two helpless fathers in a quest to defy fate. 
As Anupam Roy’s brilliant Esho bondhu plays in the background, you get goosebumps and even fight back the urge to hoot for the cool old man at the helm of things.

Suspension of disbelief has long been a tool for us, the audience, to enjoy a film. That is what makes you scream for Superman when he flies off into space, whistle for Amitabh Bachchan when he fights off a warehouse full of goons single-handedly, tear your hair for Salman Khan when he launches rockets with one hand and choke up for Brahmananda and his group of friends and colleagues when they successfully recreate Calcutta’s humongous Durga Puja in summer for a little girl who might not make it to the month of Ashvin. (In a t2 chat Srijit had said, ‘Like all the gods were important in the creation of Durga, all these characters, like gods in a pantheon, contribute to the dream called Uma, which is another name for Durga.’)

Uma is also an ode to our dear city. It speaks of why Calcutta is one of the most humane cities of the world. Uma does speak of hope to the point of being outrageous but that is Calcutta for you. That is the success of Uma. It is successful in making you see hope even in despair. Is that not mainstream, populist cinema for you? 


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