The London Indian Film Festival celebrates its seventh year with the 2016 edition, which premiered this year on 14th July. A homage to Romeo and Juliet is always warmly welcomed by audiences around the world. Add renowned Bengali filmmaker Aparna Sen to the mix and behold the visual spectacle of vibrant colours that fill the screen. Culture resounds within the melodic soundtrack and Bengali dialogue, which are all set in rhyming couplets, therefore staying true to the natural Shakespearean style of verse and prose. Amongst the chaos is a commendable attempt to deliver a strong message of humanity prevailing in the consistent theme of conflict throughout the movie; ‘Arshinagar’ is a treat for any audience, Bengali and otherwise.
An adaptation of the romantic classic by William Shakespeare means the audience is already aware of the story, the art, however, is captured in the story telling. Question is, does Sen deliver?
The Montagues and Capulets of Verona are depicted in ‘Arshinagar’ as the feuding Mitra and Khan family. Religious disparities exist between Hindu Ronojoy Mitra (Dev) and Muslim Julekha Khan (Rittika Sen), their fathers are both property developers, both indulge in drug smuggling as a side business and so naturally are always at odds with one another. Although they engage in gang warfare to maintain control of the city, Tayyab Khan (Jishu Sengupta) relishes in the violence and carnage whilst Ronojoy attempts to avoid conflict whenever possible. The worlds collide when the two drug lords set their sights on the slum in the city which is set to be demolished to build a new flyover, their story runs parallel to that of the two lovers which only highlights the contrast between the two emotions of hate and love they respectively represent. A political conspiracy fuelled by greed leads to threats, riots and bloodshed and each character’s life is changed forever.
‘Arshinagar’ is an emotionally charged rollercoaster ride and Sen superbly utilises both theatrical and cinematic methods to engage the audiences from the very first scene. This, coupled with a powerful background score by Bebajyoti Mishra enhances the dramatic performances given by all the artists and due credit has to be given especially to Sengupta who steals the show with his menace and daring portrayal of Tayyab. Swagata Mukherjee who essays the role of a puppeteer and Julekha’s nanny in the film, also stands out with a striking performance. Veteran actress Waheeda Rahman makes an appearance as Julekha’s grandmother, an aspect of the movie which veers from the original, but whose presence will certainly attract the older generation of movie buffs and younger fans alike.
With a running time of 134 minutes which includes a soundtrack of 11 songs, Sen attempts to liven up the Shakespeare classic although at times this does seem to drag out the story in unnecessary places. The climax, which should culminate the tale to it’s peak, seems rushed over due to hasty editing of scenes and in the absence of much dialogue. Nonetheless, the appeal in the overall message, the performances and the art direction is more than enough reason for fans of mainstream and commercial cinema to enjoy the film. An underlying soulfulness which is prevalent throughout means ‘Arshinagar’ is a positive, entertaining, thought-provoking and enjoyable depiction of the revered play.
BizAsia Showbiz rating: 3.5/5