In a bid to learn Bangla and complete his dissertation on Antony Firingee, Gujarati boy Rohit Mehta travels to Chandernagore. As luck would have it, he bumps into librarian Kushal Hazra — Antony Firingee, born again. While Rohit gets an insight into the unknown facets of the poet from Farashdanga, Kushal fights to maintain sanity, sagging under the memories of his past life. Can Rohit complete his paper. More importantly, can Kushal save himself from the whirlpool of memories he is slowly getting sucked into?
‘Sosur bari baper bari eki poshak eki besh/ ei desheri chhele ami Firingeero Bangladesh’
The elusive Hensman Anthony has returned, rendering Kali kirtan, fighting duels with kabiyals and unsettling some dust from the sepia pages of history. Yet Jaatishwar isn’t a biopic on the 19th century folk poet of Portuguese origin. Nor is it the Uttam Kumar classic revisited. Though the poet here becomes one of the key characters, his many shadows loom large over Srijit Mukherji’s film, which, in essence, is a story of this generation. His characters are urban, their story oven-fresh.
So, when Gujarati boy Rohit Mehta falls hopelessly in love with Mahamaya, only to attract barbs in shuddh desi Bengali, he makes up his mind to learn the language and woo his ladylove. Thus begins a cross-cultural love story. A student of the Portuguese language, he decides to flip through the pages of history and do his research on Hensman, whom the world knows better as Antony Firingee. But can the man be found in the dead pages of history? No, says Kushal Hazra — the bald, middle-aged and unimpressive librarian leading a mundane life in one corner of Chandernagore. For no one knows the poet better than he himself. Trapped in the memories of his past life, Kushal is on the verge of losing his sanity. But before his present gets crushed under the colossal weight of his past, he can — for one last time — take Rohit through the life and times of Antony Firingee. Jaatishwar, the title of which is derived from a cult Kabir Suman song, is essentially a story of reincarnation, where the past and the present of Kushal do not unite in a happy marriage. But that’s just for reel. In real, Jaatishwar can be read as a story of both present-day Bengal and its nostalgic past. Both the story and its music successfully revive the bygone era and save it from the ravages of time.
As its tagline goes, Jaatishwar is indeed a musical of memories, at the heart of which is the bard of our times — Kabir Suman. The film, which opens with one of Suman’s personal favourites — Khudar kasam jaan — takes one through a journey to the past. All 13 of his Kabiyal songs are orchestrated with the precision of a historian. Sans written notations and gurus to handhold one to accuracy, Suman has used the songs of Bengali composers including Antony Firingee, Bhola Moira, Ram Basu and Thakur Singh — in their available forms — well enough to open up another chapter in history. So, while Kali kirtan, tappa, tarja, akhrai get a fresh lease of life, kheur (meant to abuse) is artistically relegated to the sidelines. Sromona Chakraborty, Srikanto Acharya (who has dubbed for Prosenjit as Antony Firingee), Rupankar, Sidhu, Anupam Roy, Indraadip Das Gupta and the entire music team deserve a special mention (And no, we didn’t miss Ami jamini, tumi sashi hey and Ami je jalsha ghare. E tumi kemon tumi comes as a treat). Despite the many music pieces packed into the second half, the film is never out of sync.
Apart from music that binds the film together, what breathes life into it are its characters. Jisshu Sengupta (Rohit) and Swastika Mukherjee (Mahamaya), with their discovery of love, form the soul of the film. Jisshu, in this film, is the modern-day Antony Firingee and shows his mastery over understated acting. The duo is ably supported by Rahul, Abir Chatterjee and Srijit himself. Even in bit roles, Ananya Chatterjee, Kharaj Mukherjee, Chaitali Dasgupta, Bharat Kaul catch your eye. Riya Sen could have been better, Mamata Shankar as the ‘bindaas widow’ mom of Swastika tugs at the heartstrings. Prodded by her daughter on when she discovered love for her husband, she says what will continue to haunt a generation of film lovers — Keoratala theke ferar pathe… And then, there’s Prosenjit. Semi-bald and ordinary, Kushal Hazra is not quite the Prosenjit Chatterjee one has seen. Even in his paranoia, exhaustion and despair, he is our unlikely hero. Raving and ranting, he mutters incoherently as he engages in a duel against his own self, without a choice of winning. His Antony Firingee (the blond wig is a mismatch with those quintessentially Bengali features), in contrast, is muted. Prosenjit is clearly the winner — whatever be the fight the two engage in. Srijit, who has built a racy entertainer (never mind if it’s a tad long) around the story of a poet and his many avatars, leaves a twist at the end for the audience to mull over.
Jaatishwar is clearly about reincarnation and unlike the reel story, the film itself wages no ugly battle with its past incarnation. What’s more, the present hints at a bright future. If Uttam Kumar could, Prosenjit can. If Gouri Prasanna Majumdar could, Kabir Suman can. If Bangla cinema could, Bangla cinema can.
Cast: Prosenjit Chatterjee, Jisshu Sengupta, Swastika Mukherjee, Rahul, Riya Sen, Mamata Shankar, Kharaj Mukherjee
Direction: Srijit Mukherji
Duration: 2 hours 26 minutes