A Bengali film directed by Pradipta Bhattacharyya, Rajlokhi O Srikanto (2019) is a cinematic adaptation of Saratchandra Chattopadhyay’s four-part novel narrating the life of a drifter named Srikanto. Pradipta has made an attempt to conceptualize the psyche of the protagonist from the early 1900s in the current millennia. With a plot infused with magical realism, a genre still largely unexplored, the film is a cinematic experiment that tries to venture into the twilight zone between reality and fantasy.
Srikanto, a drifter and a happy-go-lucky man, quits his job in the most impetuous manner and leaves for a remote place to meet his friend, Hukumchand who lives lavishly at a location hidden surrounded by hillocks and forest, hidden from public view. Amazed by Hukumchand’s lifestyle, Srikanto takes a liking for a life of alcoholism, hunting, rich food, and qawwali. He soon realizes the toxic culture he has been living in and tries to flee with his childhood friend, Rajlokhi, who happens to be forcefully kept as a courtesan in Hukumchand’s Durbar. While growing up, young Srikanto (played by Sohum Moitra) acts as an assistant to the misdoings of Indranath. Indranath steals fish and digs out skeletons from graves for the con man husband of Annada didi. Meanwhile, young Srikanto befriends Rajlokhi and aspires to live life together but fails to save her from being sold off by her father to a man from the city.
Pradipta Bhattacharjee is known for introducing regular and relatable characters to unrealistic, extraordinary situations, adding a hue of magic realism, as seen in his National Award Winner debut film Bakita Byaktigata. But to dissect this film, one has to travel back to his telefilm days. His directorial ventures include Biswas Nao Korte Paren (2006), Pinky I love you (2007), Kotha Theke Je Ki Hoe Gelo (2008) among others, all of them carrying unpredictable plots driven by characters that might turn out to be your next-door neighbour.
I rewrote the story in the form of a contemporary take. What if people like Srikanto or Rajlokhi lived today and engaged with contemporary life in 2019? Drifters like Srikanto are still alive.
– Pradipta Bhattacharyya
Inspired from Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s novel, “Srikanto”, writer and director Pradipta Bhattacharjee pulls out Srikanto from the novel and puts him in modern times, where he has to confront his fears and face the most unexpected circumstances. Srikanto (played by Ritwick Chakraborty) is of course accompanied by other characters from the four-part novel such as Annada didi (Aparajita Ghosh Das), Rajlokhi (Jyotika Jyoti), and Indranath (Sayan Ghosh).
The film oscillates between two timelines. The characters are put into situations that are dark and grim, which challenges their morality and social behavior. The screenplay breathes of magical references, that adds an extra dimension to a simple looking story. Srikanto is shown to belong to Nischindipur — the iconic village of Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay’s (and of course, Satyajit Ray’s) Apu. In one particular scene, where Srikanto is seen walking through a jungle beside a graveyard, the sound of falling trees makes him go on an exploration. He is shown following a ghostly figure, which reminds him of a similar incident in his earlier days when he used to help Indranath steal bones from a graveyard. And soon, he finds himself standing on the edge of a cliff, his sleepwalk breaking just in time.
Much of the film seems to be shot outdoor. The film begins with a long aerial shot of a young Srikanto guided by Indranath, arriving on an island on a boat and trying to steal fish, already netted by someone else. With stunning aerial shots, cinematographer Shubhadip Dey captures the vast landscape of jungles, hillocks, and rivers that seem to be symbolic of how our insignificant and temporary souls are a part of the uncertain and scary circumstances. Many handheld shots and a montage of track, drone, and static shots make up most of the shooting process. The film remains rooted in culture by employing melodious folk songs from Bengal that easily blend into the narrative and serve to send out hidden messages. The background score designed by Satyaki Banerjee is appreciable.
Bhattacharyya’s films are so free from genre or design that it’s difficult to put them under a label — although he has a name for it: Aschorjo Bastob (Wonder Real).
– Sankhayan Ghosh (Filmcompanion)
All characters have been equally fleshed out, each one complex in their own way. The ever-reliable Ritwick Chakraborty is his usual self complementing the dramatics. While Aparajita, with her brilliant acting chops, makes you empathize with her character of Annada didi and epitomizes all the harrowing emotions, Rahul Banerjee as Hukumchand evokes dreadful horror. Debutants Jyotika Jyoti as Rajlokhi and Sayan Ghosh as Indranath make their presence felt.
Unsettling and disturbing in quite a few parts, and mind-numbingly shocking towards the end makes you reflect on the society portrayed in the film which isn’t very different from the reality. A society, where most of us spent years in gaining acceptance, yet have to face the most dreadful circumstances, no matter how independent you become. The film stays with you and every time you introspect, you discover new realms of human psychology.
- Srikanto has earlier been adapted into a film five times in Bengali Cinema (1958, 1959, 1965, 1969, 2004) and once in Bangladesh (1981).
- The film was shot between 2017 and 2018 at various locations in Purulia and Kolkata.
- It was completed on a tight budget of 65 lakh Indian Rupees. Since the budget was low, the studio setup was avoided and the film was shot mostly outdoors or in real homes.
- IMDB – Rajlokhi O Srikanto (2019)
- Filmcompanion – Rajlokhi O Srikanto Movie Review
- Cinestan – Rajlokhi O Srikanto review
- Scroll – Sarat Chandra classic is now a film set in the present