Cast: Prosenjit Chatterjee, Vikram Chatterjee, Rayati Bhattacharya and Gargi Roy Chowdhury
Director: Atanu Ghosh
Rating: Four stars (out of 5)
A layered character study that delves into a life scarred by a tragedy and its enervating aftermath, Atanu Ghosh’s Shesh Pata (The Last Page) achieves a deft blend of technique, tone and text.
The poignant and pointed Bengali film, produced by Firdausul Hasan and Probal Haldar of Friends Communication, bears testimony (yet again) to the efficacy of Ghosh’s unflashy and measured cinematic craft. It does not hinge on mere stylistic wizardry and visual flamboyance. It goes deeper and pushes the actors and technicians into uncharted zones. The result is consistently salutary.
Headlined by Prosenjit Chatterjee in a guise he has never donned before, Shesh Pata is marked by exceptionally intelligent writing, dialogues that breathe, outstanding cinematography (Soumik Halder), a masterfully subtle background score (Debojyoti Mishra) and spot-on performances.
Shesh Pata is about unfinished pages, chapters and stories that are in search of affirmative finales. Pounded by loss, grief and anger, the ageing, bedraggled male protagonist has withdrawn into a dark, fragile shell. His words, emotions and actions convey dwindling hope, mounting cynicism and a yearning to break free. He seeks completion and closure, both of which are elusive and yet worth a shot.
The story, which is as intense and hard-edged as it is tender and percipient, alternates between profundity and simplicity in its portrayal of a reclusive, whimsical and irritable writer Balmiki Sengupta (Prosenjit Chatterjee). He battles demons of his own mind while dealing with the indifference of a society that has put him out to pasture since the violent and sensational death of his wife nearly three decades ago.
He is unable to put pen to paper. His stuporous state, aggravated by alcoholism and deteriorating health, precipitates a crisis that forms the crux of the plot. Balmiki lives alone. His only visitors are a maid, a boy who brings him his meals, and, occasionally, a masseuse. He has frequent and nasty run-ins with his neighbours.
A loan recovery agent Sounak Hazra (Vikram Chatterjee) is charged with ensuring that Balmiki delivers the long-overdue a manuscript to a publishing firm that has paid him an advance for a book on his wife’s life and death.
Failing to goad Balmiki into shedding his lethargy, Sounak gets a former schoolteacher, Medha Roy (Gargee Roy Chowdhury), to help out. I cannot write because my hand aches, Balmiki says. I cannot think because my head aches, he grumbles.
A deal is struck: Balmiki will dictate and Medha will write. The latter’s job is no cakewalk. She has to talk the grumpy writer out of his reluctance to tell the story of his long-dead spouse Roshni Basu, a well-known film and theatre actress who was brutally murdered and found on Calcutta’s Maidan without a stitch on.
Sounak and Medha, too, have unfinished business to deal with. They are caught between unsettling endings and uncertain beginnings, and between loans and repayments.
Sounak has been in a relationship for seven years Deepa (Rayoti Bhattacharya), who works in a ceramic crockery factory. The young man is nowhere near achieving financial stability. So, marriage isn’t on the cards yet.
Sounak has to provide for a younger brother studying for a BBA degree and an out-of-work father (Phalguni Chatterjee), a film grading professional rendered redundant by digital technology.
Medha’s 17-year marriage has run aground. Her husband has left her for a younger woman. She wants to move on. I want to reach the end of the work that I have started, Medha says to Balmiki. The old man retorts: Will that dispel all your gloom and doom? Will it turn on a 1000-walt bulb?
Balmiki hopes to rediscover the light – his departed wife’s name, Roshni, is obviously not without significance – that has been extinguished. Even as he exhorts Medha to learn to light her own light instead of banking upon others to do it for her, the forlorn man pleads with her: “Will you lead me to Roshni?”
Death, despondency, depression and the deadening effect of dead-ends hang over the characters. The burden of debt (monetary, emotional and mental) on these individuals is crushing. Everything is pending, Sounak says on the phone to Medha, who is both a client and a confidante.
In a beautifully executed sequence, Balmiki (in the lead actor’s own voice) croons a Rabindranath Tagore song: Aamaar jwoleini alo ondhokaare (In the dark, my lamp did not burn). He then asks Medha to sing the entire lyric. She sings (the voice is Gargee Roy Chowdhury’s), heightening the melancholic mood that obtains in Balmiki’s home and life.
Ghosh’s filmmaking style hinges on a fine coalescence of what is on the surface and what lies beneath. Images, conversations and gestures organically feed off each other and serve the purpose of exploring the recesses of the human mind in a way that is illuminating, fulfilling and refreshingly non-judgmental.
Shesh Pata is strewn on one hand with references to the deleterious impact of political realities, the crippling repercussions of creative sterility, and the pains inherent in the struggle to hold oneself together. On the other, it is a meditation on writing – Manik Bandopadhyay’s Keno Likhi (Why I Write) comes in handy here as a reference point – and on the mystique of a woman’s smile (Balmiki cites Debesh Roy: “The smile on your lips was the smile of a night-sentry’s lantern.”)
The soundscape of Shesh Pata is just as eclectic – it ranges from the strains of a rendition by a classical vocalist to Baul songs of Lalon Fakir to a Malayalam number (composed by Debojyoti Mishra) that plays in a small South Indian eatery in Kolkata.
Prosenjit Chatterjee gets into the skin of the dichotomous Balmiki Sengupta with such conviction that it becomes difficult at times to separate the actor from the character.
Gargee Roy Chowdhury, embodying the luminescence that could guide Balmiki out of his dark void, delivers a performance that is both classy and moving.
Vikram Chatterjee has never been better. Playing a shark with a heart, he conveys the ambiguities of the man’s life to perfection. Rayoti Bhattacharya as the girlfriend finding her way in life represents another facet of the fight to survive – and perchance thrive – in a hostile urban environment.
Shesh Paata is a poem of pain and redemption that is rich in rhythm and emotion – a perspicacious portrait of loneliness and alienation that finds space for a flicker of light, no matter how faint, at the end of the tunnel.