But really, that’s not what I took away from this film. Rather, Nishi Japon has been on my mind since I watched it Sunday, floating through my consciousness every so often. I wasn’t sure what to think of it when it ended. But given its lingering in my mind since, I would consider that a sign of an inherently great film.
The movie is about siblings who have gathered for a vacation/holiday in their father’s hill station in the Himalayas. The father is played by Soumitra Chatterjee. Rituparna Sengupta plays the bubbly and matchmaking-fixated Anita, wife of Nirmal (Sabyasachi Chakraborty), who looks waaaay too old to be playing her husband. Also central to the story are Anita’s sister Sunita (Raima Sen) and Nirmal’s brother Shyamal (Parambrata). They are also accompanied by their father’s friend who can’t stop talking about his beloved guru and ashram. When an early-morning earthquake destroys the bridge that connects them to the mainland, they are stranded with no electricity and dwindling food. What happens next is the gradual disintegration of a seemingly-perfect and happy family. Oh, and Nishi Japon is directed by Sandeep Ray, son of the Bengali legendary award-winning director Satyajit Ray.
Sabyasachi Chakraborty as Nirmal
Soumitra Chatterjee as the father (left), and his friend on the right
Raima Sen as Sunita
Rituparna Sengupta as Anita
What I liked most about this film is how much was NOT said or shown. Sunita seems somewhat boring and emotionless, but a brief shot of her lying in bed listening to her walkman while tears well up in her eyes lets us know there is much more to her than meets the eye. Same for Shyamal. He tells his sister how marriage will turn him from “a man with a future to a man with a past,” but he adoringly lingers by Sunita’s bedroom as she sings beautifully in the evenings. Shyamal and Sunita’s liking of each other was adorably sweet and so real and my favorite part of the film. And *that* is what was so great- everything seemed so real here that I often didn’t feel like I was watching actors. Many of the characters are openly irreligious/atheist, and their tauntings of the guru-worshipping friend of their father was at times funny but also thought-provoking. An especially powerful scene revolved around Sunita and Nirmal. Early in the movie, she playfully teased him about a pretty woman he might be seeing on the side and they laugh. Later, it’s made obvious that she has been deeply hurt by this all along and suppressed her feelings.
That said, the film failed for me in being realistic about the earthquake and the aftermath. I’m sorry, but where were the cell phones or the landlines? I never quite believed that they were really that isolated. Little things didn’t quite add up.
And why in the hell were they so casual about their household help? Right after the earthquake, they don’t even go check on him and the excuse is “oh he sleeps through everything.” When it turns tragic, I felt really bad for him, poor guy! At the very end, when help finally arrives on the other side of the crevice, no one is happy. They seem to know how severely f’d up the whole situation has turned their family, but there is hope. Anita and Nirmal are seen lightly touching each other, and Shyamal and Sunita hold each other’s hand. Yay, hopefully they’ll all mend the problems later!
For a Bengali film, I thought that was quite a positive ending compared to some I’ve seen. The film brings up timeless and important points that all of us can relate to and that cause us to pause and consider how we are acting in our own lives. That said, I expected the conflict in the film to be more complex than it was.
Also, I’ve since learned that nearly all the actors/actresses in this film are very famous in Bengali cinema, especially Soumitra Chatterjee and Sabyasachi Chakraborty.
As I said before, Shyamal and Sunita’s relationship was my favorite part of the film. They seemed to be the only sane ones among the characters, and there is quite a bit left unsaid about their past that made for some interesting guessing. After the movie was over I began imagining more about them and what might have happened to them if there was a “Nishi Japon 2.” And damn... Parambrata is one intellectually-sexy man here.
Onto another shallow topic: Rituparna’s sweater-sari combo. Maybe I’ve never paid attention, but I’d never seen a sweater worn this way with a sari- the pallu is thrown over the sweater on one half! I had to stare at it for a while before I understand what she had done, hehe.