Patalghar : A Second Chance

August 1, 2008 at 1:25 pm (Cinema, Kiran David)



My fear is that Patalghar the Bengali film directed by Abhijit Chaudhuri a.k.a. Dadu  is slipping thorough the cracks of time. That is an unfortunate prospect for a film which is worth discovering and re-discovering by cineastes all over the world.


The film seems to defy categorization and exists as many things at once, each battling with the other, a science fiction tale, a children’s fantasy, a comic book film and most importantly, a tale about the loneliness of childhood.


Patalghar is based on a sci-fi story by the Bengali novelist Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay. Though I’ve not read Mukhopadhyay’s story in Bengali, I can sense that using the storyline Dadu has created a world that is uniquely his, full of the mysteries of childhood.


Released in 2003,  if I’m not mistaken, during school exams and cricket world cup, it lost a large chunk of its potential viewers despite decent to good notices.


The film exists in two time zones, one in the past where an eccentric, all-encompassing and enlightened scientist Aghor Sen [Soumitra Chatterjee] invents a device which can put people to sleep for 150 years, and the present where the protagonist, the young boy Kartik [Sourav Banerjee] inherits the property – a place where the two time zones converge – belonging to the scientist which has within its premises the secret of that invention.


Thrown into the narrative are a whole bunch of characters who aid and act as deterrents to Kartik’s journey of discovery.


More than the story, which I enjoyed, for me Patalghar works as an exploration of the feelings and the world of a child, his love of mechanical devices (a  disappearing trait  among today’s children, thanks to games spawned by virtual reality) his expectations, his yearning and his loneliness.


I have always viewed the film as a kind of pilgrim’s progress for Kartik whose journey through the narrative makes him aware of some of life’s lessons.


This however does not mean that this is a dour film. On the contrary, it’s a delight and living proof that one can make a rollicking film within the format of the Indian mainstream cinema. Full of oddball characters with comic book sensibilities, delightfully outrageous sequences and marvellous over- the-top performances within parameters that make it work wonderfully and not fall over the precipice. Special mention must be made of Kharaj Mukherjee as Kartik’s uncle Subuddhi and Manu Mukherjee as Gobinda Biswas. Mita Vasisht, the one time art-house favourite, virtually reinvents herself as the Begum. The supporting players too are a treat.


Joy Sengupta playing the current day scientist does however seem a bit out of sorts, thankfully Bauddhayan Mukherji’s dubbing with suitable inflection just about keeps him afloat.


As for young Sourav, it’s refreshing to see a kid who looks and feels like a kid unlike those synthetically bred cretins that populate the bulk of mainstream Indian cinema.


I also like the fact that the film is so deeply rooted in its socio-cultural ethos despite the comic book sensibility that informs it. Though not a Bengali, being married to one and friends with many, I could get some if not all of the nuances which enrich the already pleasurable viewing experience.


Some admirers of the writer feel that his story has been given short shrift by the filmmaker, but I never look at directors as slavish cross-media translators, rather as artists who take their inspiration from any source and create a world unique to them, and Dadu does just that. There is much of the filmmaker’s personality invested in the film. Those who know Dadu personally can sense how he has delved into his own life when fleshing out Kartik’s.


As much as I love the film, I wish that the opening scene in the film was less stilted, but in the long run that is just a minor quibble.  


Mention must be made of the technical crew – Abhik Mukhopadhyay, the cinematographer, who has given the film its unique visual texture. Always a good cinematographer, his partnership with Dadu brings out the best in him; Arjun Gourisaria, who is probably the best editor in the country though he himself may deny this and not believe me. I have had the pleasure of seeing him at work. He brings a rare intelligence to the process that goes beyond the mechanics of editing. Debojyoti Mishra, whose music works wonders for the movie. Great art direction by Indranil Ghosh, especially considering the miniscule budget the production house Black Magic had for the film. Ghosh crafted the décor with whatever scanty resources were at hand and gave it a look and feel that worked.


Finally, I tip my hat to Dadu who has directed this delightful work and managed to transform the raw material into a unique vision – a world of his making. He fills us with the hope that one can bring in an artist’s personality even while using popular, mainstream idiom. Besides directing, he has written some of the lyrics and been instrumental in the art direction and visual texture of the film. One eagerly awaits his next work.


In conclusion, I hope that Patalghar gets a larger audience, the sooner the better. It saddens me that while soulless, glossy productions like the Harry Potter series become a rage, true gems like Patalghar don’t reach the audience they deserve. I have to say that despite their scale, technical finesse and money power, the Harry Potter series can be likened to dog shit in a pothole, lacking both vitality and imagination. Perhaps, it’s time for a Patalghar re-release?


– Kiran David.



  1. Vidyarthi Bhaduri said,

    I’m so glad that someone has written about Patalghar after all these years!

    I’m a big fan of Shirshedu Mukhopadhyay. Reading his novels for children is better than watching movies. His words can vividly capture the thrills of watching a rollicking movie on a 70 mm screen with dolby sound. More fun than an Indiana Jones movies of Spielberg.

    I always thought filming Shirshendu’s novels would rob something of their vitality, until I watched Patalghar. The movie can help the rest of the world discover two great talents – Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay and Abhijit Chaudhuri. Rarely such fine piece of literature meets its cinematic match.

    The world has more imagination than any one of us. If only we had the eyes!

  2. Bangal Kori said,

    Well said, truly. Somehow, I have been revisiting this film at least once or twice every year for the past seven or eight years and I find it brilliant all over again as I watch it one more time. Being a native bengali speaker (AND a voracious reader), Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay’s characters have never been portrayed on screen with as much pomp and effect as Patalghar does.

    It’s a pity the director decided to move to Bollywood after that. I don’t know what happened, but he even said that he wished he could make Patalghar in Hindi. Larger audience is certainly a plus, but I hope one will agree that Shirshendu’s bengali village-drenched fun would’ve been completely lost in the (thankfully unmade) version. In any case, the director embarked on making a Hindi film after that. However, the Soha Ali Khan-Shiney Ahuja starrer ‘Accident’ was supposed to come out by 2010 or something.

    I wonder what happened to that…

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