Directed by: Aparna Sen
Produced by: Shrikant Mohta; Mahendra Soni
Written by: Aparna Sen; Ranjan Ghosh
Starring: Konkona Sen Sharma; Aparna Sen; Rajat Kapoor; Priyanshu Chatterjee; Koushik Sen
Music by: Debajyoti Mishra
Cinematography: Somak Mukherjee
Release date(s): 27 October 2010
Running time: 128 minutes
At one point, the central character of the Bengali film ‘Iti Mrinalini’ (An Unfinished Letter in English), a film about a film heroine who, after glorious achievements and several heartbreaking relationships, must end up lonely (It’s the same myth Shyam Benegal told in wonderful ‘Bhumika’, and Madhur Bhandarkar is trying to tell in ‘Heroine’), explains why she decided to quit acting. She says she entered the film world thinking that one day the revered Manikda, (as Satyajit Ray is known among his people) would hire her for a role. Then, Manikda passed away and Mrinalini saw no point in continuing acting.
How do you react to this sentiment? I mean, how vain can you get? If she was dying to work with Ray, she could have always approached him. And if she was as brilliant as the film projects her to be, Ray would have approached her anyway. Since neither happened, you suspect the credibility of the heroine, who despite knowing the fact that timing is everything in an actor’s life (when to enter and when to exit the stage), clings to a young and hotshot director, who is obviously using her.
But this is the least of problems in ‘Iti Mrinalini’. The problem lies in the choice of canvas. Aparna Sen, who directs the film and also appears as the older Mrinalini (the younger version is played by her real life daughter Konkona Sen Sharma), selects to tell a story, which may have depth and charm, but hardly original... but enormously ambitious. The result is fantastic to look at. Sen Sharma gives a heartbreaking performance, the music is great, and the passing of time, from naxal-influenced 1970s to Hollywood influenced 2000s (They make a film on Karna in English called ‘Born of the Sun’!), is captured with accuracy, and so on.
But, as the film ends and Mrinalini is dead, you hardly feel for her. Her loneliness, her tragedies are only superficial, and her own creations. It’s very difficult to emphasise with the central character, especially the way Sen portrays her.
‘Iti’ is the Bengali equivalent of regards, or sincerely, which you add at the end of a letter, before your name. The film begins with Mrinalini writing a suicide note, saying she does not have any regrets, or is it? Soon, the film moves between two Mrinalinis, the younger one, in love with a naxal, who becomes a starry-eyed heroine and falls for a married director, played by Rajat Kapoor and dubbed by Anjan Dutta (Why Anjan Dutt couldn’t play the role himself?), have a child and overall leads a complex, tragic life... and the older one, still waiting for that elusive love, who is upset when the young director dumps her for a younger heroine. In between we see a lot of characters, and all they talk about is love, and belonging and such stuff, very poetic, very romantic, very dramatic, there are mentions of Tagore and other literary and cultural personality (Tagore's Red Olieander, Rakta Kababi), there are poetry recitations and there are the epics, and all of these ultimately come to naught.
This is a problem with most Bengali artistic creations, they go all over, they encompass everything, in the bargain losing focus.
Sen is a director of higher calibre. You look at her works and you’d find that she excelled on those films where the focus was restrained, and bound by time and place, like 36, Chowrangee Lane (the old woman’s house), or Mr and Mrs Iyer (the journey), and to some extent, The Japanese Wife... or gutsy Paroma, that was one brave film.
Yet, the film looks good, and the soundtrack is really worth your time, especially the song in the opening and closing credits, 'Smitir Sahor’, a poem by Sunil Gangopadhyay, brilliantly set in music. Superb.
Gautaman Bhaskaran’s Review in Hindustan Times