Shah Jahan Regency movie cast: Abir Chatterjee, Parambrata Chatterjee, Anjan Dutt, Rituparna Sengupta, Swastika Mukherjee
Shah Jahan Regency movie director: Srijit Mukherji
Shah Jahan Regency movie rating: One star
Most characters in Srijit Mukherji’s latest Bengali magnum opus, Shah Jahan Regency, speak in what I call Bournvita Quiz Contest puns and rhymes. School-boyish in their need to impress, these literary devices have very little bearing to the story or its unfolding. They exist simply because they can. In the fallow marshland that is Bengali cinema, characters and their convictions are secondary to the filmmaker’s vanity. The characters are urbane and in emotional crises. Scenes sweep past in a flurry of Fabindia curtains, designer stoles and tissue saris. Men and women speak in affected accents, indulge in vacuous conversations and look wistfully out of pretty windows.
In Shah Jahan Regency, these impulses flow like the musty, old-carpet smell of Park Street restaurants. “Are you, by any chance, flirting with me?” asks one character. “Are you, by any chance, intimidated by me?” is the incredulous reply to the question. The banter, like the film, forced, pointless and ridiculously redundant.
Set in what is supposed to be Kolkata’s plushest hotel, the film is told from the perspective of the bumbling intern (Parambrata Chatterjee) of the most popular employee of the hotel, Samiran Bose (Abir Chatterjee). This would be a good time to point out that the film is an adaptation of a popular 1962 Bengali novel, Chowringhee, by celebrated author Shankar. It was made into a film starring iconic Bengali superstar Uttam Kumar in 1968. That adaptation, thankfully, had none of the affectations of this one but it certainly didn’t age well.
In Shah Jahan Regency, Mukherji introduces us to a plethora of characters that populate the corridors of the hotel with all the sincerity (and dramatic impetus) of a Madhur Bhandarkar expository sequence. Like Bhandarkar, the self-styled ‘expose’ filmmaker of this unfortunate country, Mukherji attacks the high-society world with the diligence of a myopic bulldog. He gnaws and gnaws till we are assured that every stereotype in this “microcosm” will find his or her suitable deliverance. The “fallen woman” will, not-so-poetically, fall to her death. The bumbling intern will be end up being a worldly-wise manager. The tragic monarch will fade away into oblivion.
Even the subconscious of this film is strangely conflicted about its liberal pretensions. On one hand, we have a queer character pontificating about homophobia in a so-called civilised society, on the other, we are assured that Indian women rampantly misuse of article 498 A of the IPC to their benefit.
The timeline of the film is a loop like the Maa flyover that runs through the heart of Kolkata. You don’t know if the subplots are running parallel to each other or is it a linear sequence of events.
All these questions don’t have any answer really. Simply because the film itself is so smug in its vagueness, that it will taunt you for not “getting” it. The question to ask is why can’t Bengali films find a new idiom? In their evocation of a certain nostalgia or ineffectual exotica, the films appear to be made for an audience twice removed—perhaps, the techies in Bangalore or the diaspora in the US.