It is no longer news that Bangla cinema is going through a renaissance of sorts: it’s been years since I used to say that I’d rather watch even Bollywood potboilers. Anjan Dutta’s Dutta vs. Dutta, though maybe not the finest movie I have seen in recent times, is certainly worth watching. It occurred to me that no schoolteacher should set her class to write on the ‘advantages and disadvantages of the joint family’ unless she and they have seen this movie, nor should any child be allowed to wax eloquent about the bliss of filial piety and sibling love until she has seen the worst that reality can serve up. For another thing, it brought back horrid, poignant and faintly comical memories of Calcutta in the throes of the ‘Naxalite-cum-hippie’ quasi-revolution which my generation watched with thumb-in-mouth bewilderment from the sidelines because we were at least ten years too young to take part in it and be burnt by it, while our parents were on average ten years too old. The third thought was that this part of the world has actually changed too little, despite the supposed miracles wrought by television, the internet, the cellphone and the ubiquitious motorcycle, besides higher incomes all around – our ‘with-it’ young hipsters today are going through the same motions that their fathers and even some grandfathers did in their salad days, poor zombies, imagining they are ‘enjoying themselves’ and ‘expressing themselves’ in a more novel and interesting way. Maybe Facebook helps to sustain the illusion. And lastly, I couldn’t help smiling wryly on being reminded of the Bangla saying ‘shongshaar holo shong er shaar’ … family life for most of us for the most part is black comedy.
A more than usually sensitive and gifted boy growing up in a severely dysfunctional family and dreaming of growing up to be a happy human being loved by at least one good person who loves him back and pursuing some relatively offbeat and creative career like music, writing or acting rather than engineering, medicine, accountancy or (as in this case-) law has become something of a staple with ‘movies with a message’ these days, so they can be graded only by how dexterously or clumsily they have handled the subject matter. I think D vs. D has been done rather well. It deals with a largeish number of flawed, even seriously eccentric characters without demonizing any of them. Indeed, more than one arouses one’s sympathy, to my mind none more than Biren Dutta the failed-lawyer dad of the narrator, despite his indolence, his name-dropping, his petty domestic tyrannizing, his gambling, alcoholism and pathetic philandering. He could never express himself well (alas, such a common failing!), his dreams were absurdly beyond his reach… but all he had ultimately wanted was a somewhat better life for himself and his loved ones, a little more dignity and recognition, a little less of lifelong helplessness and futililty. A man like that does not deserve to be beaten like an animal in police lockup for no fault of his own, nor becoming a paraplegic in the dusk of his life, unable to die and almost unable to bask in the mild glow of wordly success that his nearly-estranged but beloved son has earned at last. I shall not grudge Providence all that it did not let me do in this lifetime that I know I could have done and well, if only it spares me an end like that. While I was watching, the old ABBA number kept playing at the back of my head: ‘People need love, people need loving…,’ probably even the worst of us.
No, this is not an expert’s learned and dispassionate review. It is an unapologetically personal response to something that moved me strongly, and I have tried, in brief, to explain why. In the hope that I may perchance persuade a few people to look at these things my way. Besides, who knows, maybe directors like to read comments like this from the general viewer, too?