(Reviewed on the basis of watching on TV 42 years after release)
Plot: Two murders take place in a rich household of the distant town of Nijhumgarh, but the mystery remains unsolved. Seven years later a governess arrives in the same house and she soon stumbles across many mysterious developments surrounding the family. Will she be able to clear the mist of horror that surrounds this locality?
Review: A good suspense thriller is always rare to find; more so if we talk of the 'golden-era' of Bengali cinema. In a period dominated by emotional dramas and occasional comedies, we rarely came across proper thrillers. 'Jighangsa', 'Kokhono Megh', 'Chiriyakhana', 'Joy Baba Felunath', 'Lal Kuthi', etc. were some of the examples which satiated the suspense loving audiences of Bengal. But all of them were barely good without coming anywhere near the Hitchcock-ian standard set in international cinema. But if there is one film which could stand the test of any competition, then it has to be the 1971 classic 'Kuheli'.
Tarun Majumdar has always been known to be a director who makes feel- good family dramas set in the rural landscape. Hence, it was quite surprising when he decided to turn producer for a full-blown suspense thriller. Realising the different-necessities of this genre he handed over the directorial-baton to Abhimanyu, about whom I must accept I had been totally unaware of before this film. Either helped by Majumdar's guidance or justifying his skill of spotting talent, Abhimanyu went on to deliver such a masterpiece that I am now extremely curious to know more about his body of work.
The script is simply mind-blowing and easily a work of genius. We often see film adaptations of famous literary-thrillers failing to provide the same excitement. I don't know if 'Kuheli' is a literary-adaptation or is 'inspired' from any foreign flick (like 'Jighangsa'); but if it's not then double the kudos to the script-writers. More so, for choosing a female as the lead-explorer of the mystery. While watching the film, many times one would be tempted to believe as if we are reading a Byomkesh novel on-screen! From the very beginning to the end, the film maintains the ambiance of mystery and thrill which never gets diluted amidst any needless romantic-tracks or any lengthy excitement-less passage of time. The film gradually spins a complex web of mystery; thus raising the risk of creating loop-holes or leaving questions unanswered. But like a master tactician the film slowly goes about winding up its net as the climax approaches revealing facts that shocks us and prepares us for more. There is a distinct lull before the storm (climax) depicting incidents which apparently don't have much significance, but it's all a part of the build-up towards the climax as we see in the end. This particular aspect is typical of novels and rarely seen in films, which is what makes 'Kuheli' a cut above the rest. In fact many such trivial data is sprinkled throughout the film, but in the final analysis they all form pieces of a huge jigsaw-puzzle. Many viewers would be able to recall their significance only on repeat viewings; thus making this film a rare whodunit which lends itself brilliantly to such repeat screenings.
But the best is saved for the last. After a brilliant ride so far, the climax needed to be top-notch to prevent a feeling of let-down. But the unheralded Abhimanyu shows extreme maturity in conceiving a compact climax without a false step and succeeds in delivering the final surge of gasps and utmost shock. With a spine-chilling shot of a cob-web begins the haunting track of 'Asche se asche' which gels perfectly with the scenario of horror and sets the tone to a crescendo in anticipation of the final showdown with the 'unknown' which has remained hidden in the mists of the jungle. It is one of the most well-crafted climaxes one would ever get to see!
In the cast Biswajit looks typically charming in his romantic avatar, but it's as the bearded tormented husband that he delivers probably his best performance ever. Sandhya Roy enters the scene only after an hour and unfortunately doesn't have much to do even in a double-role. Sumita Sanyal as the lead investigator is quite convincing and why we didn't see much of her in such roles is itself a mystery that needs investigating. It's the casting of her and Satya Bannerjee (another not- so-regular face at that time) in such pivotal roles that keep the audiences guessing all the time and again proves Majumdar's eye for spotting talent. Chaya Debi, Ajitesh Bannerjee and 'baby' Debashree Roy, all do full justice to their characters. Only Subhendu Chatterjee is wasted in his limited and unimportant role which is quite inexplicable. Even Robi Ghosh gets a much more integral role to play which he does with aplomb.
Music-wise Hemanta Mukherjee, a Majumdar-regular, recreates the 'Bees Saal Baad' magic with the haunting melody 'Asche se asche' (enhanced by its awesome picturisation). Although the theme-track 'Eso eso' doesn't strike much fear. But the background score during the opening credits seemed funny rather than spooky.
In a script as excellent as this, loopholes are hard to find and even when found should be judged leniently. The scriptwriter relies on a lot of co-incidences to aid the baddie in his conspiracy. No explanation is given as to the reason behind the perceived death of Champa among her 'clients'. Again, shouldn't Seba have changed her name when she didn't want to reveal her true identity? Similarly, why couldn't the doctor recall such an uncommon name if he could remember her face after such a long time? But these doubts tend to occur only after prolonged retrospection long after the film has ended.
'Kuheli' is not just a film, but a lesson in film-making. Suspense- thrillers are seldom made better. It's truly a 'golden film' from the 'golden-era' of Bengali cinema.
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