Teenkahon – Three Obsessions

I have always been a fan of Bengali movies and literature. Which means I try to find something to watch or read the translated work. I like them because even when the stories are from contemporary setting, the heart of the stories burst with the culture and the values of the Bengali community. A very difficult thing which the Bengali artists do as if it is a child’s play. It had been so many days since I watched a good Bengali movie or read a good short story from that area. When the India – Pakistan match this weekend turned to be a dud, I sought refuge in a movie streaming website to catch the movie Teenkahon, thankfully with subtitles.

Teenkahon is a story of obsessions. The movie spans from 1920 to 2013, tracking along the way how men approached women and how they dynamics in love shifted and changed as we grew with technology and how we communicate with people changed and how it has an effect on the relationship. Unlike the movie about love by Shrijit Mukherjee, the director here took an easy route equating obsession with women and relationship. All three stories tell the story of men obsessed with women. Beautifully at that.

This is said to be a narrative movie. I haven’t seen one before this. It is structured in triptych way, which is very interesting. The middle part of the story gets a large canvas and I am not complaining given the stars shining in that segment.

Boy Meets Girl: Nabalok by Bibhutibhushan Mukhopadhyay.
Segment Title: Innocence.

The first story starts somewhere in the 1950s on a rainy night. With no electricity, a poet starts explaining how he fell in love for the first time, when he was just eight years old. This short story was written by Bibhuthibhushan Mukhopadhyay. As an eight-year-old, he is infatuated with 16-year-old girl Nayantara, who is recently married. He grows possessive on her to the point that he ditches the letters she writes to her husband who is working in Calcutta. With the right mixture of creepiness and innocence, the segment captures the yesteryear Calcutta both pre-independence and after the independence. The narrator is always seen quoting Wordsworth or Longfellow, indicating the rich reading habits at that point of time in Calcutta. The narrator just doesn’t say “I fell in love with her”. For him, love blossomed and decided to show it to himself when he was eight. It was not just about what people felt at that point of time but also how the expressed what they felt.
This segment is filmed in black and white.

Girl Leaves Man: Swami O Premik by Syed Mustafa Siraj
Segment Title: Postmortem.

The second part of the story is set up in 1978. Again as a part of the state gets flooded because of the insane rains, we see a middle-aged man, dripping wet enters a bachelor’s house claiming that his wife had committed suicide and the bachelor was partly responsible for that.
We learn that the bachelor had affair with the woman who just died while the husband had always known about his wife’s infidelity. The woman whom they both loved is dead and the city is flooded with rain water. What would both the men talk? Apparently, they talk a lot. The director had a lot of scopes to play in this one. In one particular segment of this short segment, the husband takes a binocular from his bag. He says that he had bought it in an auction house to spy his wife. And he offers to sell it to the bachelor saying, you shall be married very soon too. Maybe it will come very handy. In that single scene, the hurt of the husband is explained clearly and his passive aggressive ways to hurt the lover of his wife hits the right mark.
At one point in time, he starts quoting words from the letters the bachelor had written to his wife. We see that the language from the previous segment was much free flowing than the language in this segment. We see sentences like “I have left the traces of my kisses in your nakedness. Be sure to look for them”; “Your essence haunts my being and is driving me crazy” written by the lover to the woman. Strange enough, it is recalled by the husband in the scene. These were the words the husband should have told his wife, or he wanted to but not able to. A lot of time we may think what is in words or expression, but sometimes it makes all the difference. The segment ends with an abrupt and open ending. Sabyashchi Chakraborty, who is famous for his on-screen portrayal of Feluda, did a wonderful job as a helpless husband.
This segment is filmed in Technicolor

Man Gets Girl: Telephone

Deputy police commissioner and his wife are at loggerheads. The segment starts with a bang when the wife says “12 years of marriage left us drained of conversations right?” and when things get worse that night, she even accuses him of marital rape. We come to know that they are planning to have a baby through IVF. And that is the cause of all the friction. When on duty, the policeman falls for a dancer and there starts all the problem.
The dialogues are strained in this segment much like real life. Short and incomplete sentences like we talk in person assuming that the person at the other end will understand what we tried to say. And then there is a love affair through texting, allowing only a part of the message to be reached to the other person. Did the commissioner get the girl or not? If he did who was it? These questions are answered in a dark and twisted way.
It was pleasant to see Ashish Vidhyarthi in a role without any of his trademark over action or antics. It has been 15 years since Ghilli released but he looks same, if not fitter. We see the other woman only in two scenes. And we see her full face in only one frame but it was enough to send chills down the spine.

This part of the movie is shot digitally.
Apart from the language changes, the film also tracks how, we, as individuals and as a society started looking at morality. The poet who didn’t deliver the letters of the girl he loved, feels bad for what he did and isn’t married. He is still searching for his first love Nayantara. When his friends point out that the lady might be close to fifty now, the poet smiles and says “Nayantara’s don’t age”. The bachelor in the second story cries in the bathroom when he comes to know that his lover is no more. But he doesn’t show that guilt to the husband, thinking his illicit relationship is understood and accepted. All the morality goes out of the window in the last segment. It is subtly implied that as we go away from communicating what we think, we feel less moral.

Overall I was very satisfied with the whole experience of Teenkahon. If you have Amazon Prime, you can watch it for free with subtitles.

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