EK JE CHILO RAJA (2018)

  • Release Date: 12/10/2018
  • Director: Srijit Mukherji
  • Cast: Jisshu Sengupta, Anjan Dutt, Anirban Bhattacharya, Aparna Sen, Jaya Ahsan, Rudranil Ghosh

Based on the almost unbelievable “Bhowal Sanyasi court case”, Ek Je Chilo Raja chronicles the story Raja Mahendra Kumar Chowdhury (Jisshu Sengupta) a reclusive man with a heart of gold. He spent most of his time in his Jalshaghar (music room) in the company of his friends, alcohol, and prostitutes who in those days doubled as courtesans and singers. While being a man of many flaws, he is loved by his subjects because he understands their pain and is ever ready to help them, unlike other Zamindars who were busy ripping off their peasants hand in hand with the British.

The British have an eye on Mahendra’s princely estate which spans over a 1000 Kms and has more than 500000 peasants in it. Understanding the British scheme to take over the estate without a ward, Mahendra’s mother decides to get her son married to Chandraboti (Rajnandini Paul). The idea is to get a male Heir. However, the union sets into motion a series of events that would lead to the untimely death of Mahendra and then his rise from the dead as a phoenix from the ashes.

I loved Ek Je Chilo Raja sans a few things which I will get to in a minute. Unlike Sanyasi Raja (1975, Uttam Kumar) which was a watered down albeit more heroic version of the actual story, Ek Je Chilo Raja mostly sticks to realism and presenting not so much of a rosy picture of the man. It strips Jisshu of any glamour which I don’t think was easy. Srijit chooses to lay out his story in a believable and realistic manner. His Mahendra Chowdhury is a man with scars. He contracts syphilis and he is not a pretty picture after that. After he returns from the dead, the man is still shown to be grizzled (not in a pretty way), has a forehead full of allergies and also sports a receding hairline. When he is taken in by the Naga Sadhus, he doesn’t wear (like Uttam Kumar did in Sanyasi Raja) a robe but instead is shown sporting nothing more than a “kaccha” underwear. His dreadlocks and the beard are also as messy as they can be. All these factors contribute heavily to making the man and in-turns the film too.

Jisshu is a good choice for Bhowal Raja. Apart from the bits where he speaks in Hindi (which felt somewhat out of place), he remains highly believable and effective. His best bits are when he is in his kingdom as the Raja and also towards the end when he is extremely sick and knows that he is being poisoned. The scene that he shares with Anirban Bhattacharya and Rudranil Ghosh requesting them to let him die honorably is strikingly brilliant. I was repulsed by what Srijit had to bring to the screen (primarily because of the treachery and the king’s acceptance of his state) but it was heartbreaking in more ways than one. The portions where he is a Naga Sanyasi are also very well enacted.

Ek Je Chilo Raja has an absorbing story to tell. Since the film concentrates on the case at hand and goes deep into the events that led to the events ensures that we have a narrative that is immensely gripping and intriguing. The film presents an unbiased picture using the information available about the case. However, the incessant songs that are used to paint a character picture of the protagonist start becoming such a tickler that after a point it becomes unbearable. In a realistic film like this, so many songs didn’t have a place. What is worse is the fact that in the film from yester years the song and dances were used as a substitute of sexual encounters between the Raja and his many mistresses apart from also being a mode of communication between the King and Queen. Here even that was unnecessary as actual sexual encounters are present and there isn’t much between the King and Queen in terms of communication.

Ek Je Chilo Raja boasts of two great antagonists in Anirban Bhattacharya and Rudranil Ghosh. They are not over the top. They are not jingoistic. Neither do they mince their teeth or twitch their eyebrows. They are just real people with schemes of their own. The scene that made them one of the best antagonists of this year was the one in which they express their motives out in the open to an about to die Raja Mahendra. It’s a chilly and highly repulsive scene that is made real by their exceptionally natural act.

Anjan Dutta and Aparna Sen play opposing advocates who clearly seem to have some history. While Anjan Dutta’s character is hell-bent on proving that the Bhowal Sanyasi is, in reality, Raja Mahendra, Aparna Sen is relentless in proving that the man is an imposter. Sen wants to prove Mahendra a fraud not because she believes so but because she believes that he has wronged his wife terribly and it’s only fair that he be robbed of his kingdom even if it is in the wrong way. The altercation between the two veterans gives us some intelligent and witty dialogue. It must be mentioned that the dialogue of Ek Je Chilo Raja is consistently great.

The music of Ek Je Chilo Raja which in Sanyasi Raja was an important element is totally forgettable. Apart from being a stickler, it doesn’t do anything more. I have loved the music from Srijit Mukherji films and in certain films like Baishe Srabon and Hemlock Society, the music actually helped to accentuate the mood and feel of the narrative apart from being a contributing factor in progressing the story in an organic manner. None of that happens here and all that the music of Ek Je Chilo Raja does is harness the progression of the narrative and be an irritation. Srijit must have known better to manage the runtime as he spends way too much time with the songs. By the time the film gets to some interesting and important parts, the audience is already restless.

Having said all that, Ek Je Chilo Raja is still a welcome return to form for Srijit Mukherji who has been slipping a bit for me of late. I loved the amount of inside information the film had to offer. All the major actors did a fabulous job and were led from the front by a tremendous Jisshu of who this is definitely one of the best turns of recent times. Anirban and Rudranil are great as the antagonists and Anjan Dutta and Aparna Sen bring their trademark charm to the narrative. It’s a well mounted and gorgeous looking film that will ultimately entertain you and also shock you by the sheer audacity of the truth which in this case is easily stranger than most fiction.

Rating : 3.5/5 (3.5 out of 5 Stars)

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