- Release Date: 15/07/2022
- Cast: Barsha Rani Bishaya, Urmila Mahanta, Arghadeep Baruah, Udayan Duarah, Naaz Sultana, Rajeev Lal Baruah
- Director: Prasant Saikia
A film like Guwahati Diaries is very challenging to review as even though it sorely lacks the entertainment quotient — which I feel is the most important aspect of any film —- it has so much heart in its storytelling and characters that I feel bad to even point out the lack of entertainment in it. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that as I point out the lack of entertainment in the film, I feel as if I am undermining the film for the exact same reason that I loved it so much. It is an art-house gem that is not one bit pretentious (a common trait in most art films) and relies on its audience’s maturity and understanding of some of the most brushed aside emotions and life’s challenges to make its point and leave an impact.
The story revolves around a gamut of colorful but conflicted characters that cross each other’s paths in the city of Guwahati. Darshana (Barsha Rani Bishaya) is a married woman who is finding it difficult to cope with the brutal indifference of her husband, Ravi (Rajeev Lal Baruah) for a reason that we learn later in the film. She finds solace in the company of Mayur (Arghadeep Baruah), a young musician who is coping with his own problems and has recently found abode in the same building as Darshana. As the two start sharing each other’s experiences, they each bare their inner selves and in the process their lives to each other.
Jennifer (Urmila Mahanta), a talented actress is stuck in a vicious circle where she finds herself owned by a repulsive man, Alakesh (Hemanta Debnath), who controls her life as he is funding her existence in the city. Jennifer is repulsed by her current state and feels that it would never let her spread her wings. Sadly, she is forced to put up with the deplorable Alakesh. Things take a turn for better or worse when she meets Udayan (Udayan Duarah), a budding film director who recruits her to play the lead in his debut short film. As time goes on, the tragic weight of being forced to do something that she deems immoral and deplorable starts weighing on Jennifer and she gradually slips into an abyss from which her return looks impossible.
While these two stories form the backbone of the narrative, there are other subplots that not only add character and humanity to the film but also in many ways complete the narrative. This isn’t a film that will make you happy and leave you with a good taste in your mouth. On the contrary, atleast one of the stories will leave you feeling dejected and sad. But that is the beauty of this film. It tells real stories and real stories often end in tragedies. I watch cinema to escape from reality and this film pulled me back into some of the most discomforting feelings that reality has to offer and for that I hated it. But then I couldn’t help but get sucked into the stories of the characters and wait with bated breath to see if they ended happily ever after.
This quality of the film that made me take the characters seriously and kept me glued to the narrative is Prasant Saikia’s biggest victory. He is not only able to create engaging characters but is also able to extract such wonderful performances from his ensemble cast that the characters come breathtakingly to life. There will be atleast one or two people in your life that you will be able to correlate with atleast one of the characters of this film. Thus, the narrative quickly forms a personal bond with its viewer resulting in making the viewer ignore the absence of traditional entertainment tropes in the story.
Another aspect of the film that makes it so wonderful is its use of the city of Guwahati. The fact that I am in love with this city and all its eccentricities only made it that much more appealing to me. The way Prasant uses the surrounding, the well-known places, and the aura of the city in adding character to specific sequences and the drama that is unfolding adds a lot more to the film’s overall feel and power. I feel that a film like this will be enjoyed a whole lot more by the people of Guwahati than any other place. While its reach will be global and it will appeal to anyone willing to engage with its character and their stories, there will be aspects of it that will appeal to the Guwahatians at a whole new level. We have years of experiences associated with certain places and when we see the characters in the same places pacing through their own issues and moral dilemmas, the history with the place adds something more to the sequence for us to experience in addition to the story.
The ensemble cast of the film deserves the highest praise. Barsha Rani Bishaya leads from the front. Her rendering of a wife who is on the verge of breakdown owing to what her husband is doing to her and her own sense of guilt is heartbreaking. It is extremely easy for an actor to go overboard playing characters like this but Barsha Ba looks and feels like someone who lives next door. Even in the sequences where she has to play drunk, her rendering is filled with heart and one can practically see the pain and turmoil that her character is going through. She takes a complete u-turn when she is with the character of Arghadeep and that shows us a different facet of the character. For all this and more, Barsha Rani Bishaya should be applauded. This film also proves that with the right direction and well-written character, Barsha Ba can beat anyone in terms of acting in the country.
Urmila Mahanta is fantastic. Her character slips into a state wherein she is repulsed by what she is doing and Mahanta had the incredibly difficult task of conveying that through nothing but expressions and mannerisms. She does an outstanding job with that and I could practically smell the disgust that she held in her heart for her own actions. I loved the sequence where she is shown spending time with her father. It tells us so much more about her character and about her longing and also underlines the fact that returning home will never be an option for her. This scene assumes even more emotional weight when in the end we see why she walked out of her home in the first place. The bits where she is shown surrendering to her fate are also extremely well realized.
Udayan Duarah is fantastic as Udayan. The track involving him and the immensely likable Naaz Sultana who plays his girlfriend is the only somewhat lighthearted portion of the film. I loved the sudden surge of swag in Udayan’s mannerisms right after he dodged a marriage proposal from Naaz’s character. It was utterly hilariously. Naaz not only looks pretty and enamoring but also adds this unique quality to her character to envelop the viewer even in the most inconsequential of dialogues that she is shown sharing with Udayan. Every word coming out of her mouth lands and has an impact. Arghadeep as Mayur is apt. He is in his comfort zone and he has the perfect vibes for the character. This aids in making his rendering of Mayur perfect. Hemanta Debnath as Alakesh is absolutely deplorable. He has done a fantastic job of making the character totally unredeemable. Rajeev Lal Baruah is perfect as Ravi.
Guwahati Diaries is a must-watch. I won’t recommend you to watch this film because it is a film made by our own people and because we should support it. Watch it because it is so good. Watch it because of its craft and performances. Watch it because of its power and poignance. Watch it because it has been made with so much care and love. Watch it because it might make you think and judge yourselves about certain things that you might have learned to take in your strides and forgotten all about its consequences.