Lokkhi Chele review: A promising concept marred by amateurish writing

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In a recent interview, Bangla actor Parambrata Chatterjee (pan-Indian audiences will know him for his turns in ‘Kahaani’, ‘Aranyak’) pointed out that West Bengal cinema is in dire need of good writers. The fact that Bengali cinema has been in a perpetual state of vacuum for a decade has been the subject of many articles, many discussions and many rants. I have personally written half a dozen.

But it was a revelation. Chatterjee is, by all definitions of the term, an insider. What he says has merit. He went on to say that the Bangla film industry lacks a scientific approach to a screenplay. Apparently, once written, a script is usually inspected by script doctors. That’s how it is everywhere. The role of a script doctor is to critically assess the script and focus on the shortcomings and not to read it and praise the filmmaker who wrote it.

This lack of a “scientific approach” (and a script doctor) is painfully evident in Kaushik Ganguly’s “Lokkhi Chele,” Tollwood’s latest reason to congratulate himself (and fall back into mediocrity).

A film that could have been so much more than it ended up being, ‘Lokkhi Chele’ is a strange beast. He tries to criticize religious dogmatism but his ambitions are tainted by an almost amateur scenario in the second half. He is so embarrassed by his intention that, like a friend with a savior complex, he can’t help but remind you that you are witnessing something noble.

So the promising story of a medical student, Amir Hussain (played with almost rigid seriousness by Ujaan Ganguly) and his two bandmates (Ritwika Pal and Purab Seal Acharya) eventually becomes a one-note ode to the protagonist. After a car breakdown in the middle of the verdant countryside of Bengal, Amir and his friends land in a village that has become a place of pilgrimage thanks to a child suffering from a rare disease who gives him four arms. The child is now believed to be a reincarnation of Lokkhi. Her “divine status” brings instant respectability to the Dalit family she was born into. The upper caste owner (played by an intense Indrasis Roy) decides this could very well be the platform for him to launch his political career. Without delay, visitors throng into the Dalit house which was hitherto considered unclean by them. Amir, a medical student, realizes that this medical condition requires immediate surgery and decides to save the helpless child.

When a film is charged with a “social message”, it always risks being too moralizing, too authoritarian. An effort should therefore be made to gently nudge audience members to ask the required questions, allowing them to draw their own conclusions. But ‘Lokkhi Chele’ does just the opposite. We know almost nothing about the main character, his motivations, his uncompromising morality. Instead, a lot of screen time is invested in why his teacher (Churni Ganguly) decides to help Amir and the child.

Who writes scenes where characters sit around a table and talk about the great actions of the protagonist? Scenes where the audience is told what to think, what to feel. Why can’t we have a more nuanced and smarter way to do this?

The sad thing is that the premise itself is very promising. This could have been Amir’s coming-of-age tale. His journey to self-discovery. This is how the personal becomes political.

In Rituparno Ghosh’s 1994 film ‘Dahan’, the central character, Jhinuk, is a young woman celebrated for her courageous act of fighting off the attackers of a young couple in the middle of a Kolkata street. While she is celebrated by everyone around her, her pragmatic grandmother asks her the question that transforms the film into a social commentary. “By standing there, what else could you have done?”


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