The Golden Mountain – a critical review but a film not to be missed!

(Sonar Pahar, a Bengali language film with English subtitles to be screened at the India International Film Festival of Boston)By Subrata Das (SETU)Yesteryear’s Bollywood glamor girl, Tanuja, is persuasively cantankerous in the role of Upama Mukherjee, now in her early seventies, lives alone in an old Kolkata house. After the early demise of Upama’s husband, she struggled to raise her only son, Soumyo (Jishu Sengupta). Their relationship, however, has deteriorated after he recently married Mou (Arunima Ghosh) without his mother’s consent, leaving her to live separately. This very premise of the film reflects the clash of the two generations within India’s middle class – the traditional, possessive but loving mother and the modern, independent, and progressive boy.The film opens with an all too typical morning of a common city household. We hear background noise of the city’s hustle and bustle, Debabrata Biswas’s Tagore song on the radio, and we see the mild morning breeze that rustles pages of a hanging calendar, the preparation of tea, and the arrival of grocery and fresh vegetables from market. A focus on a bedpan indicates the owner’s physical state and soon after, the fall in bathroom to which the maid attends (re subtitles – loving ”didi“ does not translate to “madam” and neither does “Bhagawan” to “Holy Christ”).The film begins with uncertainty as Upama hasn’t seen her own son and there is no hope on the horizon of her seeing him again. This persistent inner pain, so passionately reflected on her face, is a testament of Tanuja’s acting skills. Tanuja is an actress with considerable resources and idiosyncrasies. Her role here reminds me of Jessica Tandy in Driving Miss Daisy or Fried Green Tomatoes. The movie is dominated entirely by Tanuja who manages to uphold her star status but at the same time gives room for others flourish. The role is just right for Tanuja as she gracefully transitions from glamorous Bollywood into the world of the elderly.Soumyo’s friend Rajdeep (Parambrata Chatterjee, the good police officer from Kahani who runs the orphanage Anandaghar in this film) recognized a call from Upama’s servant requesting a therapist from the homecare to attend her fall in the bathroom. Seeing her living alone, Rajdeep proposed Upama to have a seven-year-old orphan boy named Bitlu (Srijato Banerjee) as a company to remedy her loneliness. Upama reluctantly agreed so as to contradict her son’s judgment, but the situation complicates when she learns that the boy was HIV positive. Rajdeep proceeds to give a straightforward lecture addressing our prejudice against and ignorance of HIV, and clarifies the difference between having AIDS and being HIV positive. It’s an all too familiar story– Upama, who already bosses around a talkative maid, first vehemently restricts the boy’s carefree movement but eventually settled into boy’s indulgence with increased friendship and emotional dependence. The bond between Bitlu and Upama grows predictably despite initial hurdles and so does the sympathy towards the boy in the backdrop of the fear of HIV by the housemaid.Young Parambrata’s careful, respectful direction ensures a smooth production and allows the movie to flow by itself with crowd-pleasing and tear-jerking content. In fact, the pace of the film and mild confrontations at times resembles the director’s own good-natured outlook. The background score in Mandolin is often out of place. The “adda” between two friends over a few drinks is quintessential Bengali. The film is likely to win the hearts of Indians because the director allows sentimentality to creep in, slowly but steadily.There are some dramatic moments at the expense of consistency and reality that had to be brought in, like when Upama is checking her own wallet for money with a fear of not having enough, or when the boy is controlling the reunion over phone, Upama’s driving fun and accident, and when the manager of an orphanage drives his own car. The crowd-pleasing cameo with the Dadasaheb Phalke-winning actor Soumitra Chatterjee singing this enduring classic by Manna Dey from film Teen Bhubaner Pare is all too obvious and corny. The emotional outburst by Soumyo at the end isexaggerated and the reunion is too abrupt. Then again, the sudden reversal of Soumyo and his wife of being apologetic is all too ubiquitous in Indian movies. The director’s own appearance as the caretaker of the orphanage house does only cement his stereotypical role as soft-spoken and all-absorbing character.There has got to be some metaphorical existence of Golden Mountain. The director and his cinematographer do not disappoint us by capturing some breathtaking beauty of Himalayan mountains in the end. Child Srijato is a wonderful find!All in all – don’t miss!Reviewer Subrata Das is the director, a playwright, an actor, and a co-founder at the Boston-based non-profit theater group SETU – Stage Ensemble Theater Unit. The mission of SETU is to bridge the cultural gap between India and the western society. (pic source: The Citizens, proofread: Kabita)
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