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<div class="paragraphs"><p>A still from Aditya Vikram Sengupta's <em>Once Upon a Time in Calcutta</em>.</p></div>
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Review: 'Once Upon a Time in Calcutta' Tenderly Captures a City in Flux

Aditya Vikram Sengupta's third film premiered recently at Venice International Film Festival.

Published
Movie Reviews
3 min read

Review: 'Once Upon a Time in Calcutta' Tenderly Captures a City in Flux

Aditya Vikram Sengupta delicately and expertly captures a city that is in flux, slowly dying and simultaneously fighting for relevance, in his third film, Once Upon a Time in Calcutta (OUATIC). It’s a lovers gaze that takes it all in. OUATIC recently premiered in the Venice International Film Festival, where it was part of the Orizzonti section.

One of the most distinctive voices in Indian cinema today, this film is set in his hometown. Aditya's debut feature, Asha Jaoar Majhe, won the Fedeora Award at the festival’s Venice Day event. The movie is a beautiful, meditative look at the various nuances of a relationship, depicting through a day in the life of a young couple who are trying to make ends meet. In his astounding sophomore effort Jonaki, we see an old lady in coma and the haunting world of her decaying memories.

<div class="paragraphs"><p>The poster of&nbsp;<em>Once Upon a Time in Calcutta.</em></p></div>

The poster of Once Upon a Time in Calcutta.

The smell of death hangs heavy in OUATIC. There is an intimacy and nostalgia in the word 'Calcutta' itself, that he manages to convey not just through his characters but the insentient objects belonging to the city, redolent with meaning and symbolism.

Sengupta’s eye for detail, his meticulously crafted frames reveal his unparalleled mastery over his craft.

A huge, decaying dinosaur statue that must make way for a new flyover being built - these are the metaphors that hint at how the future is slowly killing the past. Those who don’t fall in line must perish, like the theatre owner ruing the loss of its heydays. However, everyone is trying to survive in their own way, some with good old hustling, others taking on risks and the promise of an uncertain future, while a few holding on to the comfort and familiarity of the past.

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<div class="paragraphs"><p>Sreelekha Mitra in a still from <em>Once Upon a Time in Calcutta</em>.</p></div>

Sreelekha Mitra in a still from Once Upon a Time in Calcutta.

(Photo Courtesy: Pinterest)

The film opens with the close-up of a burning pyre. We tiptoe into the world of a couple, who, it seems, are mourning the loss of not just their only child but shards of a broken relationship. Ela, a part-time actor and anchor, does what she must to live the life she desires. In a lot of ways Ela’s life is interlinked to the other characters we meet. who are intrinsic to Calcutta, a city that is as old as it is new.

Sreelekha Mitra is faultless, displaying a rare understanding of her character’s emotional and physical state. It’s an ode to a city that we come to know and love not by panning the camera on the buildings, roads and landmarks alone but the tapestry woven by the collective aspirations of its people. Some yearning for newer better days, others craving for the era gone by.

OUATIC has been shot by Turkish cinematographer Gokhan Tiryaki, who has collaborated with renowned directors like Nuri Bilge Ceylan. His camera carves immersive images out of a landscape lacerated by time. Verisimilitude is evident in the deceptive ease with which actors such as Bratya Basu, Satrajit Sarkar, Arindam Ghosh, Shayak Roy, Anirban Chakrabarti and Reetika Nondini Sheemu expertly heighten the film’s emotional design.

Aditya Vikram Sengupta’s deep sense of humanity shows us a world which seems cruel but not without hope.

As we concentrate on the minutiae of everyday life, the film captures with tenderness and brilliance a city in flux.

Our rating: 4.5 Quints out of 5.

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