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Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Impeccable imposter (Mahapurush from Kapurush O Mahapurush)

This is a story where the imposter turns out to be the true survivor. As admitted by one of the most clever men in the film, this imposter is learned, has vast knowledge, is steeped in history of several lands, has a fantastic memory, is a thorough glibtalker, understands mass psychology, can convince people about almost everything, is a terrific actor and hence the perfect Mahapurush!

Even after his charade is destroyed by the fantastic four, he does not give up. He and his satellite embarks on another journey of lies and deceit. All this for mere survival in a lavish way. All this because this imposter does not want to toil. All this because this imposter knows how to use clever gimmicks to dupe people to the best effects. And in the process we have a clever laugh riot executed perfectly by the uber-talented Satyajit Ray.
This man's genius knew no bounds. In Kapurush O Mahapurush he juxtaposes two stories that are vastly different from each other but the treatment is so spectacular that you want to see them over and over again. The first story of this 1965 film is that of a coward who loses out on a lot because of his procrastination and lack of self-belief. The story harps on the utter failure of a man's rising to the occasion. But the sensitivity with which it is dealt speaks volumes about Ray's marvellous genre of film making. Starring Soumitra Chatterjee and Madhabi Mukherjee in lead roles, Kapurush is quiet, yet very powerful. A very special part is played by Haradhan Banerjee. But on that some other day...
We come to the delightful take on falsity and deceit that is Mahapurush. No waste of screen time, the film packs in loads of entertainment from the word go. The characters are stupendously good and the performances are fantastic. Ray's direction is cut-throat and Charuprakash Ghosh is a marvel of sorts. Playing on the Indian fixation on spirituality and piousness, Mahapurush is an enthralling tale about how some saints take commoners for a ride with their lofty tales and speeches.
Birinchi Baba (Charuprakash Ghosh) and his disciple (Rabi Ghosh) are leaving a station after adequately duping the residents of the town. He is distributing prasad that his new followers can't have enough of. As he throws the sweets to his 'men', the train that is going to take him to his next destination leaves. It is evident that the first class compartment reservation is a 'gift' from one of his new found followers, who is sold on Birinchi Baba and his knowledge. In the compartment Birinchi Baba starts impressing Gurupada Mitra (Prasad Mukherjee), a widower who has till now been seeking peace in the holy banks of Varanasi. He is the perfect soft target for our astute fraudster. Though Gurupada's daughter Nilima or Buchki (Gitali Roy) is a tad irked by her father's blind faith in Birinchi Baba, she better keeps her lips sealed and watch the fun. A magnificent trick by the sage floors the new target and Birinchi is welcomed into the rich man's abode to share his learnings and experience with everyone. Have you ever seen anyone order the sun to rise? Watch Birinchi Baba do it and you will also be convinced about the powers of this imposter!
In Gurupada's house the air is thick with religiosity. Something that makes Satyaranjan (Satindra Banerjee) despondent. He is all set to propose Buchki and has been relentlessly pursuing her with Shelly's quotes and Tagore's poems. But the moment he hears that Buchki is going to be be initiated by Birinchi Baba the sky falls on his head. What will be of his love now?? But then, there is always the clever sleuth to undo an imposter's ploy.
And here the pragmatic lad is Nibaranda (Somen Bose). Initially baffled by Birinchi Baba's mumbo-jumbo about the past, present and future and a quirky hand exercise, it does not take much time for him to untie the tight knots of the false mystery centering on the holy sage who calls himself ageless. Yes, Birinchi Baba apparantly has met Gautam Buddha, Jesus Christ, Leonardo Da Vinci, Aristotle, and has been fed with roast rhinos!!!
You have to listen to the animated speeches given by Birinchi Baba. They are absolutely engrossing. They will convince you of the power of this man to convince. But then this is also one of Ray's way of depicting the idiocy present in society. There are many men who negate science and blindly believe in these baseless religious pow-wows. They gift the sages with riches. Perhaps it is an avenue that uses up their unaccounted money. The rich people hide their black income inside the chambers of these sages who feed on this money by selling their fantastical opinions about God and spirituality. What a comical depiction of a vast vicious cycle...
When there is a crook somewhere performing crooked deeds, he ought to have an ally somewhere inside the place of his business. The person who helps Birinchi Baba rob Gurupada Mitra is one from the family. For a mere 10 percent share, this man is slimy and cheeky. Watch his interaction with Satyaranjan and you would know that he does nothing without his personal gain...
The disrobing of Birinchi Baba is hilarious. Egged on quietly by Buchki who recognises the greed in Birinchi Baba and the cheap lust in his disciple, Satyaranjan is hell bent on ruining the sage's plans. And it is truly exciting to see how Nibaranda does that. You too, must watch it for yourself... And do not miss the parts with Santosh Dutta who plays the stammering scientist all out to win a Nobel. He boils green grass to manufacture some important product that will curb hunger for eternity. What makes an educated man like him believe in the sage's nonsensical words? Find it out for yourself...
The film is a masterpiece in terms of story, direction, acting and execution. Rabi Ghosh as the mousy yet clever disciple of Birinchi Baba is a revelation. He catches sly glances at Buchki whenever there is a chance. Listens to Hindi film songs on the sly. Craves for mutton biriyani even though he has promised to be an ascetic. And when he seconds the sage's words in a low drab monotone, it is simply rib-tickling.
Satindra Banerjee looks handsome and smart. Gitali Roy is a simple girl. Somen Bose has a learned and intelligent air about him. Santosh Dutta is ineffectually funny.
But the hero here is the imposter, played by Charuprakash Ghosh. He keeps smiling throughout the film, enjoying the fact that he can so easily hoodwink commoners. Right from the start, he mesmerises with his antics. What sheer power of conviction this man has that when he says that Einstein learned the theory of relativity from him, everyone believes him. And why not? That booming voice, coupled with an articulate expression and a robust body language is enough to floor one and all. Even when he is caught red-handed, he scampers with elan, only to resume his charade again. And that too with panache. That is why he is the Mahapurush, or the holy man who has everyone in thrall...


  1. oho how much I love this movie. Infact I am watching it again as I read your post. I just love the way Ray looks at the religious/spritual quirks of the society with an affection, an almost benevolance which is free of any condescension or preaching. He allowas us to look and laugh at ourselves without making us feel like fools.

  2. Coincidence, I was reading about this film only the other day - and that because of Chiriakhana (which also featured Gitali Roy - I found her so interesting, I went and checked out her filmography). But the bit I read about Mahapurush didn't give me much incentive to watch the film. Your review did! I'm now off to add this to my list of must-watch films! Thank you. :-)

  3. @Nimish: Hello and welcome. Yes, that is the magic of Satyajit Ray. Everything is so subtle yet delightful. Another fantastic such comedy is Parash Pathar. :)

  4. @Dustedoff: Though Gitali Roy does not have much of a role in this film, she is the reason why Satyaranjan wants Nibaranda to act fast. This is a hilarious feast. Enjoy it :)

  5. Does it have a story or is it a collection of happenings? Looks very unique and interesting. Well, it 'is' Satyajit Ray after all.
    Such themes tend to have witty dialogues which is a major part of such a film.
    So, hope a subtitled copy exists somewhere. Thanks Sharmi.


  6. @Pacifist: No no, it is very much a story. A superb film. The first part of this two-part film is Kapurush and the second part is Mahapurush. You might get a subtitled VCD too. The first disc will have the first part and the second disc the second one. It's a unique combo. Try try them, they are exemplary works by Ray :)

  7. This was one hilarious film, timeless film.

  8. @Shilpi: Yes, I totally second your comment :)

  9. The Santosh Dutta character in the original story by Parashuram was funny in it self with his grass-boiling experiments but Ray made it even better by simply making him stammer - Ba..Ba..Ba..Bagra dichhe!!

    And it's amazing how Ray sticks to the original dialogues of the story almost entirely and also makes a movie so charming. But the final line in the story was funnier - "Dhur boka jah manei haan"!

  10. @Anirban: This film is one of my favourites. It's strong yet so subtle with all its hilarity :)

  11. I'll let you know about my impression as soon as I've watched it!!! And of course I'll come here and read your thoughts.

  12. @Yves: Please please do. It's a rollicking delight!!

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    Among all the Ray's movies I have seen, this was the weakest one for me. What is the premise of this movie? A man who could not make his life changing decision in a minute because his lover wants him to under pressure? How does that make him a coward? Thats an extreme position to take and severely judgemental. And consequently Madhabi decides to live her life in pain and deceit, for reasons unclear. Soumitra's character might not be noble, but definitely not cowardish. The movie ends with reinforcing how bad Madhabi's life is, almost as if Soumitra was entirely responsible for it. Very heavy handed and unsatisfying ending.