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Saturday, 16 July 2011

The magic stone (Parash Pathar)

A director who could tap the full potential of Tulsi Chakraborty must have considered himself to be extremely priviledged. For, here was an actor who betrayed the most difficult of expressions with utmost ease. Almost as if he was swatting a fly with a flicker of his palm. He was not good-looking. No, he was anything but attractive or handsome. He was already middle-aged by the time top Bengali directors had started toying with his expertise, he had a huge paunch, he was balding and his face was perfectly clownish. But it was his eyes, his voice and his expressions that conjured up an aura filled with chuckles, amazement and full-throated laughter. Even when the director was making a tongue-in-cheek comment on some insufferable plagues of society, Tulsi Chakraborty drove home the point in such a hilarious manner that you would guffaw and ponder, both at the same time. I often marvel at this man, how effortless he portrayed those special roles. Or was it the other way round? Special roles were created by the film writers because he could essay them with ease. Well, we'd never get to solve the mystery...

In Satyajit Ray's Parash Pathar, a stinging satire on society and human vices Tulsi Chakraborty played the main protagonist. Played out in the format of a fantasy drama, Chakraborty belies a host of emotions that keeps one hooked from frame one to frame end. Every emotion that he displayed is real and palpable. Every scene is memorable and every situation is well thought out. It's not for nothing that the English version of this gigantically popular film, The Philosopher's Stone, is lauded in every elite and erudite film appreciation circle. Those who have seen Parash Pathar, consider yourself blessed. Those who haven't seen the 1958 masterpiece yet, well...
Paresh Chandra Dutta is a middle-aged clerk working in  one of the many government offices in Dalhousie Square, a place which is synonymous in Calcutta for business, enterprise and the drone of monotony. Like many lost in thsi drab world is also Paresh Dutta who is struggling to escape forced retirement. At the age of 53, he cannot afford to look for a new job and suatain his family, again a sundry one in the busy lanes of North Calcutta.  One day, while homing back, Paresh Dutta stumbles upon a stone that heavens shower on him. Will this stone change his stars?!!
Unaware of the magical properties of the stone, Paresh Dutta hands over his find to the neighbourhood Poltu, a little boy who is the owner of Paresh and his wife's affections in the absence of a child of their own. Ray sheds light on the warmth of Paresh as he playfully tells Poltu that he has got a bomb for him. Little does he know that this missile will actually bring forth explosive situations...
Paresh's wife (played wonderfully by Ranibala) is another instant of the travails that a middle-class man undergoes. Depleting resources, progressing age and the lack of sufficient wealth makes life quite mundane and dreary for almost every second household in Calcutta. While Paresh is about to undertake his routine ablutions, Poltu bolts in with a surprise. The little boy reveals a deadly secret, a secret that will change Paresh's life forever. Ray's camera closes in on Paresh's visage, a canvas literally with hues of elation and  hope. Realisation dawns on him that the stone is indeed a treasure. He rushes to the local grocer to buy sweetmeats and toys to bribe Poltu, in order that the boy relents and passes on his treasury to Paresh. Ray's pointed remark here is on the vice of greed. No normal human can abstain from a source of neverending riches, especially if that man has toiled for a sustenance throughout his life.
But then, even after Paresh gets the key to end all his sorrows, he is not at peace. Ray's misc-en-scene now is targeted towards the common man who cannot enjoy new-found wealth. A thousand worries cloud his mind and since the source of his wealth is not exactly a legitimate one, he is forever tensed and fraught with suspicion, lest someone else learns of his luck and steals it from him.
At this juncture, Paresh starts planning. he visits an industrial dump-yard from where he carries home two mutiny balls. Paresh is satisfied that for the time being his needs will be met with. Happily he doses off and dreams about the world honouring him for his riches (there goes Ray again with his sharp commentary on how the world venerates people as long as the bucks are on them. The moment they become penniless they are non-entities). This scene is too funny. At one point Paresh is the carbon copy of Netaji, at another he is some statue on Queen's Way. We realise that Paresh too wants his slice of name, fame and popularity.
Making a lot of money quickly, Paresh and his wife shifts to a posh bungalow in upscale Alipore. But can money simply alter the tastes and preferences of a man. I guess even pedigree is required for that. Though Paresh Dutta moves into a mansion, he never really becomes a man who can enjoy the riches. He buys a second had car and retains his old servant (Jahar Ray in a stellar role) to take care of him and his house. What is amazing is that though he can afford more than one servants he sticks to his old hand, who runs around the house changing uniforms to just suit the chores he is supposed to do! Paresh also has hired a secretary, the idling Priyotosh (Kali Banerjee is fantastic. That's nothing new!!) who is seen spending most of his work hours talking to his girlfriend over the phone. Priyotosh is fond of Paresh Dutta only because he seems a harmless old guy who doesn't really have too many issues regarding deadlines and work. He is just too happy donating funds and making appearances in public functions as the chief guest, while Priyotosh is appeased with making plans about his impending marriage with his sweetheart. Ray's script delves into various facets of human personality and functioning that needs to be watched first hand. What happens after this only betters what precedes it...
Even though Parash Pathar may appear a harmless comic satire on society's behaviour in particular and human vices in general, there is much more meat to it. In the party scene, Ray uncovers the shallowness of society butterflies, the incessant desire of a man to be accepted as one of the high flying birds and his returning to his unpolished roots under the influence of alcohol. It's sad how when Paresh is inebriated, the veneer of wealth scratches off to reveal his more raw side. Though you'd laugh at Tulsi Chakraborty's expressions, voice modulation and body language, you'd ultimately marvel at the dexterity of his act.
In the next scene when his wife lifts the curtains from his hollow act, he is too stunned to react. He sits there like a statue horrifically stupefied at the utter absurdity of his own deeds and the situation. His strategies now should mend matters before the jackals come hounding.
The last part of this tiny jewel is subtly rib-tickling. While the stone is being digested by Priyotosh's healthy metabolism, the police are scrutinizing Paresh Dutta's deeds. Little do they know that Paresh Dutta never really became rich out of his own will. And that he will again become the middle-class struggling man because God deems it so...


  1. Nice review and must be a great watch indeed. I haven't watched this one and am yet to find the DVD too. Sob! Sniff!

    P.S. Welcome back :)

  2. @Roshmi: Please watch it. It'll be unfortunate if you don't. And the film is so famous that a DVD is available almost anywhere, with subtitles of course.
    Thanks, yeah, it's good to be back !!

  3. That sounds like a fabulous satire! While reading your synopsis of the film, I kept thinking where I've come across something similar in Hindi, but I finally figured out that it has just a fleeting resemblance to Dus Lakh, in which (as far as I remember) Om Prakash wins a lottery and tries to become one of the hot-shot high society seths. That wasn't anywhere near as good as this sounds, though.

  4. @Dustedoff: No no, Dus Lakh is nowhere near this. This one is a masterpiece whereas Dus Lakh us just another comedy drama types. watch this please. It's mindblowing!! And Om Prakash can come nowhere near Tulsi Chakraborty!!

  5. I love this movie (Parash Pathor).Actually this movie is diamond of Bengal.
    Tushi chakrabarty acting parformace was speech less performance.That,s a nice movie.

  6. @Prasanta: Absolutely. Thanks for the comment. Keep reading.