Utsab: A family drama by maestro Rituparno Ghosh that captured the best of Durga Pujo

Durga Pujo is here. But this year things are not the same. The festive fervor is dull with faces covered by masks. The terror of losing one’s life is not only killing the mood but taking away millions of livelihoods.

In such a time, The Hyderabad Review has decided to re-introduce some of the best pieces of film and literature that will lift your soul from all that’s gloomy.

Pujo is an indispensable part of every Bengali’s life. Whether they are abroad or in the busy streets of Kolkata, the goddess calls upon their hearts every year magically to offer respect to her.

The film I am writing about is a masterpiece of the legendary director Rituparno Ghosh. Released exactly 20 years ago in 2000, Utsab is a story of a family that comes together every year in their ancestral Rajbari(Palace) to celebrate Durga Pujo. The word Utsab means festival which is a very apt title that Ghosh chose for his film as the film revolves around Pujo.

As per the plot, the characters comprise Bhagbati (Madhabi Mukherjee) who has four children; two sons Asit (Pradip Mukherjee), Nishit (Bodhisattva Mazumdar), and two daughters, Parul (Mamata Shankar) and Keya (Rituparna Sengupta). It is the festival time and all the children are at the house to celebrate the festival. Meanwhile, Shishir, (Deepankar De) a relative who is also a big real estate agent, is interested to buy the house. Most of the family members agree to do so. The old and traditional house does not interest anyone anymore and the members have individual problems to solve with the money, they might receive from selling it.

The movie represents the undying efforts of an entire community to hold on to its ancestry yet failing to do so with the advent of modernity. This is symbolic of the year 2000 itself which marked a new millennial era of vulnerable society. Only the goddess is constant in the entire film through which the characters pass by with their memories of Pujo.

Ghosh is unconventional and so are his films, Utsab being one of them. Though it is a family drama, it is very blunt when it comes to showing the complexity of relationships. There is no filter for the hypocrisy, pain, love, and identity crisis that the story holds. At a time when Barjatiya’s films were a hit, Ghosh was bold enough to show incest. His experiments didn’t just end there. He incorporated feminism, extramarital affairs, and domestic abuse, all in a subtle and natural manner, leaving the audience with lingering thoughts.

A brewing romance between first cousins Joy, Parul’s son, and Shompa, Nishit’s daughter, created a huge hue and cry among the critics post the film’s release.

Each of the characters exposed their vulnerabilities in the film. The family’s favorite daughter Parul confessed about her pathetic marriage. The second son Nishit disclosed that he had been laid off from his high-flying corporate job and the youngest daughter Keya came clean about her husband Arun’s alcoholism and their consequent financial distress. All the revelations were already shown as a premonition through various actions of the characters in the plot’s course.

Nothing is unnatural about the film or its narration and characters. Indian society is in denial of accepting things that do not conform to standards but that doesn’t change the reality.

If you haven’t watched the film yet, this is the best time to grab some popcorn/jhalmuri and get cozy in front of your home theatres.