Saturday, December 2, 2023

Prague: Dark,Sinister, Devastating…

By Subhash K. Jha

It’s easy to expel experimental cinema from the orbit of our experience. Label it incomprehensible and bury it…But wait. Hang on. There is life beyond mass entertainment. It is not about grand masti alone. There are the dark unexplored regions of the psyche that cinema must reify even if it means taking into confidence an audience that doesn’t want to think while watching a film.

“Prague” engages the sense in the polemics of the unexplored. It takes us into a world of despair and anxiety, not caring that perhaps audiences do not really wish to go there.

But is cinema only to visit the aesthetics of beauty? “Prague”, shot with splendid serenity by cinematographer Uday Mohite, has plenty of visual beauty to savour. You can feast your eyes on the sights and sounds of the Czech Republic.

But be warned. Secreted in the splendour are the murky secrets of human foibles which come rushing to the surface in unguarded moments of desperate anxiety.

Standing at the vortex of this psychologically disconcerting treatise on a mind that doesn’t follow what the heart says, is the enormously gifted Chandan Roy Sanyal playing an architect whose romance with structural precision mocks the crookedness of his inner world. The more Chandan seeks symmetry in his life the more it eludes him, until there comes a time when the real and the illusory worlds come together in a stifling embrace.

“Prague” opens in India where the dynamics of Chandan’s inner world are manifested in his relationship with an undependable Indian girl named Shubangi and his two closest friends Gulshan(Kumar Mayank) and Arfi (Arfi Lamba) one of whom, we soon realize, is dead.

This is when we begin to realize that Chandan is losing his mind. As he and his two best friends move to “Prague”, the stage is sturdily set for Chandan’s descent into hell.

Each step of the character’s decline into a world of hefty hallucination is chronicled with compelling crispness. The editor uses components from the real world and the ‘reality’ according to Chandan in a play of hide and seek.

Then there are the songs, so well used. R.D Burman’s “Meri bheegi bheegi si” in the Hindi and Bengali versions, and some achingly haunting Czech songs that recur in lovelorn loops of longing.

There are passages in the storytelling where the world of the imagination blends into the real world. The collision point where the two worlds meet is well controlled by the director, although at times you fear the narrative lapses into self indulgence.

There is plenty in “Prague” where the motivation is questionable. Why does Chandan act the way he does? And I do mean the unpredictable behaviorial pattern of the film’s protagonist.

As for Chandan, he embraces all the confusion, complexities, insecurities and insanity of his character. In some sequences where his madness overtakes his better judgement, he allows his character to take over. We can see him floating in the tides of whimsy.

The casting of Chandan’s two friends is also of the utmost importance. The cocky self centred Gulshan as played by Kumar Mayank is the most fatally charismatic character in this intricate jigsaw of light and death. And the wimpy, whiny, over-possessive Arfi.

Then there is Elena Kazan, last seen as Randeep Hooda’s neurotic alcoholic girlfriend in “John Day”. Here she plays a far more normal girl who is forced to join her lover in his journey into hell. Elena brings a whole lot of tragic charm to the proceedings.

But we know this love story too would end in terrible tragedy. Just as the first love story in the Mumbai section of the film when ‘Shubhangi’ the bitch, who betrays in love becomes indicative of the malaise of rejection that destroys Chandan’s life.

Dark sinister wild and unpredictable, “Prague” takes us into the depths of despair. Not all, or even some of the events in the film make sense when judged against conventional populist elements. This film dares to court the dark side of the human mind. The very powerful Chandan plays an artiste on the brink. As he topples over, we get a vivid view into the abyss that separates man from madness.

Though not an easy breezy journey, “Prague” takes us into the heart of darkness.

What we see is a world manned by betrayal. As Chandan’s world falls apart, the film gathers its strength from the rubble that he collects around himself. Sometimes seeing dead people is not always about Manoj Night Shyamalan. Sometimes it’s also about attempting to remain sane in a world that is defined by eccentricity and death.

“Prague” is a tough film to ingest. But who said life in the movies is only about the unbearable lightness of being stupid?

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