Srijit Mukherji’s ‘Shah Jahan Regency’ (2019) Review

Remaking a classic is a tricky affair. Adapting a masterpiece and then giving it a contemporary makeover is something that gives shudders even to the greatest of auteurs. The puritans reject the remake. The liberals argue about its appeal to the contemporary times. I believe, remakes are necessary to make today’s generation aware of the masterpieces those are long forgotten. Director Srijit Mukherji’s adaptation of Shankar’s novel ‘Chowringhee’ suffers from the expectations that often comes pre-bundled with remakes. The film, made to match the modern sensibilities doesn’t disappoint, well almost doesn’t. Barring a few hiccups, the film manages to drive home the fact that beneath the glitter of contemporary tonality, relationships are still complicated, humans are still flawed and life is still unpredictable. Which means, the soul of Chowringhee is still intact. 

The movie begins with a self-declaration of sorts that barring the soul, everything has changed in Calcutta, oops Kolkata and so, let this be called the reincarnation of Shankar’s novel and not an adaptation. It’s a clever attempt to misguide the viewer so that he doesn’t compare it with the one directed by Pinaki Bhushan Mukherjee. Through the eyes of Rudra (played by Parambrata), the newbie, we are introduced to the various colourful characters of the hotel Shah Jahan Regency. Srijit sets up the pace nicely, pulling out characters after characters from his hat of tricks. The ever-smiling Samiran, the sleuth Barun, the heartbroken Makaranda, the cunning Dheno Chatterjee they all come up. Told in six chapters, the film reaches its pinnacle with the introduction of its most mysterious resident – Kamalini Guha.

Swastika Mukherjee plays Kamalini with aplomb. Putting aside all her inhibitions, she makes an audacious entry as the beautiful Kamalini. An escort by profession, her professional services are sought by many of her admirers. Her character arc is something that Ms Mukherjee can be proud of. Not a single false step, not an iota of pretence, Kamalini is all heart. As a viewer, you feel for her. You want her to get everything that she deserves, everything that she had missed out in life. But since when a happy ending is something life has been subjected to? Broken, crumbled, shattered, you feel every emotion that Kamalini goes through. 

Anirban Bhattacharya plays Arnab Sarkar, who enters Kamalini’s life and everything goes topsy turvy. There’s something alluring about Mr Bhattacharya that is also engaging. His restraint to Swastika’s volatility is something that’s well captured through the camera work of Gairik Sarkar. Samiran, a take on Satta Bose, played by Abir Chatterjee starts well, goes perfectly as the story progresses, only to be halted with his own story arc. Frankly, after you witness Swastika’s meltdown, there’s hardly anything in the film that could stand to her performance. Anjan Dutta as Makaranda is in a guest appearance is effective. And so are Rudranil and Pallavi. The danseuse Mamta Shankar sizzles in her shady role of Mrs Sarkar. Her showdown with Kamalini is one of the highlights of the film. 

Which brings us to the low lights of the film. The film runs for two hours and thirty-six minutes which feels like an eternity. The film, while showcasing a day in day out of a posh hotel’s life, takes too much of time to set the tone. Barring Kamalini’s track, you don’t feel invested into rest of the stories that much. The hardships of Makaranda Pal, the ultimate fate of Samiran’s relationship doesn’t evoke that pain, that is so evident during Arnab and Kamalini’s love story, described beautifully by the song ‘Kicchu Chayini Ami’. One feels that instead of ending the storylines in the middle chapters, Srijit could have taken all of them to the penultimate chapter and intertwine them to have the maximum effect. Trimming the timeline is also something that the film would have greatly benefited from. 

Nevertheless, Srijit’s ‘Shah Jahan Regency’ will have polarised opinions. Those who’ll hate it will do it with all their guts. But those who’ll love it will do it with all their heart. These lines from ‘Hotel California’ perfectly sums up the film –

‘Last thing I remember, I was

Running for the door…

I had to find the passage back to the place I was before…

‘Relax’ said the night man,

‘We are programmed to receive.

You can check out any time you like,

But you can never leave!’

The Cinemawala Rating: 3/5

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