[Long post warning]
[Figure 1: Clip with sub-titles from the movie “Bow Barracks Forever”]
In the long list of grouses (the marginalization of Subhash Bose in the Indian national Congress, the policy of freight equalization, lack of funding for Bakreshwar power plant, Sourav Ganguly’s treatment at the hands of the BCCI, Soumitro Chatterjee being overlooked for the Dadasaheb Phalke Award and “Ami Kolkattar Rosogolla” not being made the national anthem being some of them) that we Bengalis have nurtured over the years like festering wounds that refuse to heal, nothing perhaps rankles more than the fact that Moonmoon Sen was never given the iconic status in Bollywood that she so richly deserved.
People who closely follow Bengali movies noted amazing flashes of brilliance in her performance in “Baidurya Rahasya “where she played a no-nonsense lethal detective who goes undercover as a sexy Vaishnavite priestess with a craving for fish (her famous line “Mamu ami maach bhaja khamu” [Uncle, I want to eat fried fish]) still gives me the shivers whenever I hear it). Soon her flawless pronunciation, unaffected manner of speaking, acting prowess [video] and her overdone femininity (called “nyakamo” in Bengali) had made her the darling of what Taran Adarsh calls the “classes and the masses”.
Kolkata however proved to be too small for her and before you knew she had gone off to be with the big fishes in Bombay. Here she quickly made her name doing substantial roles opposite the cream of the crop like Raj Kiran, Puneet Issar and the God of all things—Mithun-da [watch this video of Mithunda forcing off MoonMoon Sen’s anti-gravity shoes as they play basketball, wearing them himself and then perching Moonmoon on top of the basket]
[Figure 2: MoonMoon Sen in red anti-gravity shoes playing basketball and flying through the air in a skirt]
However after her much-appreciated performance as a sexy corpse in “100 days” where, even dead, she managed so many sensual contortions that even Maryl Strip had to publicly applaud the acting, Moon-Square, for reasons not truly understood, vanished into obscurity (save for appearances on TV as a talk show host) leaving lesser lights like Madhuri and Sridevi to rule the roost.
Why this happened we never truly understood but this inability of India to give such a great artiste her due has left a bitter taste in our Bengali mouths, like the bitter aftertaste of too much sorshe (mustard) in our sorshe-ilish (Mustard-Hilsa).
Many of you are possibly thinking—why don’t you just let sleeping dogs lie? After all the world has moved along, Moon-square’s daughters now rule the MMS industry if not Bollywood and are acknowledged by one and all to be great patriots.
The world might know her as a sultry diva, who sizzles the silver screen with her glamorous appearance, but deep within, actress Riya Sen is a true-blue patriot whose heart is ready to sing hosannas for the country. The girl who has celebrated her 27th birthday on January 24, is now looking forward to celebrating the Republic Day with gusto. NT gets up close and personal with her.
On the republic day: “I am one of those people who are born with a free spirit. Although on occasions like the Republic Day or the Independence Day I don’t do anything special, but those paper flags selling along the streets or the live telecast of the Republic Day parade always fill up my heart with patriotism. To me these occasions are the symbol of that precious essence of freedom, for which the freedom fighters gave their lives.”
So why, for the love of Ranjit Mullick, do I rake up this generational hurt now at a time when the nation is passing through a crisis?
Let me explain.
After trying to desperately get a hold of “Jimmy” and drawing a total blank (proving once again that darshan of God is never painless), I did manage to see “Bow Barracks Forever, a movie that stars Moonmoon Sen. Before I talk about Moonmoon’s performance, let me give a brief introduction to Anjan Dutt, the director of this most marvelous work of art.
Anjan Dutt is one of Kolkata’s much vaunted “intellectuals”. His claim to fame, besides directing “art movies” , is singing “jeebonmukhi gaan” (English translation: life-affirming songs), the majority of which have one single theme. That being “I am a poor boy. You went away and married a rich man. Do you still remember me? Are you happy?”. And in the case of Anjan Dutt, it’s just not the subject but also the tune that gets recycled.
Anjan Dutt also has another little obsession (or perhaps I should say “cause”) that he likes to indulge in from time to time— the travails of the Anglo-Indian community of Kolkata. Whether it be his great hit song, Maryanne, about an Anglo-Indian who gets rejected by the Bengali boy because her skin is ironically not fair, or his directorial venture BadaDin (Bengalis take care to pronounce this as Boro-din and *not* as Bada Din) about an Anglo-Indian singer being intimidated by evil “native” Bengalis, Mr. Dutt strongly maintains his focus.
As he does in 2007’s “Bow Barracks Forever”. The non-Christian Bangalis are predictably either the villains or the buffoons, out to grab the humble tenements of the Anglo-Indians.
And the Anglo Indians?
Yep they are all here—all the stereotypical Anglo characters that you have seen in Hindi movies for the last 100 years.
The drunk. The cheat (imaginatively called Peter the cheater). The horny wife. The wife-beater. The criminal. The musician. The promiscuous doing “lafda” with “chokra-log”. The big-hearted pastry-making matriarch.
Despite their mind-boggling variety what unites these Lobos and Bragananzas are that they are all losers, all desperately poor, all weak, all hate the city, all golden-hearted (well except the Armenian) and all of them use the words “bugger”, “man” and “bloody” in virtually every sentence they form.
Of course, from my personal experience, the Anglo-Indians I ever came across were well qualified, focussed on their life, spoke unaccented non-Braganza English and usually avoided the use of the word “man” after every sentence.
But then the Anglo Indians I knew must have been the exception.
I am sure Mr. Dutt knows better.
Because one thing to remember is that “Bow Barracks” is an art movie. Hence it is good.
If the director was Navkumar Raju (the director of “Topless” and “Flirt Mera Dil”), then yes one could argue that the Anglo-Indian characters are all stereotypical and unidimensional.
However since this is high art, we must say that the director goes against stereotype while reveling in it (whatever that means).
Again if the director was TLV Prasad, we could get away by saying that the actors hyper-act (i.e. ham inconsolably) throughout the length of the movie, with exaggerated emotions and facial contortions.
However this being very intellectual, we are obligated to say that the characters are raw, earthy, emotional and sensual.
And it is because of the movie’s artiness and worship of gritty reality that we get to see an exposed male bottom (however with the underwear perched precariously close to the foothill of the buttock—after all no director wants overexposure)
[Figure 3: Sabyasachi Chakraborty, last seen doing kung-fu fighting as Feluda, plays an “Armenian” whose side-burns and jacket make him look like he just stepped out of the sets of Grease]
Wait wait you say. How come we started off with Moonmoon Sen and ended up with Sabyasachi’s sideburns?
Okay here is the deal.
“Bow Barracks Forever” would have just remained an amazing art film had it not been for Moonmoon Sen. Back to the frontlines of mainstream acting after a lengthy hiatus, she is now four times her original size and sixteen times as skilled in her craft. In the very few scenes that she has, Ms. Sen elevates “Bowbarracks Forever” to the level of a Battleship Potemkin or King Kong. Of course it must be said that she is helped a lot by the director’s imagination and George Baker’s blue thong-like undies.
George Baker who? Another diamond in the rough, George Baker is well-known to a generation of Bengalis as “Gora” and as the scheming manipulator in the corporate-family drama “Chowdhury Pharmaceuticals” where he, Moonmoon and later-to-be-head-of-Kolkata-Corporation Subroto Mukherjee sizzled so sensationally that even Satyajit Ray reportedly called the unintentional hilarity “better than Chaplin“.
In an example of brilliant color-blind casting, perhaps the only Anglo-Indian from Kolkata, George Baker is cast as a married Bengali insurance agent, Vipin, who sells insurance policies to the Anglo-Indians and provides premium service to Moonmoon Sen, who essays the role of sexually frustrated wife Rosa.
In the greatest scene of the movie, and perhaps one of the greatest in Indian cinema, we seethe George Baker and Moonmoon Sen characters go at each other carnally like a hammer and anvil as a picture of Jesus Christ looks serenely on. Moonmoon and Baker are in their elements here, giving passionate expressions and guttural sounds of the kind never seen outside Animal Planet.
This is not titillation or just a mere plot point, but an outpouring of frustration and loneliness at its most elemental as old flesh strikes even older flesh.
One must say that the way Moonmoon mauls George Baker’s man-breasts, Mr. Baker must thank his lucky stars that this shot got canned in one take, cause his nipples would surely have been yanked off if multiple reshoots had been needed.
Here is the sequence. that contains the famous love scene.You are advised to not see this at work. Or on a full stomach.
After the congress has taken place and George Baker walks around in blue underwear (I presume he was an agent of Blue Cross/Blue Shield), Moonmoon displays her acting chops (among other things) with a soliloquy delivered in the classic uber-“nyaka” style ending with the priceless “We are both becoming buddas”. But this is not the only scene where she and Anjan Dutt combine to produce beautiful music.
Later on, she abuses a lady quarter her size by calling that lady “a fat bitch” in a sequence that is supremely artistic.
An equally “brings a lump to the throat” scene is when the great actress comes back home to her husband after being dumped by Vipin. Within minutes of her coming back, the under-sexed husband strips and offers his body to his lusty wife with a “everything I have is yours..it’s not much” (of course “not much” should be taken metaphorically) . In response Moonmoon, restrained and yet so very Moonish, says “I’m the lousiest bitch ever born in the city” bringing tears to the eyes of even the most hardened movie-goer.
[Figure 4: Husband offers his toned body to his wife]
D H Lawrence once said:
The moon is a white strange world, great, white, soft-seeming globe in the night sky, and what she actually communicates to me across space I shall never fully know. But the moon that pulls the tides, and the moon that controls the menstrual periods of women, and the moon that touches the lunatics, she is not the mere dead lump of the astronomist…. When we describe the moon as dead, we are describing the deadness in ourselves. When we find space so hideously void, we are describing our own unbearable emptiness.
While we may never know for certain if Moon-square can pull the tides, affect lunatics and control other matters of monthly importance, what we do know for certain is that Moonmoon Sen is anything but empty, anything but lifeless.
Oh lovely, lovely oh. Don’t stop.