Watching the credits roll in Bengali at an UAE cinema was the stuff of fantasy for the tens of thousands-strong vibrant Bengali community here in the UAE – until last week!
It was a surreal moment when the film Reunion began playing on the big screens of Novo Cinemas last week, with the audience bursting into a spontaneous applause at the premiere in Dubai Festival City on May 1.
So far a strong market for Indian regional language films in Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam apart from Hindi, this is the first time that a Bengali language film is being commercially screened in the UAE, tapping into the latent demand for native language films from the Bengali-speaking community.
Here is what Bollywood actress Riya Sen – whose sister Raima Sen is the film’s key protagonist – told Gulf News about the film:
The film is essentially a tale of a group of university friends who reunite after a hiatus of 20 years – and the ensuing dramatic turn of events that spring forth from the volatile student politics of the 1990s. Thanks to the efforts of the film’s Dubai-based producer Subhajit Rakshit and his Singapore-based director brother Murari Mohan Rakshit, Reunion has finally arrived in the UAE. It’s commercial release in cinemas was quite fittingly on May 2 – the birth anniversary of Bengali film legend and Oscar winner Satyajit Ray.
The warm glow of nostalgia rekindles our good memories and sweeps away bad ones about life and relationships.
Or so goes the critical commonplace.
But Murari Mohan Rakshit’s debut Bengali film Reunion also raises uncomfortable questions and bittersweet memories about our nostalgic remembrance of campus politics.
Set in the Bengal of 1990s, Reunion revolves around the lives of four university classmates Arko, Abhi, Joyita (Saayoni Ghosh) and Shuvo, who are meeting back after 20 years. Their reminiscence of proverbial “good old days” includes budding college romances, the unforgettable experiences of hazing on the first day, learning the ropes of active college politics – and melancholy about the unknown fate of their mentor and student leader Rudra-da (Parambrata Chatterjee) and his college love Monideepa (Raima Sen).
Some of the finest moments of the film deal with easy-going student banter and the occasional comic relief (Subhrajit Dutta delivers a fascinating cameo as the college bully basking in the glory of his impossible name, Syed Mozammel Kamrul Hasan Firdaus Ahmad Jahangir!). Anindya Pulak Banerjee plays a memorable role as the ghoulish Ajoy, whose manic pursuit of Monideepa is at the heart of the film’s complex twists and turns. And Sabyasachi Chakraborty as Manas-da delivers a masterclass in embodying the hypocrisy and petty-mindedness of manipulative political leaders steeped more in opportunist ambition than ideology.
But it is Parambrata and Raima who carry the film along with their intense chemistry and effortless acting, and the film’s surprisingly open-ended finale only adds to that.
Joy Sarkar’s lilting music raises the bar for the film – and Anima Roy’s version of “Hridoyer Ekul Okul” is mesmerizing, as is the on-screen cameo by Nachiketa.
While staying clear of the kind of violent underpinnings as seen in “Yuva” or “Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi,” Reunion nevertheless evokes the power of nostalgia and the lure of campus politics with a contemporary touch.
Of course, it’s not an absolutely perfect film. Perhaps there’s a couple of songs too many, a little too dramatic and clichéd portrayal of Monideepa’s turbulent married life.
But Reunion is a movie born of pure intentions and a passionate heart – and that’s what ultimately shines through and redeems it.
THE GALA: A HUGE SURPRISE FOR THE COMMUNITY
Gracing the opening gala were Bollywood actress Riya Sen and Bengali actress Sayantani Guha Thakurta, along with Bengali community leaders from across the UAE.
The chief guests for the evening were noted Indian business leader and textile magnate Vasu Shroff – who is also the chairman of India Club, and pioneering Emirati surgeon Dr Ahmad Kazim.
Thanking the Bengali community for managing to nurture their cultural identity and creativity in a distant land, Shroff made a surprise announcement – any social event of the Bengali community can be hosted at the massive Shaikh Rashid Auditorium at the Indian High School FOR FREE!
Yes, you read that right – so next time any Bengali community is being planned, keep in mind this generous offer.
THE REACTIONS FROM AUDIENCE
What did the audience at the opening gala think of Reunion and the experience of watching a Bengali language film sitting in a Dubai theatre?
Watch their reactions here:
THE CHARITY SHOW
During its commercial run since last week, Reunion took a break to offer a free screening of the film for workers in the UAE – a gesture that resonated well with the nearly 100-strong audience. With glamourous actress Sayantani Guha Thakurta in attendance at the screening at Ibn Battuta Mall, it was a show to remember for them.
“This is an initiative that my brother and I thought of as a way to give back to the community here. We wanted to make our Bengali-speaking brothers here feel special by arranging this screening and giving them the chance to interact with celebrities – it’s a two-hour entertainment break for them from their busy lives,” said Subhajit Rakshit of the initiative.
With Reunion running successfully at UAE cinemas, the Bengali community has finally a film of their own to cheer about. “Bringing a Bengali language film to the community in UAE was one of my long-cherished dreams,” said producer Subhajit Rakshit. “It wasn’t easy bringing a Bengali film on a commercial scale to the UAE, but with the release of Reunion here, that dream has come true – and we are overwhelmed by the affection and support from the community here.”
Hopefully the experience of Reunion will also help galvanize community efforts to bring more commercial Bengali cinema to the UAE in the near future. Until then, you can always enjoy a screening of Reunion at a cinema near you – check Novo Cinemas for the latest timings and show details