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The Red Door

Expertly mounted, literary-minded Bengali drama recalls mid-period Satyajit Ray in its sober, quietly mystical treatment of modern urban dilemmas --- specifically, middle-age rite of passage in a strangely changing world. Solid fest playoff is indicated, although subject is probably too serious for further openings. "The Red Door" isn't terribly inviting on the face of it: Nabin Batta (Subhendu Chatterjee) is a 47-year-old Calcutta dentist with little to look forward to. Business is good, but his still-lovely wife, Bela (Gulsan Ara Akhtar), won't sleep with him anymore, his college-age son won't speak to him, and he's losing all feeling in his arms and legs. In fact, he's on his way to see a doctor about this worrisome condition when he happens to see a woman shot down in the street. Later, he finds out that the gunman was her jealous husband --- an event paralleling his own nagging suspicion that Bela is back in touch with her pre-marriage sweetheart.

With:
With: Subhendu Chatterjee, Gulsan Ara Akhtar, Raisul Islam, Indrani Haldar, Biplab Chatterjee, Haradham Banerjee, Nandini Maliya, Soma Chakraborty.

Feeling old and helpless, Nabin starts noticing the marked contrast between his own joyless life and carefree, disreputable behavior of his longtime driver Dinu (Raisul Islam) — a man who siphons off his boss’s gas to sell on the black market and who manages to keep wives in two towns happy (not counting the pretty Bangladesh refugee he runs into later in the story). The dentist has always looked down on Dinu’s lower-caste ways; now Nabin is beginning to wonder if he’s missing something, and if there’s any way to get it.

At the same time, he’s plagued by dreams of his youth in a mountainous countryside — images of himself as a soulful, well-loved boy, dressed in crimson and combing the hills for beautiful red beetles, over which he would chant a nursery rhyme to magically open the gates to his family home. (“Red Doors” is a more direct translation of the title.)

Veteran scripter-helmer Buddhadeb Dasgupta also is a poet and a former economist, and he brings rigorous thought to every level of the action and words. There are plenty of intriguing side characters, such as Nabin’s Zen-like doctor, who laughingly asks questions such as, “Most people are well — why aren’t you?” Tech credits generally are excellent, except for a few melodramatic zooms and typically over-recorded post-synch dialogue.

Despite these glitches, pic plays more like high-level fiction than domestic soap, with events impossible to predict even when they appear blatantly obvious. (Pedigree is reinforced by the presence of several Ray alumni.) Best of all, this Bengali “Box of Moonlight” contains an interesting paradox, in that the increasingly homogenized and unfeeling society it depicts is also one in which a middle-age, middle-class Indian man learns to confront psychological issues that were literally unthinkable for his own father and grandfather. This is a tough, deeply thought-provoking effort that is probably too smart for its own commercial good.

The Red Door

Indian

Production: A Sanirema Audio Pvt. production. (International sales: Buddhadeb Dasgupta, Calcutta). Produced by Chitrani Lahiri. Executive producer, Dulal K. Roy. Directed, written by Buddhadeb Dasgupta.

Crew: Camera (color), Venu; editor, Ujjal Nandi; production design, Ashoke Bose; music, Bappi Lahiri; sound, Hiten Ghosh. Reviewed at Vancouver Film Festival, Oct. 7, 1997. Running time: 97 MIN. (Bengali dialogue)

With: With: Subhendu Chatterjee, Gulsan Ara Akhtar, Raisul Islam, Indrani Haldar, Biplab Chatterjee, Haradham Banerjee, Nandini Maliya, Soma Chakraborty.

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