A sweet and gently ironic story about the daughter of a village prostitute who desperately wants to get an education rather than to follow in her mother’s footsteps, “A Tale of a Naughty Girl” succeeds beautifully in capturing the dark underside of traditional Bengali village life without being preachy about it. A strong addition to established director Buddhadeb Dasgupta’s list of quality pics, this should at least find a place in quality TV schedules plus further fest exposure.
The year is 1969, and in a remote rural backwater, the most powerful person is Natabar Paladhi (Ramgopal Bajaj), a businessman whose enterprises include the operation of the local cinema. Deeply lecherous, Paladhi spends a lot of his time obsessively watching loops of film consisting of censored rape scenes. He also likes young girls, and has his eye on the beauteous Lati (Samata Das), the still-innocent daughter of Rajani (Rituparna Sengupta), one of the most popular hookers working out of the local brothel.
Rajani is delighted such an important man has taken an interest in her still-virginal daughter; after all, it means Lati will be given fine clothes and a comfortable house, and will not have to perform the same work her mother does. But Lati, who is aware of what’s happening, is appalled; she yearns to leave the village and to get an education, and she begs Nagen (Pradeep Mukherjee), the schoolteacher, to help her.
Fleshing out this basically simple story is a handful of marginal characters who provide some serio-comic asides. Chief among them is Ganesh (Tapesh Paul), Paladhi’s driver, a cheerful soul who also acts as a kind of taxi driver for the district. He picks up a sick old couple who are looking for a hospital, but there doesn’t seem to be one around; strangely, the longer Ganesh searches, the healthier his passengers seem to become, and after a while they’re fighting fit and in no need for hospital care at all. Additional to the mix is a man with an intelligent donkey, and an abandoned cat which simply won’t go away.
These quirky elements add texture and depth to the main story, which is touchingly presented against a backdrop in which the outside world is, according to the schoolteacher, getting excited about the first moon landing. Samata Das is sweet as the intelligent, eager young heroine who seeks a better life than the one endured by her long-suffering mother.
Technical credits are crisp, especially the scope photography of the village and its environs, and the film is pleasingly concise in structure.