With an exceptional capacity for irony-tinged tenderness toward his characters, an unerring sense of where to place his widescreen camera and an ability to expand small-scaled stories into accounts of what it means to live in the modern world, Bengali director Buddhadeb Dasgupta adds another fine work to his impressive filmography with “The Voyeurs.” Gentle pic involves a computer geek, his hick buddy and an aspiring dancer-thesp in a rich human comedy-turned-tragedy that deals with issues including high-tech abuse, AIDS and terrorism. Superb fest item should draw, per usual with Dasgupta, plenty of distribs except Yanks.
Sneaky, hilarious opening drops in on a crowded Kolkata, India, hospital at night, where teeming rats and pursuing cats bite some patients. The ensuing media scandal prompts the hospital to hire techie Dilip (Bengali star Prosenjit Chatterjee) to install a security camera/computer system, thus introducing Dilip’s world of PCs, spycams, modems and the like, all of which he tinkers with in his humble apartment.
Things begin to change with the arrival of pal Yasin (Amitav Bhattacharya), who hails from the sticks near Dilip’s native Baharampur. Just as Yasin is settling in as Dilip’s roommate and co-worker, pretty Rekha (Bollywood thesp Sameera Reddy) — tellingly named after the stunning Bollywood superstar — moves in next door. Just the sight of her sends the shy Dilip into a romantic daze, but his means of connecting with her is just one of the film’s several ironic reflections on how we’ve all turned into voyeurs.
Two small rooms are more than enough for Dasgupta to create a world of rich and conflicting moods and emotions, filmed (care of Sunny Joseph’s cinematography) with humanistic expressiveness. But beyond those rooms, the city and denizens of Kolkata become a background character that pulses beyond the apartment windows. Following Rekha to auditions and rehearsals for a Bengali film production, Dasgupta pokes a bit of fun at his more commercial counterparts.
“The Voyeurs” leads to conclusions best left unrevealed, but the way Dasgupta is able to shift from lighthearted reflection, magic realism and a man’s seemingly absurd pursuit of love to personal and social catastrophe — not unlike many of his previous films, including the superb “Chased By Dreams” — is an assured example of storytelling artistry.
Central three actors provide lovely portraits of outsiders trying to somehow connect and make it in the big city. Songs are cleverly inserted so the pic is never strictly a movie musical, but rather concerns the impact such musicals have on everyday folk (among its many other topics).
Bengali title references yet another film goddess, Madhubala, whom Dilip worships until he sets eyes on Rekha.