Though Bong may be politically incorrect slang for all things Bengal, in “The Bong Connection” actor-singer turned director-writer Anjan Dutt brews self-irony into watchable, good-humored satire. In two alternating stories, a young Indian musician from New York returns to his native Kolkata, while an ambitious young computer engineer seizes his chance to take a big job in Houston. Complexly interwoven with love stories (and only one song-and-dance number), these comic/sad tales about the Indian diaspora strike a resonant chord, making the two-hour-plus running time fly. Small distribs should take a look at this entertaining piece far from the Bollywood groove.
Dutt’s third directing effort has a lot to say about the new generation of Indians caught between their culture and pressure to work abroad. However, it takes him a while to find his balance between dramatic narrative and broad comedy. In an off-putting opener, techie Apu (Parambrata Chatterjee) takes leave of his fussy family and haughty girlfriend Sheela (glamorous Raima Sen) and heads for the greener pastures of Texas. Sheela makes it clear she prefers the young Kolkata scene, and they part on an uncertain note.
Meanwhile, super-cool N.Y. musician Andy (Shayan Munshi) visits India for the first time and is welcomed into his grandfather’s genteel, rambling old home. In contrast to Apu’s comic fumbling in Houston as he tries to adapt to muggings, gay roommates and a high-pressure white-collar job, Andy takes the reverse journey of struggling to find a way to work and express himself artistically in a charming but opportunity-challenged Old World. He falls for Sheela.
Traditional-minded Apu meets and resists flighty Indian rich girl Rita (a kooky Peeya Rai Chowdhary), despite the best efforts of her large family to marry them off. This peek into Indian expat life has a ring of truth to it, reaching the painful conclusion that despite their money and success, these immigrants still feel like “second-class Americans.”
More fiction than fact, on the other hand, is Apu’s taxi-driver friend Hasan (Shauvik Kundagrami), a hyper Bong from Bangladesh who talks like a bad TV movie and, lamentably, is scripted into an absurdly trite shoot-out with the Texas police. Kundagrami earns points anyway for a rocking perf.
Young cast brings life and personality to the film, topped by Munshi’s romantic charm and strong screen presence and by Chatterjee’s confused but principled corporate player. Ending, though not a happy one, is right on key.
For film buffs, Dutt tips his hat to Bengali greats like Satyajit Ray and his ’50s Apu trilogy. Besides quoting from Ray’s score, he casts Soumitra Chatterjee, the original Apu, as Andy’s dying grandfather and the symbol of Bengali values. On the other side is Victor Banerjee (“A Passage to India”), convincingly cruel as Apu’s profit-motivated boss.
The wild visual contrast between Houston and Kolkata is played up in Indranil Mukherjee’s confident cinematography. Editor Moniak Bhowmik performs an outstanding balancing act in smoothly alternating the two stories, avoiding the usual feeling of channel flipping. Neel Dutt is credited with the pic’s highly listenable modern fusion sound, which subtly recaps the theme of old vs. new culture clash.