Bengali cinema is one of the few regional language cinema industries for which it’s relatively easy to find subtitled copies. Even when the film in question is an old one.
Over the years, several Bengali readers have recommended Shaarey Chuattar to me. I had been under the impression that I should watch this film for the Uttam Kumar-Suchitra Sen pairing (it was the their first film together, the first of many films in which they were co-stars). But, now that I’ve seen it, I can safely say that this is a film you should watch not for these two, but for the film itself. True, Suchitra Sen and Uttam Kumar provide some eye candy and are a likable romantic couple, but the romance in Shaarey Chuattar is not the main thing.
The focus of the story, instead, is Rajani (Tulsi Chakraborty). Rajani Babu owns and runs the men-only Annapoorna Boarding House in Calcutta, and on the weekends, goes home to his family, who live in a house in the suburbs. Rajani Babu has a large brood, and his perpetually harassed wife (Molina Devi) is not reassured by the fact that her husband’s work in Calcutta keeps the home afloat. She is constantly cribbing and griping, and on many weekends, Rajani Babu cuts his stay at home short and rushes back to Calcutta on an early train.
The population at the Annapoorna Boarding House consists almost entirely of young college-going bachelors. Among the main ring-leaders (so to say) of this lot is Rampreeti (Uttam Kumar), who is—when the story opens—currently away from the boarding house, visiting his own home; and Kedar (Bhanu Bannerjee). These young men are a rambunctious lot, jumping about, dancing and singing…
… and generally getting on the nerves of at least one of the older denizens of the boarding house, Shib Babu (Haridhan Mukherjee), who can’t hear himself think. The two other older men who live at Annapoorna are rather more accommodating.
Little do they know that their lives are going to be turned topsy-turvy very soon. For one day, there arrives at Annapoorna Boarding House a trio who are known to Rajani Babu. Romola (Suchitra Sen) and her parents don’t have a home to stay in, and while they’re looking around for a house, they would like to stay at Annapoorna. If Rajani Babu could make arrangements…?
Rajani Babu, well aware of what is likely to happen, yet not wanting to be unkind and say no, agrees to let them stay for a day or two. He gives Romola and her parents the room next to that of the absent Rampreeti.
Of course, the presence of Romola soon has all the young men in a flutter. They’re all so keyed up and excited that it’s decided that a meeting be called at once to decide whether this young lady and her parents should be allowed to stay. Everybody’s very excited, talking at the tops of their voices, contradicting each other and so on, until Shib Babu remarks that it’s better if the young woman left. For her own good; these young men—what, they’re characterless? Shib Babu suggests Romola is not safe here amidst these young men? The young men are very indignant indeed; their characters are being questioned.
Well, Romola and her parents have to stay here! If only to prove that these young men are good, upright men with irreproachable morals.
So the matter is settled. Which is just as well for Romola’s father (Gurudass Bannerjee), who would rather loll around in bed and snooze than go searching for accommodation.
Then, one day, the long-absent Rampreeti (Uttam Kumar) returns to Annapoorna. He has a few run-ins with Romola (beginning with when he phones the boarding house and she picks up the phone, leading him to think this is a wrong number, since there are no women at Annapoorna). But it’s not long before the two of them, Rampreeti and Romola, are on rather more friendly terms.
This, then, is the set-up.
It may not sound very funny, and in fact what happens is by no means a complicated plot that could plausibly be milked for lots of laughs.
Yet, this turned out to be one of the most enjoyable films I’ve seen in a long time. Simply because the acting is overall so exceptionally good. Just watching the sparring between Molina Devi and Tulsi Chakraborty—or Bhanu Bannerjee’s Kedar trying all he can to woo Romola (and being utterly convinced that he’s succeeding): Shaarey Chuattar really has to be seen to be believed.
What I liked about this film:
The acting. The story is good, but what really elevates it is the acting of all concerned. I must admit that while I was watching this, I kept thinking, “1953? Really?”—because, if you compare Shaarey Chuattar to most of its contemporary Hindi films, the difference in the level of acting becomes painfully apparent. This was a period when in most Hindi films, barring a handful of leads, almost everybody was still hamming away to glory, still hungover on the theatrical acting that had been the hallmark of the nascent film industry.
In Shaarey Chuattar, on the other hand, there’s not a single actor who comes across as hammy. Everybody, from the bunch of boisterous young men who inhabit Annapoorna to the tantric/ojha/whatever who comes to Rajani Babu’s wife’s aid—is very believable, and that believability is what makes them so funny.
Ultimately, it’s the entire package—the acting, the situation, the dialogues, and the way all of it is handled (by director Nirmal Dey, who also wrote the screenplay based on a story by Bijon Bhattacharya)—that makes this such a delightful film.
And no, there’s nothing I didn’t like about Shaarey Chuattar. This was so very watchable, I’d recommend it for anybody who likes a light, fun frolic of a film. Also, it’s easily available with English subtitles; here’s one copy on Youtube.