Bengali movie Charmurti, based on Nayaran Gangopadhyay's novel on Tenida, completes 44 years of release on 1 January.
Last Updated: 01.04 PM, Dec 30, 2021
Narayan Gangopadhyay’s unlikely band of heroes was brought to life on screen by director Umanath Bhattacharya in 1979 with his film Charmurti. The film brought under one roof legends of Bengali comedy, including Chinmoy Roy, Rabi Ghosh and Santosh Dutta, and adapted the story of four high schoolers taking a trip to Jhantipahar for a quick summer getaway. However, upon reaching their bungalow, strange and mysterious incidents start taking place, propelling the four to begin an investigation.
Veteran actor Chinmoy Ray stepped into the shoes of the upto-no-good hero Tenida. As the eldest and most notorious of the four — Pela, Habul and Kyabla, Tenida often bullies his peers into giving up their share of delicacies. He’s failed his matriculate exams for too many years now, and thus has mastered the art of deflecting questions about his future. Pela and Habul are meek, and have surrendered to Tenida’s intimidating tactics. Not Kyabla, though. He is the youngest and bravest of the lot. Ironically, he is named kyabla (stupid in Bengali).
Unlike the novels, which depict Tenida to be much younger, the character in the film was significantly older. Despite this though, Roy never looks out of place with his peers. Roy channels his signature self-deprecating humour through the character of Tenida, who gets petrified of glowing objects at night, even if they be cat’s eyes. His lofty declarations of bravery are routinely undercut in the film to highlight the character’s weak heart. Hence, even when he terrorises his friends, he does not come across as a bully, but a man who wants to be taken seriously by people around him. He is the pitiful antihero.
Charmurti takes its rich source material to create an adventure story in the vein of a Famous Five or Dora the Explorer. The film follows the classic three-act format, which begins with Kyabla’s uncle narrating the many wonders of Jhantipahar, a secluded forest in Ramgarh. The second act is entirely focused on the four characters discovering the beauty of Jhantipahar. The third act is where the action begins, and Tenida and company take matters into their own hands after Habul gets lost.
Despite being rooted in reality, the film often takes flights of fancy, through its anecdotes, dream sequences or an Alice in Wonderland-like never-ending burrow that leads to a new world. An entire song, Ghachang Phoo, is dedicated to building this fantastical world. Habul, visibly anguished by what he feels are demonic forces that are chasing him around, and drugged by criminals, hallucinates about being fried in hot oil and consumed. The track, with its inventive setting and catchy lyrics, has come to be one of the most iconic Bengali comedy songs.
The song is also one of the many references to food in the movie. Indeed, food plays a crucial part in the narrative. The film begins with the four gathering at Kyabla’s house after their exams for a feast. From fish head curry, mishti doi, luchi and sweets, the sequence celebrates Tenida’s undying passion for food. Tenida breaks into fights with people over biscuits they have packed for their journey, even steal sweets from a fellow passenger. Upon reaching their destination, Tenida takes immeasurable delight in instructing the butler to prepare five-course meals for the team.
Bhattacharya combines Bengal’s love for food and travel to create what seems to be the perfect holiday movie. A significantly long sequence is set at a train station bustling with passengers, their families, porters and tea vendors hollering at the top of their voice to attract customers. In fact, many of the important events of the film unfold on the train, including the primary characters meeting the antagonist, a fraudulent hermit who calls himself Swami Ghutghutananda.
Charmurti does not delve into profound themes. It sees the world with a gaze of wonderment and curiousity, questioning as well as fearing every anomaly. Every question has an answer, however silly they might sound, and every character gets their moment to shine. With a panoramic view of a lush forest, plates brimming with scrumptious food and hum-along music, Charmurti is the perfect movie to watch for a virtual adventure. It also takes you on a journey down memory lane. Now, who does not enjoy a nostalgia-inducing ride?
Watch Charmurti here