Saibal Mitra’s film deals with the pertinent contemporary political controversies but loses track in complicated dialogues
Last Updated: 01.48 PM, Jul 31, 2022
Story: Kunal Joseph Baske – a Santhal teacher in an idyllic Hillolganj – is prosecuted for not teaching the Biblical Story Of Creation before teaching Darwinian Evolution theory. The village sees a sharp divide between Christians and tribal communities. The Church that controls the school welcomes high-profile advocate Rv Basanta Kumar Chowdhury as Prosecuting Attorney. After much deliberation, human rights lawyer Anton D’souza (Naseeruddin Shah) takes up the case for Kunal as the Defence Attorney. The film then finally gets into the courtroom where two doyens fight a legal battle over the rights to education and upholding the rights of freethinkers in India.
Review: A Holy Conspiracy is an adroit adaptation of Inherit the Wind – an American play by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E Lee. The 1955 play fictionalises the 1925 Scopes ‘Monkey’ Trial between The State of Tennessee versus John Thomas Scopes – a teacher who was found guilty of teaching evolution to his students. It is not insignificant that a theatre group in Kolkata Natyaanan has been staging a play A-Pabitra based on the same plot since 2018. In the US, it is a celebrated trial. While the Bengali adaptation on stage recreates the American characters, the film localises the content to deal with the contemporary political controversies, particularly those with sharp communal edges.
The film starts with a lot of promises. It is a political film. It does not use it as a facade but has politics at its core. Some parts of it are enjoyable, but more importantly, serious. However, there is no denying that the filmmaker is in a bit of a disaster at the end of trying to connect all the threads. The last scene is long and enlightening, so much so that it becomes less cinema and more drama. Much of the film is filled with long, dull arguments on the rights to freedoms of religion and expression which are a bit hard to follow. While the premise of the film is undoubtedly important, the craft suffers due to a lack of finesse in the script and a tad of aimlessness.
Naseeruddin and Soumitra share the screen as rival advocates engage in a gripping courtroom drama. Throughout the film, Naseeruddin shows why he is acclaimed as one of the best actors of our generation. In fact, the glory of seeing Soumitra pales somewhat when the two cross swords. With Soumitra, the basic difficulty seems to be the diction. The agedness and adverse state of health also seem to diminish his usual verve.
Shraman Chattopadhyay is clearly a new star on the horizon. He looks very convincing as a rational science teacher Kunan who is trapped in the courtroom debate. Amrita Chatterjee also delivers a stout performance as the priest's daughter and Kunal’s colleague and fiancee. Kaushik Sen plays the character of a journalist. Despite his slanted worldview, he is out of the stand for the rights of Kunal. He is the liberal voice and he exuberates the liberal ideas every person from the fourth estate ought to stand up for. Shubhrajit as Bibhash stands out as one of the finest character artistes in Bengali cinema and this film affirms it. Anashua Majumdar flaunts her calibre effortlessly and not for once, gets eclipsed in the ensemble cast.
Verdict: A Holy Conspiracy offers a historic moment when two enormous actors cross swords on screen. That gives us enough reason to watch it. The film constantly emphasises the rights of the minorities in India. It doesn’t spare the hegemony of the right-wingers. The film, in a way, shows us the country we are living in and points out the threats that have been upsetting the ethos of our great country. With its plots and two doyens’ casting, it could have been an iconic film. It fails in parts and ends up being an averagely made important film in our generation.