Film Review: Ranjan Ghosh’s Ahaa Re (The Two Lovers, 2019)


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India’s new generation filmmaker Ranjan Ghosh, seems to have arrived with his third Bengali feature ‘Ahaa Re’ (The Two Lovers, 2019), an unusual love story that revolves around food as a unifier. The title is a wacky play of the Sanskrit/Hindi/Bengali word ‘Ahaar’ meaning food.

The film has been continuously doing national and international rounds in 2019 in various festivals within India as well as abroad at Rome, Melbourne and China. The latest being the celebrated Jagran Film Festival, Mumbai.

“Screening in Mumbai is a great feeling. The city is my second home, ever since I started my career in merchant navy from this city and did my film schooling from Whistling Woods.”

Ranjan is excited as film veterans like M.S. Sathyu and screenwriter Shama Zaidi are coming for the screening. Filmmaker Jahnu Barua and film historian Aruna Vasudev have loved this film earlier in Singapore.

I find the film ambitious as besides celebration of love and food it tries to encapsulate a lot of contemporary social subtext like communalism. In real life too Arifin Shuvoo, who plays the protagonist, is a Muslim from Bangladesh and is happily married to an Indian Bengali Hindu girl from Calcutta who retains her Hinduism after marriage. So it is a well nurtured inspired narrative.

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 “I was with this script since 2015. The version that got filmed was the 14th draft of the screenplay,” claims Ranjan Ghosh with humility.

The protagonist Farhaz Chowdhury/ Raja (Arifin Shuvoo), is an aspiring chef from Bangladesh. Life takes a new turn after his chance meeting with Basundhara Ganguly (enacted by well-known Bengali/Hindi actor Rituparna Sengupta).

 The female protagonist, Basundhara is restrained but strong-willed. Ironically she lives with the constant guilt that she is responsible for what has happened in her life. She runs a home catering service with passion but the world around is changing. Fast food is replacing the traditional cuisine.

“My film is in a way rooted in my past. Both my grandparents – father’s and mother’s sides – were from Faridpur in Bangladesh. They had come to India in 1947. My parents were born here. They had been to Bangladesh a couple of times in their childhood but I have never been there. That was an aspirational thing for me. So my male protagonist, a Muslim, is from Bangladesh. I believe eventually humanity wins. Our identities, which are essentially external are imposed.”

The timeless poetry of Rabindranath Tagore and Kazi Nazrul Islam enhances the film.

Certain sequences are seminal. The encounter between the empathetic father (wonderfully played by Paran Bandopadhyay) who understands his daughter Basundhara and the sceptical son (played equally powerfully by Subhra Sankha Das) as to whether the relationship between Basundhara and Raja has a future.

The climactic emotional catharsis and expression of guilt by Basundhara in front of her father and the following empathetic parental exhortation to free her from that guilt forms the essence of the film.

Lalit Mohan Joshi is a London based journalist, film historian and documentary filmmaker.