Sometimes I watch a movie after a really long time and find that my impressions of it have changed drastically. Watching “Bikele Bhorer Phul” two decades after first seeing it, I certainly feel that way. This is a Bengali film made in 1974 by a director who kind of fell into obscurity (Piyush Bose). Virtually, no one outside West Bengal has heard of it or of him. But the plot by Samaresh Basu is one that almost everyone everywhere would be familiar with in one form or another.
A middle-aged writer escapes from dreary Kolkata to the beach town of Digha, where he is invited to be a chief guest at a function of college students who are also in town on an excursion. One of the students from an affluent but troubled home soon becomes attracted to the writer because he’s mature, and a calming influence compared to her boisterous friends. The writer, on the other hand, comes to appreciate her vivacity and artlessness. They both find an immediate connection.
If this sounds like a black-and-white Bengali version of Sofia Coppola’s “Lost in Translation” with Uttam Kumar instead of Bill Murray, and Sumitra Mukherjee in place of Scarlett Johansson, that’s because for most of the movie, it is.
That is, except for the end. Which is the exact opposite. The pair don’t stay together. The middle-aged writer realizes that their differences in age and perceptions are insurmountable and decides to leave the beach town. The college student is devastated. She needs to know why. The writer says, “You’re a morning flower and I’m entering a phase of late afternoon. What you feel now is real, but you will understand this is for the best as you get older.”
Imagine then, seeing this movie on television in college like I did. I had thought it was a complete waste of time with very little pay-off after emotional investment for nearly two hours. I hated the end.
Watching it now, I can’t help but notice how Uttam Kumar had matured and had become more comfortable in more nuanced roles in the “late afternoon” of his own life. Was I watching the same matinee heartthrob who had put on extra makeup in “Saptapadi” and had sat on a motorcycle with Suchitra Sen riding in the back wishing that the world was a fairyland and the road would never end?
On the other hand, the on-screen road-trip song in “Bikele Bhorer Phul” is the beautiful “Amar sakal raser dhara” written by Tagore– and executed flawlessly as a duet by Hemanta Mukherjee and Arati Mukherjee. Uttam Kumar has rounded out as an actor: here he’s older, more self-assured, hanging on to every word, and measuring out every expression with a delicious economy.
Now, I’m in the middle years myself. I feel that there is a place for both “Bikele Bhorer Phul” and “Lost in Translation”. A movie ends when it does. I mean who is to say what will work? Maybe “Bikele Bhorer Phul” ends a few minutes too late. Or, maybe “Lost in Translation” ends a little too early.