‘Bengali Beauty’ Review: A Joyful Rebellion
By: Sanjay Pati
If you’re going to fall hard for Rahsaan Noor’s daring and beautiful Bengali Beauty, it will probably be at first sight. There’s never been anything quite like it. The film reels you into the
narrative immediately with found footage from Bangladesh’s history and a delicate collage of memories from yesteryear.
Film connoisseurs of a certain age will realize that the writer-director’s true inspiration here stems from works as contrasting as Hollywood’s Full Metal Jacket, Apocalypse Now, and Good
Morning Vietnam, to Bollywood’s Silsila and Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge. It’s an interesting cocktail, of course, and yet, Noor is able to underplay these homages and make the film unique to
his own voice.
Bengali Beauty does not pivot on a simple boy meets girl scenario. It introduces our character through spoken word, girl listens to a boy on the radio. For this to work at all, you need to have
attractive and sympathetic leading actors, and once you see Noor with his leading lady, Mumtaheena Toya, go into their moves here, it’s as pleasurable to accept them in such roles as it once might have been to embrace, say, Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen. Before Moyna (Toya) first hears her “oracle”, she is someone waiting to be called – “ke jeno daake?” (Who is calling me?) as she puts it in a plaintive song. Shy, and secretly longing for a more colorful life, Moyna lives under the patriarchal eye of her father (Pijush Bandyopadhyay). Both Toya and Bandyopadhyay lack honesty and inspiration in two of the more unsteady performances of the film, yet the establishment of their world is deftly managed until Moyna’s
The film comes alive when DJ Afzal (Noor) and DJ Mita (Sarah Alam) take the mic. The radio duo has a lovable chemistry; cool and easy to listen to in a way that magnifies the actor’s
extraordinary discipline, poise, and naturalness. The show quickly becomes the talk of the town and the deejays begin to struggle against authority and each other, all while DJ Afzal connects
with his biggest fan, Moyna.
Like a capable bandleader or stage illusionist, Mr. Noor knows how to structure a story, to slacken the pace at times in order to build toward a big finish.
There is so much about this movie that will be remembered for years to come. Both the main narrative as well as the story within the story present Dhaka as never before seen. The city has
rarely looked this gorgeous in films, a credit to the director’s romantic imagination as well as to the technical expertise of cinematographer Reghu Shanker.Composer Rusho Mahtab was clearly in total sync with the project’s aims as well. He has delivered an entire album’s worth of buoyant, charming tunes, mostly in a classic rock vein, that stylistically helped Noor achieve his aim of delivering a welcome gift of vintage goods in a dazzling new package.
Like a capable bandleader or stage illusionist, Mr. Noor knows how to structure a story, to slacken the pace at times in order to build toward a big finish. He outdoes just about every other director of his generation with the last 20 minutes of wrapping intense and delicate emotions in sheer, intoxicating cinematic bliss. The final sequence — one final radio broadcast, followed by a swirl of rapturous, heart-tugging music and ballet — effectively cashes the check the rest of the movie has written. On first viewing, for the first 90 minutes or so, you may find your delight shadowed by skepticism. Where is this going? Can this guy pull it off? Are these kids going to make it? Should we care? By the end, those questions vanish under a spell of enchantment.