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Film Review: ‘Debi’ is worth the hype

  • Published at 06:56 am October 20th, 2018

The whole introductory sequence sets the same mood and dark tone of the original novel, with its breathtaking yet haunting visuals, sound effects and musical score

”Debi - Misir Ali Prothombar,” the long awaited screen adaptation of Humayun Ahmed’s novel of the same title from his famous Misir Ali series, was released in 28 theatres across the country on Friday. I, along with the Dhaka Tribune Showtime team, went to watch the highly anticipated film’s screening on its debut day at Star Cineplex in Dhaka. 

Just as we reached the theatre we could feel the festivity that ”Debi” had brought to Dhaka. It was the last day of Durga Puja, and a member or the crowd was saying: ”One devi is going away tonight, but she is leaving ‘Debi’ behind for us.” I thought that was very well put.

The film had 10 sold out shows at Star Cineplex on its very first day, and had to specially arrange two additional shows, which sold out too. The multiplex still had such long ticket queues that they were announcing on loudspeakers that all tickets for ”Debi,” including advance tickets for the next day, were sold out.They requested people to not stand in line for “Debi” tickets so they could make room for customers who were there to buy tickets for otherfilms. Yet people were paying no attention to the announcements and standing in huge lines on both counters, hoping they could somehow manage a ticket or two. 

You do not get to see this scene for our local industry’s films everyday. The whole cineplex was festive, with ”Misir Ali” fanboys and fangirls explaining to their friends and family members the psychological thriller universe of Humayun Ahmed’s novel series. 

We finally entered to watch the 4pm show, and the houseful audience gave immense joy to my inner Misir Ali fanboy, bringing back so many childhood memories of reading the novels that turned so many dull afternoons exciting. I still could not believe that Bangladesh, and a whole generation like me who grew up reading this series,were finally going to get an onscreen adaptation of it. 

But I had been skeptical of this project since the first day it was announced, and the film's director Anan Biswas received a government grant for a feature-length film on the first book of the maestro’s psychological thriller series. Bangladeshi films and filmmakers have had no major success in the horror & psychological thriller genre, let alone expertise or experience. So it was warranted for me to be skeptical about the newcomer filmmaker and producer Jaya Ahsan who, though an internationally acclaimed actor, was a first-time producer with her brand new production house C te Cinema.

As soon as the first sequence screened, it blew me off of my seat. By the reactions of the houseful audience, they were blown away too. The whole introductory sequence sets the same mood and dark tone of the original novel, with its breathtaking yet haunting visuals, sound effects and musical score. 

Jaya has put a complete end to the year-long debate on social media about how she would pull off the role of Ranu, one of the central characters of the film. Her beautiful acting gave life to the role and gave us a look inside of Ranu’s unsettling world. Whenever we see Ranu onscreen, we feel the paranormal and psychological trauma she goes through each day of her life in the novel. Jaya crafted Ranu’s inner demons to perfection. Filmmaker and actor Animesh Aich, who played Ranu’s husband Anis in the film, also did a marvellous job. Their onscreen chemistry in their chaotic married life, due to Ranu’s condition, was a pleasure to experience and was true to the novel.

Chanchal Chowdhury, who plays the central role of Misir Ali, also did a good job playing the highly intelligent 40-year-old psychology professor at Dhaka University, whose hobby is to investigate unexplainable paranormal cases and shed light on them. This was a tough task for Chanchal as the iconic role was played on television by master actors like Abul Hayat, Humayun Faridi and Ashish Khandaker and each of them did it with precision and in his own unique style. But Chanchal did a good job overall, especially in his one-on-one sequences with Ranu. 

Nilu, played by Sabnam Faria, and Nilu’s lover played, by Iresh Zaker, also were good casting choices, and each of them played the role well.

Another big revelation is that the film is not a period piece. The novel is set in 80s Dhaka, but this screen adaptation portrays the same plot in present day.

Apart from the splendid job by the whole team, there are some technical issues with the film, including in some sequences the poor dubbing.Some dialogue seemed out of sync with the acting and expressions onscreen. Another major issue was the poor CGI use during a critical scene of the film, which hurt the emotional impact of the moment,and could have been easily avoided. Most of the VFX and CGI was very smartly used and executed to perfection,so I could not understand why such a decision was made for such an important moment of the film. 

Apart from these minor issues, the film is a milestone for the Bangladesh film history. It is also proof that, if given proper support, our young filmmakers can experiment and execute an excellent film in the commercial arena in the horror & psychological thriller genre. The film’s cinematography, lighting, sound design, music and other technical and artistic elements were top-notch, and will hopefully please the eager audiences who have waited a year for it to hit theatres. 

During a brief Q&A session after the premiere, I congratulated Jaya and her team for the film and asked if we were going to see the next part of ”Debi”, which is the novel ”Nishthini“ in the Misir Ali series timeline. Jaya hinted at a sequel, replying: “Do you want one after watching ‘Debi?’ If audiences want (a sequel), then we will dare to venture. We will definitely try, inshallah.”

Siam Raihan is a film editor and a sub-editor at the Dhaka Tribune’s Showtime Desk

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