Director: Ram Kamal Mukherjee
Cast: Avinash Dwivedi, Sangita Sinha, Kasturi Chakraborty
Platform : Biiggbang
Review: Hand-pulled rickshaws are one of the few remaining souvenirs of old Kolkata and if you are a movie buff, then you must have heard of Ram Kamal Mukherjee’s recent venture titled “Rickshawala”. This short film of 46-minutes is a moving tale of the hardships faced by migrant workers and the impact of the rising unemployment rate on the “educated” generation of Kolkata.
The movie is a tribute to legendary director Bimol Roy’s masterpiece Do Bigha Zammen and Roland Joffe’s The City Of Joy. As declared illegal by the Supreme Court, the centuries-old, authentic hand-pulled rickshaws will soon bid adieu to the city. The film entails the lives of the people of Kolkata, the emotions, love, misery, and pangs of despair residing in each heart. While hand-pulled rickshaws have always basked in glory, the film peeks into the lives of Rickshawalas’ and the fate of Rickshaws in the hands of the educated generation.
The brilliant cast, gripping storyline, and outstanding direction by Ram Kamal Mukherjee will make each minute you spent watching the movie worth it. However, before you read any further, let us warn you that there are some serious spoilers ahead!
The film opens with the lead Manoj Yadav portrayed by Avinash Dwivedi waiting for an interview. Dressed smartly in formals, as he walks up to his interview and hands over his CV he looks no different from the usual student crowd of Kolkata. However, the job interview turns futile when he realizes that the position is already booked for someone recommended by the interviewer’s senior.
His rich girlfriend Chumki, brilliantly played by Kasturi Chakraborty loves him dearly but unknowingly further complicates his life. Within a few minutes of opening with Avinash Dwivedi’s spectacular performance, it establishes the miseries faced by a young man from a poor family. Whether it is his broken phone or his incapability to pay the bills at a high-end café, Manoj Yadav’s character reflects the pain of an unemployed man who is ashamed of himself. Avinash Dwivedi’s convincing performance makes the character of Manoj larger than life.
However, there is a hidden truth in Manoj’s life that neither audience nor his girlfriend knew so far. Moving from the roads of glamorous Kolkata to the stinky lanes of Kolkata slums, Manoj lives in a dilapidated house with his parents and sister. While so far Manoj has not spoken much about his father, this where we get to know the reason. His father is a Rickshawala and he is ashamed of being his son.
His old father who is now bed-ridden after a small accident takes pride in his hard-earned money that built their lives. Nevertheless, Manoj wants to escape the grasps of poverty and the shameful tag of a Rickshawala. A final year B.Com student of Bongobashi College, he wants a better life. The hard-hitting narration
mingled with Avinash’s realistic acting perfectly upholds the conflicting ideologies of two generations and the misery of an educated mind trapped in the cage of poverty.
Manoj finally drops the façade he put up for his girlfriend and the world and steps into his Rickshawala attire, ready to drench in sweat to procure the day’s meal and his father’s medicines. The narration follows him on the journey on the streets, walking barefoot on the rugged streets under the scorching heat, for a mere Rs 50. The story also upholds the perception that the so-called educated and politically aware class of Bengalese.
In a scene, a group of four men was shown discussing the unemployment rate of Bengal, infiltration by Biharis and Marwaris in Kolkata, and the intellectual superiority of Bengalis. Manoj heads over to the group and tells them about his qualification and asking them if they had a job for him. This scene reflects how the real problem is not the lack of qualification but the limited number of jobs.
The mistreatment meted out to people like Manoj by the rich class is beautifully portrayed on-screen by helpless eyes and silent tears.
In a parallel, we see the story of Anuradha portrayed by Sangita Sinha, who is a lovelorn married woman with a daughter and craves physical intimacy. Manoj is her permanent ‘Rickshawala’ and she often invites him up with bedroom eyes in the name of taking the monthly payment. He generally refuses, until one day when he desperately needs money.
He follows her upstairs, but just when Anuradha is about to seduce him, he stops her reminding her of her family. She breaks down and shares her ordeal as a lonely homemaker. Sangita Sinha’s remarkable performance upholds the story of thousands of housewives living in loneliness, an ordeal that no one talks about.
Meanwhile, unable to secure a job, Manoj has stopped taking calls from Chumki. He now understands the struggle his father went through to raise him and his sister. The film wraps up with an open ending leaving the audience to decide Manoj’s fate.
In the end, we see Anuradha has moved on from her infatuation with Manoj, a heartbroken Chumki called off their relationship, and Manoj finally accepted his identity. So, when his girlfriend’s father spots him with the rickshaw in the end and when he is asked about his father in the next interview, he shows no shame in being the son of a Rickshawala.
The supporting cast including Om Prakash Ladha, Manjula Singh, Titli, Bikramjit, Amitava Ganguly also puts up a brilliant performance. With mind-blowing cinematography by DOP Modhura Palit, artistic direction by Ram Kamal Mukherjee, and the heart-touching soundtrack narrating the tale of lives in Kolkata, Rickshawala is a complete masterpiece.
Rickshawala is the perfect weekend watch for all Bengali movie buffs taking pride in our heritage the hand-pulled rickshaws. This soul-stirring tale of our very own Rickshawalas will make you look at them with renewed respect the next time you take a ride.
Directed by Ram Kamal Mukherjee, “Rickshawala” now streaming exclusively on Biiggbang.
By Abhigna Ghosh