'Pagla Ghoda' Review: Bikas Mishra's unique adaptation of Badal Sarkar's classic Bengali play

By Murtaza Ali Khan

Featured in IMDb Critic Reviews

Bikas Ranjan Mishra, the award-winning director of Chauranga, is set to make a foray into the digital arena with the adaptation of Badal Sarkar’s classic Bengali play Pagla Ghoda for CinePlay to be aired on Star Network’s popular streaming platform HotStar from May 30, 2017. While the original play was about three and a half hours long, Mishra’s adaptation runs just short of two hours. The backdrop is also cleverly changed from the 1960s Bengal to 1989 to give it a more contemporary look. Co-produced by Nandita Das and Subodh Maskara, the web film stars Anshuman Jha, Gopal Singh, Ravi Khanwilkar, Vikram Kocchar and the newcomer Chitrangada Chakraborty. The underlying theme of Pagla Ghoda is patriarchy in the Indian society and its influences on both men as well as women.

The trend of adapting plays into movies is not a new one and if we look at the history of cinema we would come across several examples. But what makes Mishra’s adaptation unique is the fact that it’s been done for the web. Interestingly, web is the place where some of the boldest experiments are happening. Today, the exploits of Netflix have put some of the biggest production houses in Hollywood to shame. The global streaming giant is said to have acquired the world rights for Martin Scorsese’s upcoming gangster movie The Irishman, starring Robert De Niro, for a whopping USD 105 million. This came at a time when Scorsese’s critically acclaimed Silence proved to a financial disaster for Paramount Pictures. With the kind of projects that it has backed in the recent times (Beasts of No Nation, Okja, etc.), Netflix has been demonstrated far greater risk taking tendencies. Netflix’ major competitor, Amazon Prime, too has shown an appetite for producing original content. 

If we look at the Indian web arena then by far the biggest name that comes to mind is that of Ram Gopal Varma’s Guns and Thighs—a highly ambitious web series on the Mumbai Mafia backed by a German Production house. So, it is quite obvious that the web holds the key to the future of entertainment. Now, Bikas Mishra’s Pagla Ghoda has all the makings of a critically acclaimed work but it is a kind of offering that may have little commercial value as a cinematic product, but, as a web film, it holds a considerable value. Today web has become a sanctuary for avant-garde artists and indie filmmakers. Anyone who has seen Mishra's debut film Chauranga can safely say that his realistic style is in the same tradition as filmmakers like Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen, Shyam Benegal, and Govind Nihalani. Now, all these filmmakers were greatly inspired by theatre and it reflected in their films but the elements of cinema always spoke out loud. And that’s precisely what made their films stood out. In Pagla Ghoda, Mishra seems to have found the perfect balance between the elements of theatre and cinema. While the blocking is vintage theatre, the camera movements are every bit as cinematic as they can be (this is not a theatrical production recorded on a multi-camera setup). Mishra’s directs his actors impeccably, giving them the liberty to express themselves but within the framework. 

Heavily laced with social commentary and psychological undercurrents, Pagla Ghoda is a story of four men who gather to cremate an unknown woman. Soon they get drunk and begin to ramble about their follies. But the conversations are always so engaging even when they appear to be discussing trivial matters. At first all we hear are lies but gradually their weaknesses are unveiled, one by one. While their conversations are purely theatrical in nature, their pasts are revealed through flashbacks which are deeply cinematic. Mishra seems to have developed a unique language that comes across as a cross between cinema and theatre. While this hybrid language ensures that those who love cinema don’t find it too theatrical, at the same time, Mishra’s fidelity to the original material makes certain that the adaptation doesn’t alienate the admirers of Sarkar’s classic. Interestingly, the issues of patriarchy remain as relevant today as they were at the time the play was written. All these facets make Mishra’s feature-length adaptation of Pagla Ghoda an important work. And, of course, there can’t really be a better place than the web to witness the marriage of theatre and cinema!

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