Muktodhara, the first production venture of Progressive Films Production is perhaps the first fiction film in the world that features a real ex-convict of a central prison who was serving a life sentence for extortion, kidnapping and murder. It is not easy to merge reality and fiction in a feature film but directors Shiboprosad Mukherjee and Nandita Roy have lived up to the promise they demonstrated in their first film Icche.
The story runs through three different layers spanning subterranean levels of human experience in its varied manifestations. On the one hand, we meet Yusuf Mohammed (Nigel Akkara, a prison inmate who is almost impossible to control and is serving a life sentence in prison. At another level, we are introduced to the beautiful, elegant and dignified Niharika Chatterjee (Rituparna Sengupta) who conducts culture therapy through dance for physically and socially challenged persons including children. But she has personal agendas to fight against as husband Arindam Chatterjee (Bratya Basu) does not share her dedication to reform hard-core criminals lodged in prison. He also feels embarrassed about having a physically challenged daughter Spriha (Suchitra Chakraborty) he does not care about. These two segments find a merging of two contrasting worlds when IG Brij Narayan Dutta (Devshankar Halder) persuades Niharika to use dance as therapy to reform the prisoners in the correctional home.
These three sub-plots are merged with the rehearsals of Tagore’s dance drama Balmiki Pratibha Niharika conducts within the jail premises. Maharshi Balmiki, who authored the Ramayana, was a dreaded dacoit whose life changed completely when Rama entered into his life metaphorically and in spirit. Yusuf finds an easy route to escape to freedom with some of his cronies during the final performance and the team set about exploring a tunnel under the scaffold platform where the dance drama is to be staged.
The beginning of the film is somewhat dragging and verbose which, on hindsight, was perhaps needed to build up the myriad characters that people the story. After the interval, with the parallel themes of the dance drama and the escape plans gain momentum, the film fills up with tension and suspense, enriched by the sparkling performance of the prisoners led by Nigel Akkara in a sterling debut performance followed by Shiboprosad himself as a happy-go-lucky prisoner Happy Singh, theatre person Arun Mukherjee who guides them in their escape plan only to be released before the escape is to take effect.
Rituparna Sengupta is very restrained, in control, filling up her performance with the finer nuances of different emotions that lie between sadness on one side and hope on the other. Bratya Basu and Devshankar Halder are unforgettable in their well-defined characters while Kharaj Mukherjee as the pot-bellied jailor who wants the culture therapy experiment to fail is very convincing. Suchitra Chakraborty as Spriha who is deaf-mute in real life, is mind-blowing. The strains of the Tagore numbers slip beautifully into the title and the mood of the film that spells out the spirit of freedom for everyone. Surajit Chatterjee’s music for one of the main ‘other’ songs is wonderful. The climax is a bit too pat and audience-friendly for the serious nature of the subject. Cinematographer Anil Singh, editor Malay Laha and sound designer Anup Mukherjee fulfill the responsibility of offering the ideal blend of technique and aesthetics though one must emphasise that the colour is a bit too bright to blend with the ambience of the subject and story. Muktodhara is part-fiction and part-autobiographical because it reflects the real life story of Nigel Akkara whose life as a dreaded criminal turned around completely when he attended the culture therapy dance training from Alakananda Dasgupta who has been an advisor and consultant throughout this film and has also taken charge of the choreography. To praise her would be an understatement because she does not need it.
The film honestly deserves a rating of seven on ten.