What significance does Rabindranath Tagore’s Medal that came with his Nobel Prize in 1913 have among Bengalis today? Does it really matter if it goes missing and is never found? Since the medal cannot possibly walk out by itself, it is assumed that it was stolen. Who stole it and why? Some answers to these questions come across subtly yet powerfully in Suman Ghosh’s Nobel Chor. Some new questions come across that show how the modern man’s thinking is governed by pure profit motives never mind the means used to attain the end.
When Bhanu (Mithun Chakraborty) finds a gold roundel outside his hut in Bolpur, he does not know what he has found. But there is no turning back. The village school master (Soumitra Chatterjee) and the village elders advise him to go to Kolkata and hand over the Medal to the CM. The master gives him a framed portrait of Tagore and tells him that the poet will protect him from danger. But meeting the CM even with the school master’s letter is an uphill task. The police station he visits laughs away his request and keeps the envelope without opening it. Collaged images of Bhanu traversing across the city with his jhola slung on one shoulder, sitting down wearily under a statue of Tagore, running away from chasing goons, with his look of confusion, fear, diffidence, innocence spelling out its own story.
His village friend Hari/Jeet (Saswata Chatterjee) appeals to him to sell it off, split the booty and use his share to for the ‘development’ of his village. The jeweller (Biswajit Chakraborty) is prepared to buy it only for the exchange value of the gold. The rich businessman (Harsh Chhaya) finds an international buyer. In the meantime, the police are convinced that Bhanu has stolen the medal. Mafia goons are hot on his chase knowing that he alone knows where the medal is. But there are exceptions. Hari’s wife (Sudipta Chakraborty) likes Bhanu and saves him from her wily husband’s manipulations. The businessman’s wife (Roopa Ganguly) helps him talk to his wife back in the village.
The film is more about Bhanu’s journey to Kolkata than about the medal he found. It is about the socio-political reality he comes to terms with, only to be disillusioned enough to want to go back. The satire begins with documentary-like footage of interviews and talking heads with celebrities and common men and women. The former are shocked while the latter do not care. The owner of an antique shop tells Bhanu and Hari about how the shop stocks every imaginable thing such as Einstein’s glasses.
Nobel Chor is a film of mixed genres. It is thriller in the opening frames where we see the medal being lifted from its case followed by the sound of scuffling feet. This is followed by a documentary-like format with visuals of headlines reporting the theft, talking heads, etc. From then on, it maps Bhanu’s journey – physical, political, social and moral – till he reaches its end in the only way he can. The village mad-man Manmatha is not as mad as he makes out. He stands like a pillar of reason and conscience between Bhanu and the rest of the world.
Technically, the film is a treat to watch because the director has kept it as short as he could and did not drag his feet over the dramatic climax. Mithun is brilliant as Bhanu with able support from the rest of the cast including Manmatha (Shankar Debnath) the police officer (Arindam Sil), his school-going son who is taunted by his classmates and his wife (Soma Chakraborty). Barun Mukherjee’s cinematography and Indraneel Ghosh’s art direction jell smoothly into the film raising its aesthetic level. But the top honours must be given to Bickram Ghosh’s out-of-the-box musical score with actual Baul singers belting out his haunting, lyrical and rhythmic compositions.
The Nobel medal, the film seems to spell out was ‘lost’ among us much before it was actually stolen. So, what ‘theft’ are we talking about?