Ahaa Re – a phrase with multiple connotations. It can induce a feeling of appreciation, warmth and fondness on one hand, while on the other, it describes sympathy, and, to an extent, pity. Ranjan Ghosh’s Bengali film Ahaa Re is pretty much a mix of both, appreciation as well as sympathy.
Essentially a love story between two kind-hearted but broken souls, this film thrives on nostalgia and the hope of magic in a person’s life. Starring Arifin Shuvoo and Rituparna Sengupta as Farhaz ‘Raja’ Chowdhury and Basundhara, one of the most crucial aspects of the film lies in the celebration of food, a factor that binds the two leads.
Both Raja and Basundhara are believers in the magic of food. While Raja is a well-known chef who moves to Kolkata from his native Bangladesh for work, Basundhara runs a catering service – Young Bengal – that serves authentic Bangali food. They have a very different taste palette – while Raja loves his food a little salty and spicy, Basundhara likes the more classic, evenly spiced form of cooking. In the middle of it all though, lies mutual appreciation – something that grows into a little more as the two start exchanging notes on their love for food. Raja wants to understand West Bengal cuisine, while Basundhara is interested in the history behind the food she loves to make. A barter ensues, and they start connecting in more ways than one.
What could have been a very straightforward love story from thereon, takes a sudden twist as their past becomes a barrier to their present, stopping them from being together.
Primarily set in Kolkata, the film takes you on an authentic gastronomic journey in the city that loves food perhaps as much, if not more, as the leads. Right from capturing the delectable parotas in Mouchak, the frenzy at Park Street to the brilliance of the street-side ghugni and cha, the film takes one on a nostalgia trip. Anyone who has been to or wants to visit the City of Joy to gorge on the staple khabaar (food), must watch the film just for its food recommendations.
Coming to the star cast, the performances are well-balanced, and the East Bengal meets West Bengal backdrop is presented quite nicely via Arifin and the very talented Rituparna. Arifin as Raja is charming, and oozes bhadralok vibes. Rituparna is poignant as the silent Basundhara, who bottles everything that lies within her. Their chemistry is subtle and doesn’t come out too strongly, which aptly represents their suppressed feelings towards each other. The dialogues are simple but leave a mark, filled with several interesting anecdotes on the inception of the food we have all come to love – who would’ve guessed that the ‘Malai’ in the popular Prawn Malai Curry comes from Malaysia, the originators of the dish, and not apna malai aka cream <insert mind-blown emojis>?
The best thing about this film, however, is Paran Bandopadhyay, essaying the role of Atanu, Basundhara’s father. His character is not just any other side story, but becomes a lead character of its own through the course of the film. A man in the autumn of his life, Atanu wants to learn magic. And in that process, he not only learns it for himself but also spreads a little bit of it to Raja and Basudhara’s life. Kind, considerate and a man of his words, Atanu is the embodiment of a liberal man who doesn’t care about caste, religion or countries. All he cares about is the goodness of a person. He becomes a catalyst to their love story and his scenes with Raja, suggesting their growing bond, are among the best ones in the film.
Coming to its cons, there are traces of sloppy editing now and then. While the film overall is well-intentioned, the length is a tad long. The climax is slightly predictable, but will leave a feel-good impression on the viewers. The actual usage of Ahaa Re comes right in the end, and proves to be anti-climactic in a way as it feels a little forced somehow.
All in all, the film is well-made. It has a few lows, but has several moments that make it worth a watch. If you like clean love stories, believe in the magic of destiny and food, and a bit of magic in general, this one’s for you.
In India, it has so far screened at the 14th Habitat Film Festival, New Delhi, in the ‘Indian Gems’ section and in the ‘Indian Competition’ section of the 10th Jagran Film Festival, New Delhi. Alongwith the 1st Global Cinema Festival, 2019, in Siliguri – organized by the Film Federation of India.