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This is the first film about the Sheena Bora case, which is still to go to trial.
This is the first film about the Sheena Bora case, which is still to go to trial.

‘Dark Chocolate’: what happened to Bengal’s movie-making skills

'Dark Chocolate' is a new multilingual film based on Sheena Bora murder case and will make you sigh in dismay at the thought of what Bengal has been reduced to creating

If there’s one thing Bengal can proudly lay claim to, other than Netaji Bose and Tagore, it’s that the state has produced some of the best films and directors, scriptwriters, actors and singers the country has ever seen. Which is why a recent trailer of a new film called Dark Chocolate will make you sigh in dismay at the thought that this is what Bengal has been reduced to creating. I could feel Utpal Dutt’s ashes swirling like a whirling dervish in protest while I watched the trailer in shock and awe.

Dark Chocolate is a new multilingual film made in the great land of Bengal. This is no ordinary film. It is a murder mystery if you will, based on the Sheena Bora murder case which seemed like a crime made for celluloid.

If you aren’t aware of what happened, here goes. There’s a media magnate and his much younger second wife who ran his media empire along with him. Her daughter who she claimed was her sister gets murdered. The murder and the fact that the daughter is missing is discovered three years after it happened. Her former husband and driver and she are accused of murdering the daughter based on evidence given by the media magnate’s son who was in a relationship with the victim. The husband claims he didn’t know the victim was his wife’s daughter, then backtracks and says he did. The victim’s brother claims that his mother, the alleged murderer, tried to murder him as well. There’s a botched up investigation, a CBI team with verbal diarrhoea, many skeletons (literally) falling out of the closet along with lovers and husbands, and arrests galore. At least two of the key accused are the movers and shakers of Mumbai high society. In the midst of all the lies, counter-lies, salacious gossipy news reports and character assassinations by former employees of the couple, the victim has pretty much been reduced to a footnote in the crime.

You almost don’t need to use any creative skills to script this film. Or so you’d think. But little do we know what was going on in the mind of the director, dialogue writer, screenplay writer, cinematographer, story writer—Agnidev Chatterjee.

This is the first film about the Sheena Bora case, which is still to go to trial. The trailer begins by stating that this is “the most heinous crime of the year". In hindsight, they could be speaking of the film and not the murder. The trailer begins with Riya Sen playing Sheena/Reena being carried on the back of someone. Her face is expressionless, which is usually the case even when she’s emoting on screen, but in this case she’s playing dead. Mahima Chaudhary plays Ishani/Indrani who is being interrogated by the cops. Her driver is being walloped and says that Ishani madam asked him to kill Reena madam. Mahima/Ishani says—in her best British accent—that she needs to make a call to her husband Victor/Peter Mukerjea. As you can see, a lot of creativity has gone into naming the characters. Mahima/Ishani is roughed up by a female cop mouthing dialogues which would make anyone blush. To quote one such dialogue, “Tor moton Ingrej-maal chodaano onek handle korechi", which I refuse to translate, but leave it to Bengali readers to understand and be appalled by.

Riya Sen plays the young Ishani/Indrani as well as Sheena/Reena. I would have said acts as, but that would be an insult to acting. Sheena/Reena is shown as a coquettish money-grabbing social climber who plays her mother against her step-father who becomes her lover against her other lover, which is his son. Basically every gossipy baseless report that was written on this case has been replicated as fact in the film—from claiming that Indrani’s father was her step-father and that Sheena was fathered by him, that Indrani was molested by her step-father, that Sheena was pregnant when she died, that she was in a relationship with both Peter and his son. None of this has been proven or based on fact. But on the meanderings of the addled brains of some reporters who seemed to be on the “Sheena Bora-beat".

The trailer then flashes:

What happened that fatal day?

This is as close as you will get to the truth.

Victor/Peter, baring a very unfit body, on being introduced to a bikini-clad Reena/Sheena looks at her and puts on his dark glasses. Why does he do this? Is the sun in his eyes? Does he have conjunctivitis? Who knows.

Sheena/Reena meets Rohit/Rahul in a bar and says, “I like to pick up rich kids. I make out with them and then kill them." Rohit who looks very malnourished, seems as confused by this dialogue as I am. Victor/Peter is suddenly transformed into a wife-beater, walloping Mahima/Ishani till she admits that Sheena/Reena is her daughter. Sheena/Reena is shown to have no redeeming features, not even acting skills to fall back on. There’s even a Mikhail Bora doppelganger. The only two people who will be pleased by this film are Indrani Mukerjea who is shown as a victim of circumstance and Sanjeev Khanna who has never looked as decent as he does in this film and has gained more fame than he ever imagined.

The words: Who killed Reena Bardhan? appear on screen.

Peter/Victor is shown being forced to drink what looks like a glass of blood, but I assume it’s Coke or wine. People are walking through a forest. Mahima is trying to emote. The driver is looking murderous. There’s a gun chase. Mahima is crying—is it because she wonders how she ended up in Dark Chocolate after starting her career with SRK and Pardes?

As someone wrote to me on Twitter, this film has out-Bhandarkar-ed Madhur Bhandarkar when it comes to sensationalizing an event and in as sleazy a manner as possible, with the worst possible cast to boot. What’s sad is that this seems to be the age of really well-made serials and mini-series and podcasts on unsolved murder mysteries. Whether it be the brilliant The People vs OJ Simpson miniseries, or The Making Of A Murderer or The Jinx: The Life & Deaths Of Robert Durst or Serial (all of which I highly recommend), murder mysteries have never been depicted and researched as well as they have been in the last few years. That Bengal, the birthplace of great cinema, has this contribution to make to the genre of murder flicks is not only disappointing, but also embarrassing. Or maybe I’ve missed the woods for the trees, and Agnidev Chatterjee is actually running a non-profit organization which provides employment to those in desperate need of work—and Dark Chocolate is his way of contributing to the upliftment of actors without talent. The reeling audiences are simply collateral damage for his greater philanthropic cause.

Since I shouldn’t suffer alone, do watch the trailer here

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