Given that A Holy Conspiracy features a magnetic couple – the late Soumitra Chatterjee opposed to the great Naseeruddin Shah – it feels like a missed opportunity that the movie lacks voice, style, or even clear direction.
by Saibal Mitra A holy conspiracy is the kind of film that should have existed only on paper. An adaptation of Inherit the wind – a 1955 play by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee – it’s a film that gets excited about its big ideas even when it doesn’t really have a clue how exactly those ideas should be translated to life. ‘screen. That’s largely because the courtroom drama — the characters alternate between Bengali, English, Hindi, and Santhali — reduces storytelling to an exercise in moral superiority. There’s nothing more disheartening than a movie that speaks to its audience, interested only to scream at every given opportunity that it knows a lot. And given that A holy conspiracy Starring a magnetic couple – the late Soumitra Chatterjee opposed to the great Naseeruddin Shah – it feels like a missed opportunity that the film lacks voice, style or even a clear direction.
To the film’s credit, the plot invites curiosity: set in the fictional town of Hillolganj, an area populated by Santhal converts to Christianity, A Holy Conspiracy traces the illegal suspension of science teacher Kunal Joseph Baske (Sraman Chatterjee). Santhal and an atheist, Baske refused to teach students at a Christian missionary school the biblical history of evolution, preferring instead Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. The school calls his decision blasphemy, and a religious twist to the whole affair sees Baske’s case go to trial.
It nicely sets up the entries of Reverend Basanta Kumar Chatterjee (Soumitra Chatterjee) who is hired by the church pastor to represent the school. On the other side is disillusioned lawyer Anton D’Souza (Naseeruddin Shah) who speaks for Baske. Naturally, the courtroom becomes a site for social commentary on religion and science, bigotry and the right to independent thought.
The problem begins when Mitra’s script begins to display a tendency to use the courtroom only as a device instead of a setting. That is to say that the filmmaker does not exactly play on the form or the genre in a way that justifies the adaptation of a play into a film. For much of its inflated 143-minute runtime, A holy conspiracy looks like a debating match between two people that is as tight as it is unimaginative. The film is a support of images before being a vector of ideas and Mitra constantly forgets this. The result is a film that could have been a podcast. But even that wouldn’t have justified the overbearing background music that rarely allows the film to breathe. A similar flaw plagues the film’s dialogue which is so heavy with breathless sermons that it confuses forcing a point down the audience’s throat is not the same as making a point.
The conscious and problem-oriented approach that Mitra takes with A holy conspiracy, attempting to address politically relevant keywords visibly reduces the impact of his commentary. I say this because it is easy to see the potential for such a scenario, especially in the context of current religious intolerance. The right to think is, after all, really on trial. But unlike Mulk, a holy conspiracy hesitant not only to see his own perspective but, more importantly, to make a persuasive argument out of it. As a result, the film doesn’t feel like it reaches a natural conclusion; instead, feeling like Mitra abruptly concluded the proceedings. This seems glaring given that A Holy Conspiracy’s eventual ending is clear from the start. That Mitra fails to really make the trip interesting despite managing the coup of putting Chatterjee and Shah in the same frame is a criminal oversight.
Poulomi Das is a writer, critic and film and culture programmer. Follow more of his writings on Twitter.