It’s one thing to get inspired by a great play like King Lear or a book like Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet but it’s something else when your characters end up mouthing someone else’s words as if they were their own! Watching Sangeeta Datta’s Life Goes On you can’t help but get a feeling that the writer-director put everything she liked right from Shakespeare to Ritwik Ghatak to Satyajit Ray in a box and shook it till something resembling a film came emerged!
One fine day Manju (Sharmila Tagore), a doting wife, a loving mother of three and a loyal friend passes away. Her death makes Sanjay (Girish Karnad) realize that he barely knows his three daughters–Lolita (Mukulika Banerjee), Tuli (Neerja Naik), and Dia (Soha Ali Khan). Lolita’s British husband doesn’t have time for his family; Tuli worries about her job way too much and Dia doesn’t know how to tell her father that she is pregnant with her Muslim boyfriend’s baby. The three try to grapple with life while preparing for their mother’s funeral with a little help Alok (Om Puri), a close friend of the family.
The days leading up to Manju’s funeral tests the bonds these five people share and in the end everyone comes to terms with their demons and life, goes on.
Sangeeta Datta’s Life Goes On must have been a good idea on paper–three sisters coming closer after their mother’s death while their father realizes that he barely knew the wonder his dead wife was and how let goes of the control he wields over his youngest daughter in the name of love.
Life Goes On Shortcomings
This film laced with some lilting Rabindranath Tagore songs and highly-stylized shots could have one of those slice-of-life tales. But what one gets is a bunch of highly archaic lines spoken by actors who are woefully uncomfortable with the language they converse in.
Life Goes On has been called a modern day adaptation of King Lear set in present-day London amongst an Indian family. The liberal references to the play can only be seen in the Girish Karand and Soha Ali Khan track that sticks out from the rest of the film and becomes a Lear and Cordelia interaction every time the screenplay shifts to them.
If Datta was so inspired by King Lear and really wanted to draw parallels between Dia’s play and the real life drama that unfolds around her once her mother passes away then she should have just adapted Shakespeare. What she does instead is conveniently use the play’s lines at critical places in the film to aide the otherwise lackluster drama.
Watching Life Goes On can be a painful exercise. This is a film that operates solely on showing the obvious, stating the obvious and characters talking the obvious, sometimes in two languages. Most scenes follow the same template- soft focus shot of flowers, characters revealed with shifting focus, talking about the mystery called dead mommy and bigger mystery called life and then translating the lines into English if spoken in Bangla, getting angry with the other character in the scene, storming away from the scene. This is repeated for most of the film’s screen time.
Mike Leigh’s Another Year is about a year in a happily married forever couple’s life. Loaded with slices of life, Another Year is about regular people going about the regular life but the manner in which Leigh unfolds the story makes it an exceptional experience. Datta on the other tries to be over-smart in her effort to be regular. She infuses her screenplay with many popular cultural references that it becomes overbearing after a while. What was she thinking? Did she think that those who didn’t know the source would be impressed and those who knew would be awed that she has great taste? Sanjay finally let’s go of controlling everyone around him when he reads his wife’s diary. But when you realize that Manju’s words are actually Khalil Gibran’s–Our children are not our children but they are the sons and daughters of life’s longing for itself…’– you wonder couldn’t Datta come up with a half-decent line that was half-original to convey something so simple?
Life Goes On Actors & Acting
There is great discomfort on the part of all the actors in Life Goes On. Sharmila Tagore, who looks as graceful as poetry in motion and even though her acting is patchy, she is the only one who seems to be somewhat comfortable with the character. Physically everyone looks the part but the English lines make them look like props in some bad school production. Soha Ali Khan look lost while speaking her lines and Puri looks at ease only when he speaks a few lines in Hindi. Karnad does infuse some life into Sanjay but it’s mostly laboured. Both Mukherjee and Naik are hyperactive even when quietly observing others.
There are portions in the film that are funny and poignant, Robert Shacklady’s digital cinematography (the film was shot on RED) with it’s bad lighting jerks notwithstanding is mostly good but sadly in the end Life Goes On ends up looking like a celebration of Bengali culture–Rabindra Sangeet, references to iconic lines from a Ritwik Ghatak film, the plot of a Satyajit Ray masterpiece masquerading as a grandfather tale.
Life Goes On Final Verdict: Wish it had a little more soul…
Life Goes On Rating: 1 out of 5
Life Goes On Cast: Sharmila Tagore, Girish Karnad, Om Puri, Soha Ali Khan, Mukulika Banerjee and Neerja Naik
Life Goes On Written and Directed by: Sangeeta Datta