Herbert (film)

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Herbert film poster
Herbert film poster
Directed by Suman Mukhopadhyay
Based on Nabarun Bhattacharya's novel Herbert
Starring Subhasish Mukhopadhyay
Lily Chakravarty
Sabyasachi Chakraborty
Biswanath Basu
Kabir Suman
Release date
Country India
Language Bengali

Herbert is a 2005 Bengali-language film that was directed by veteran theatre director Suman Mukhopadhyay. It was based on Nabarun Bhattacharya's Sahitya Akademi Award winning novel of the same name.[1][2]


This story is based on the life of one Herbert Sarkar, played by Subhasish Mukhopadhyay.[3] Herbert Sarkar, the protagonist of the story is a forty-year-old crank who thinks that he can talk to the dead. Herbert grew up in North Kolkata, feeding on the charity of relatives, and being the butt of local jokes. He declares one day that he has received a message in a dream that has told him where his long dead cousin Binu's diary remains hidden. People are surprised and amused. But when this prediction proves to be true, Herbert becomes a local sensation. He sets up a roaring business called "Dialogues with the Dead" for three years and for the first time in his life, earns money and the respect of others. However, his luck runs out when the International Rationalist Society declares him a fraud and threatens to turn him over to the law unless he closes shop. This deeply affects Herbert and he commits suicide that very night. However, his celebrity power increases to unprecedented levels the day after his death. After his body is put inside the electric cremation chamber, there is an explosion that rips apart the building, injuring many bystanders. The incident hits the headlines as a posthumous terroristic act, and a high-level police inquiry is launched to find the mystery behind it. The film begins at this point and follows the trajectory of the inquiry, flash-backing into the hidden corners of Herbert's quixotic life into his lonely growing up years as an alienated orphan, his ill-treatment at the hands of his cruel cousin Dhanna, his only tragic-comic love affair, and his unwitting involvement with the underground Maoist Naxalbari movement during the turbulent seventies. It covers several decades not only in the life of its protagonist, but also in the life of Kolkata the city that is at once mysterious, funny, tempestuous, and always full of life.[4]


Critical reception[edit]

This film received excellent reviews from both national and international critics for its script and directing style.

  • New York Times: "And now for something completely different. “Herbert,” a mad, messy and frequently amazing epic from India, features many of the qualities you expect from Bollywood: garish verve, dizzy excess, punishing duration, wild leaps in narrative tone and structure... Movies are very much the point of this film: allusions to classic Hollywood and Indian cinema abound, and the energy of the French New Wave courses through the madcap plot. This is, rather incredibly, Mr. Mukhopadhyay’s first film, and it exhibits the passionate, more-is-more abandon of an artist bursting with welcome (if exhausting) enthusiasm onto the scene."[2]
  • MOMA: "Rife with allusions to classic Hollywood and to directors from Satyajit Ray to Jean-Luc Godard, Mukhopadhyay's debut feature is an astounding, encyclopedic parable: part magical-realist fable, part allegory of cultural imperialism. Shot in flashy reds and twilight blues that recall the Technicolor of MGM musicals, this wittily self-reflexive film features a remarkable lead performance by Mukherjee as the film's visionary madman."[5]
  • The Hindu: "Suman Mukhopadhyay, in his complex narrative style, uses Herbert brilliantly as the pendulum, which moves back and forth in time, capturing a period and juxtaposing it with its ideology and social ethos. Thus, the film not just covers the life of the protagonist, but also the city which has travelled through the times, governed by different ideologies. In this highly stylistic film, Suman Mukhopadhyay uses some brilliant techniques which gel amazingly well with the narrative."[6]
  • The Telegraph: "Mukherjee employs a range of cinematic, dramatic devices in the film. Flash-forward-flashbacks (parents, childhood) to Brechtian alienation (father behind movie camera). And strong influences of several European masters, especially Fellini is clearly evident. But despite such 'educated' references, somehow he never lets his ideas or storytelling become 'alien' or elitist. Maybe because he manages to keep his film grounded, rooted to our own culture-specific milieu, utilizing all its banal characteristics, colloquialism and linguistic slang (profanities bit too excessive though) with passion and flamboyance."[7]
  • The Statesman: "In Herbert, the film, literature meets theatre meets cinema to lead to a form that's a delicious carnival - a never-ending series of snapshots that continually push and threaten to rummage the fragile membrane that separates the world we know from what remains unknowable."[5]


This film won the following awards: