Film: Laboratory
Cast: Raveena Tandon, Arpita, Saheb Chatterjee, Ranjit Mullick, Sabyasachi
Directior: Raja Sen
Rating: Average

Ananya Majumdar

A film cannot ride entirely upon a Tagore story and win brownie points with the audiences. Raja Sen’s Laboratory is a classic example. The film credits open showing scientist Nandakishor (Sabyasachi) busy in his laboratory with a befitting background score Namo Jantro in Srikanta Acharya’s mellifluous voice.
Based in colonial India, the central characters are scientist Nandakishor, who has huge income by both legal and underhand means but he has no scruples as he dedicates all his money to building up a laboratory. He collects rare, expensive machines from all across the world so that meritorious Indian students are not restricted to textbooks. It’s his way of serving the country. He meets a dynamic, young Punjabi lady, Sohini (Raveena Tandon) in Ambala. Sohini, has a colourful past and does not have much moral hankerings but she admires the erudite Nandakishor for his single-minded goal of building the laboratory. After his untimely demise, Sohini takes it upon herself to further her husband’s dream. She fiercely protects Nandakishore’s huge property from relatives who try to prise portions of it. She gets an able aid in her pursuit, Professor Choudhary (Ranjit Mallick). A thorn in her way is her own daughter Nila. Nila is beautiful, haughty and fully aware of her charm. A widow, she stays with her mother, but has no sombre air, not even perfunctionarily. She breaks into song at a party to celebrate a legal victory and inheriting her late husband’s property. Sapno Modir rendition by Lopamudra Mitra is actually quite memorable. Nila holds it against her mother for cutting her off from all responsibilities of the laboratory. She schemes to foil her mother’s plans. She frolicks and flirts with men but keeps them as mere pawns. The laboratory, in Nandakishore’s absence becomes a heap of rare collectibles. An able scientist is required to take charge of it. Sohini is on the look out for such a person. Taking advice from Choudhary, she zeroes on Rebati Bhattachrya (Saheb Chatterjee).
The story does not have much action per se, the drama is more in the interaction between the characters, particularly the mother-daughter duo. And this is exactly where the film flounders. Raveena as the Sikhni looks her part. Infact, draped in dhakai and gold jewellery, she looks resplendant in flashback scenes. Kudos to the National Award winning actress for dubbing herself and mouthing unadulterated Tagore’s lines. (The director has stayed true to the book. 90 per cent of the dialogues are a straight lift from the story). Raveena is bit inconsistent but she still does a good job.
But Arpita is a complete let down. She looks quite pretty, delicate and even dependant in some cases-everything that Nila is not. Nila is arrogant, manipulative, a natural seductress and Arpita’s face is just not emotive enough to capture the range of these emotions. To be fair to her, you can see that she has put in effort but just does not have the fire-power to bring a feisty Nila to life.  Her smirks are more K-serial-ish than menancing. Even a liplock between Arpita and Saheb does not set the pulse racing. Saheb is not the least bit convincing as the talented scientist and his histrionic skills do not help much. The supporting cast does salvage the damage. Ranjit Mallick, Sabyasachi Mukherjee deliver good performances. Other characters like the lab assistant, pishima, Nila’s friends are good too. But June’s cameo has no impact.
The costumes are chosen with care. Editing by Arghyakamal Mitra is crisp and restricts the film to a little more than two hours. Raja Sen too manages to notch up few memorable moments, particularly the scene where Nila finishes her mother’s incomplete painting. But overall, the film remains average. As Tagore said, just like the lab needs an able person to breathe life into the machines, the film too needed commendable performances. Ultimately all the arrangements, the exquisite sarees, vintage car, support from side characters fail to salvage the film. See it if you must.