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Ray had an eye for details, and an uncanny ability to pick the best and create memorable films. The brilliance of Tarashankar Bandopadhyay (writer), Subrata Mitra (cameraman) and Chabi Biswas (actor) and their association with Ray could only have resulted in a film like JALSAGAR – a film praised highly by the renowned photographer Hans Cartier Bresson for its exquisite imagery. The film touches upon decay of royalty and embedded pride about lineage refusing to come to terms with changing circumstances. Chabi Biswas carries the entire film on his shoulders with great elan. The supporting cast includes Padda Devi as the wife and a few others.

Quite a few long shots, like that of the feudal mansion captured at dusk, have a lingering effect. The scene where Chabi Biswas re-opens his closed Jalsagar towards the end and sees himself (after a long time) in the dusty mirror gaping at his own mirror image in disbelief is brilliant. The psychological probity of the Zamindari system has given us two more works from Ray – DEVI and MONIHARA.

Writing in the book “Portrait of a Director – Satyajit Ray” (Dennis Dobson, London), the author Marie Seton says “Jalsagar represented the 1920s with a central conflict not dissimilar to that in John Galsworthy’s play THE SKIN GAME. Ray commenced work on this film in 1957 shortly after completing APARAJITO.” Seton also writes “In the original story, the kathak dancer was the mistress of Biswambhar Roy (the character played by Chabi Biswas). Ray eliminated this aspect of the Zamidar’s life. Some people attributed this to prudery on Ray’s part. I left it out because it was melodramatic. Its elimination makes the film more austere, was Satyajit Ray’s explanation, which seem a valid one.”

Marie Seton further comments “In the context of Indian cinema, including the previous styles developed in Bengal, the most uncompromising aspect of JALSAGAR was Ray’s use of the strictly classical music of the noted sitar player, Ustad Vilayat Khan, in place of the more fluid musical approach of Ravi Shankar who had collaborated on the music for the Apu Trilogy.”

JALSAGAR remains one of the finest works of Ray…

Rating: 4.4 out of 5

 

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In the era subsequent to Sen-Ray-Ghatak, Gautam Ghose has emerged as a true inheritor of their rich legacy. His films draw from the influences of these masters but nonetheless speak in a distinct, independent voice. His contemporaries like Aparna Sen, Buddhadeb Dasgupta, Rituparno Ghosh and Sandip Ray and others have distinguished themselves in certain genres and GG, in several ways, have treaded a different path. While the films of Aparna often deal with relationship and loneliness, the films of Rituparno dealt with Tagorean flashbacks and urban relationships, Sandip Ray has stuck to making Feluda films and other stories of his father, while Buddhadeb Dasgupta after a string of political films started his journey of a ‘very personal kind of cinema’ replete with magic realism, surrealism & other devices.

Gautam Ghose has made a long documentary on Satyajit Ray, and the influence of Ray can be seen in the way the strong emphasis on narrative he lays in his works. Making films on performing artistes (Mithun act as a ventriloquist in Gudia, the biopic Moner Manush) had been a recurring feature in the works of Ray (Joy Baba Felunath, Goopy Gane Bagha Byne, Hirak Rajar Deshe, Phatikchand). He also made a sequel on Ray’s ARANYER DIN RATRI as ABAR ARANYE. The deep social commitment of Mrinal Sen runs through in his oeuvre while Partition, a recurring feature in the films of Ghatak, is also seen in the works of GG (Dekha, Shankachil).

The distinct stamp of the filmmaker often surpassing his influences can be seen in the way he combines brilliant photography, good music and socially relevant subjects into a neat, integrated whole. He weaves the unifying vision of Tagore, Lalan Fakir, Kabir, Dara Shikoh and others strongly in the narrative of his recent works (Moner Manush, Shunno Theke Suru). Displacement of indigenous people and loss of tribal knowledge and heritage resonate in Shunno Theke Suru, while lack of basic health care and issues of partition form the backdrop of his most recent work ‘Shankhachil.’

Several award winning documentariesand fourteen feature films later, GG has emerged as a worthy successor to don the mantle of the triumvirate of art cinema.

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Chalchitra / Kaleidoscope (1981, Dir. Mrinal Sen, India)

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This semi-comical snapshot of the middle class Bengali experience in Kolkata is apparently a minor work in Sen’s oeuvre. The story is slight; a young Bengali man Dipu (Anjan Dutta) aspires to be a journalist and as a sort of test of creativity, the editor of a newspaper (Utpal Dutta) asks Dipu to write a story based on his own middle class experiences. The story of Dipu trying to write is merely a pretext for Sen to remain connected with the urban landscape of Kolkata, a return to the richness of the city spaces, last probed with such pleasure since his Kolkata Trilogy. The socio-political urgency of Sen’s cinema after the aesthetic and thematic experiments of The Kolkata Trilogy never really went away from his work – he remained just as connected with the social milieu of the city. For instance, the uninhibited camera roaming freely through the fish market recalls Interview (70) when Ranjit meets his uncle, the first of many self-referential instances. Later, when Dipu tries to flag down a taxi in the bustling streets of Kolkata, Sen adopts an erratic editing style, articulating a blinding disorientation reminiscent of the street cinema of The Kolkata Trilogy, in which characters are liberated and imprisoned by the city in a scarring psychological duality.

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There is probably a consensus that Sen made two trilogies. The Kolkata Trilogy (1970 – 1973; InterviewCalcutta 71 and Padatik – although you could probably argue for Chorus too, which was released in 1974), and The Absence Trilogy (Ek Din Pratidin/And Quite Rolls The Dawn – 1979, Kharij/The Case Is Closed – 1982 and Ek Din Achanak/Suddenly, One Day – 1989).  I would argue Chalchitra is part of another trilogy, although much looser, but nonetheless important, which also includes Akaler Shandhaney/In Search of Famine (1980) and Khandahar/The Ruins (1983). The abiding theme in this trilogy is concerned with the media apparatus (film crew, photographer, journalist) and the role of the middle class in terms of mediating the politics of representation, exploitation and the gaze. In Chalchitra, Dipu’s urge to sensationalise the mundanity of the middle class experience constantly backfires on him because numerous opportunities for journalistic fodder are met with resistance from the people he encounters notably his mother (Geeta Dutt). It is only when a little boy poses the banal question: ‘How many ovens are there in Kolkata?’ does Dipu finally finds something to write about – pollution, smoke and coal. But this degree of obscurity points to something elemental about the middle class mentality and which results in Utpal Dutta enquiring if Dipu is a communist, a question first posed in Ray’s Pratidwandi (1970), and which seemingly never went away from the psyche of the older generation of Kolkata. Chalchitra features an elaborately staged but very comical dream sequence, clearly a manifestation of Dipu’s jumbled, anxious mind, and which features microcosmic imagery of smoke, women, the police and the press. There is a danger of dismissing Chalchitra as a minor, insubstantial work. However, once situated as part of a loose trilogy, the film takes on an added resonance and deserves a further look.

Movies on father-son relationship bring out facets of life in various hues. Some notable works like Wender’s Paris Texas, Ray’s Apur Sansar or Anjan Dutt’s Dutta vs. Dutta comes to mind that had this relationship at the centrality in the narrative. Atanu Ghosh’s National award-winning film Mayurrakshi (2017) is a welcome addition to the list …

Mayurakshi: A must watch for all gen

In this film the father (Soumitro Chattopadhyay) plays a widower and a retired Professor of History (an erudite person possessing knowledge in music and many subjects) suffering from old age problems and dimentia. A caretaker (Sudipta Chakraborty) looks after him. The son (Prasenjit Chattopadhyay) arrives from Chicago to see his ailing dad … dad has suffered memory loss and longs to meet Mayurrakshi, his student and the girl/woman the son had spurned in marriage when the alliance was suggested by the father … the film explores dimensions of love and loneliness, the plight of the ambitious younger generation living in a separate country having ailing parents back home and the connect/disconnect that exist between them… the sombre mood of the  film incorporates exquisite imagery and fine story-telling to make this film a memorable work.

The acting of the two lead performers is top notch. Indrani Halder does a cameo …the film is directed by Atanu Ghosh (Angsumaner Chobi, Abby Sen). The film was adjudged the Best Bengali film at the National awards this year.

Rating: 4.2 out of 5  

 

Owing to his birthday being near, I tried reflecting on the films of Ray that have a contemporary ring, two and a half decades after his death. His APU Trilogy and his Tagore and Tarashankar novellas (Charulata, Ghare Baire, Jalsagar) are set in eras immediately preceding or following Independence – almost seven decades.

Among his works, his attack on religious superstitions (Devi, Mahapurush, Ganashatru) still resonate quite strongly. In SHAKHA O PRASAKHA he emphasised how corruption among the educated class was a catalyst in further rotting the system.

These apart, the film that I find has the greatest relevance in contemporary India is HIRAK RAJAR DESHE. I find tremendous similarity of our political leaders with Hirak Raja. Being in the academic profession, I have an affinity for the teacher (Soumitro Chatterjee) in the film who was forced to mouth (Janar kono sesh nai, janar chesta britha tai…Hirak er raja bhagwan … there is no end to knowledge, so its futile to acquire … King Hirak is God). In the film the miraculous powers of Goopy and Bagha helped in ending the tyranical rule of the despot king. Should we be optimistic that Hirak Rajas of our society would meet their nemesis and suffer humiliations for their misdeeds? Time will unfold, but it’s good to be optimistic …

 

 

A neglected genius

Posted: April 19, 2018 in Mrinal Sen

In my School and College days, I was an ardent fan of Amitabh Bachchan. Scarcely would I miss any of his starrers, and not content with a single viewing, usually I ended up watching a Bachchan starrer a number of times. Around that time, quite naturally, I had an apathy towards the “other Cinema.” The “art cinema”, I found, was very slow paced, mostly shot in dark making the characters invisible, based on themes of poverty, hunger and famine and the treatment very confusing.

After College, I went to the University. My love affair with Bachchan continued. One day, quite by chance, I saw the film “CALCUTTA 71.” The experience was a mind-blowing one. This Bengali film, directed by Mrinal Sen, was a highly intense feature based on four short stories by eminent Bengali writers like Manik Bandopadhyay, Samaresh Basu and others, against the backdrop of turbulent times of those days and the Naxalite movement. It was my initiation into the world of Mrinal Sen, Gautam Ghosh, Bhaben Saikia, Arinbam Shyam Sharma and other realistic ‘Indian Filmmakers.’ I developed an interest in their work and whenever I got an opportunity to see more of their works, I availed it.

I found that Mrinal Sen, with a career spanning five decades, had an impressive filmography of highly intense and masterly original works, arguably the finest specimen of Indian films ever made. I felt both disturbed and enlightened by watching his works like ‘Baisey Shravan’,’Bhuvan Shome’, ‘Padatik’, ‘Kharij’, ‘Ek Din Pratidin’, ‘Akaler Sandhane’,’Mrigaya’, ‘Khandahar’ and many more. His films have, quite naturally, been honored at the most prestigious International Film Festivals like Berlin, Cannes, Venice and others. His films have evoked a keen interest in all major film-making Countries.

Unfortunately, in his own country, he is one of the lesser known personalities, and hardly any of his masterpieces have been released on a big scale, or enjoyed a good run at the Theatres. In retrospect, even the Indian Govt. seems to be neglecting this genius who celebrated his ninetieth birthday recently. National Honors like Padma Vibhusan and a Bharat Ratna seem to be eluding, whereas personalities of lesser depths are being honored by the Govt. When will our National Committees honor such gifted people, whose numbers are dwindling with every passing day?

Gautam Ghose

Posted: April 2, 2018 in Gautam Ghose

 

Interview of GG in Hindustan Times, 1st April 2018