Archive for the ‘100 remarkable Bengali films’ Category

jal

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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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  

 

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Bengali cinema is unlucky to have lost some of its most prodigious talent before they could reach anywhere near the end of their career – Ritwik Ghatak, Rituparna Ghosh, Bappaditya Bandopadhyay, Nabyendu Chaterjee and … Anjan Das. The last named is the director of SANJHBATIR ROOPKATHARA.

This film starts on a predictable note. One was beginning to feel that it was just another ‘exploitation of women’ kind of film about the protagonist daughter Saajhbati (Indrani Halder) of a well-known painter (Soumitro Chattopadhyay). Midway through the movie, the film unfolds an unexpected development and thereafter the film becomes a powerful exploration of the perils of fame, the father-daughter relationship, love and betrayal, lust and insanity, hope and longings, setbacks and comebacks.

The performances are praiseworthy. Indrani Halder in the titular role is convincing. After Pramathesh Barua’s MUKTI in the 1930s, we have the painter as a major character in Bengali films like SWET PATHARER THALA & this one. The supporting cast includes Paran Bandopadhyay, Ketaki Dutta, Firdaus and others.

I discovered that the film was based on a story by eminent poet Joy Goswami which is why the film appears lyrical in several parts…

Rating: 4.1 out of 5

 

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UTTARON (Broken Journey) is a film based on a story and screenplay by Satyajit Ray, and directed by his son Sandip Ray. The film follows a Calcutta based doctor (Soumitro Chattopadhyay) who is successful treating the well-heeled of society. His teenage daughter is shown leading a reckless life giving rise to suspicion of being a drug addict.

The doc embarks on a journey to Jamshedpur to deliver a talk on ADVANCES OF MEDICAL SCIENCES IN LAST TWO DECADES in a Conference. En route his car breaks down in a remote area & he sees a man lying unconsciously in the field. The doc tries to lend a helping hand. What follows is a discovery of reality about lack of health-care facilities (dependence on witch doctor) and abysmal condition (lack of electricity) in the village. This leads to an awakening in the doctor & the realization of the futility & elitism of conferences when basic health care facilities elude the majority of the population.

The supporting cast includes Subalakshmi Munshi, Sadhu Meher, Subhendu Chatterjee, Lily Chakraborty and others.

Rating: 4.4 out of 5

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Ek Din Pratidin” (And Quiet Rolls the Day) remains an artistic triumph in the career of Mrinal Sen.

The gist: The narrative underlined what happens when a working girl doesn’t return home after work on a particular day. MS is one of the first to assess the changing position of women with industrialization and urbanization. Mamata Shankar, Gita Sen, Sreela Mazumdar & Satya Bandophyay comprised the cast.

Ek Din Pratidin was based on a story by famed Bengali writer Amalendu Chakravorty. A family of seven members with father (Satya Bandopadhyay), moher (Gita Sen), three sisters and two brothers are mostly dependent on the earning of a single member of the family, i.e. the eldest working daughter (Mamata Shankar).

The film opens with a long shot sequence of a hand-pulled  rickshaw entering a claustrophobic neighborhood. Thereafter, it cuts to a young child getting hurt  while playing, and taken to the clinic for treatment. One of the early sequence also shows a man urinating on the walls of the house where the family lived and the house-owner castigating the person concerned for the act – scenes of everyday life in Calcutta. MS always gave us such images from Calcuttan life in film after film.

The story unfolds slowly when the working girl doesn’t return home that night. At first, the family members kept silent hoping that she might have been working overtime, and will arrive late. The middle sister (Sreela Mazumdar in a superb performance) goes out to make a phone call to see if her sister might still be at the office. She returns home without being able to contact her.

Now the family members gets panicky, and the father goes out and watches the buses go by, without his daughter alighting from any of them. When the last bus also passes by, he returns home. Soon the inmates of the multiple storied building where both the landowner and his several tenants resided got wind of the fact that the working girl has not returned home that night.

The reactions from the various neighbors are depicted beautifully. Some makes acerbic comments, while others are more sympathetic. There are good Samaritan too who came to help the family in their hour of crisis. Two such characters, Shyamalda who stays in the same premise, and the scooter-owner friend of the brother goes out in search of the missing person. They head to the Police Station to lodge a complaint. Biplab Chaterji as a policeman, in a small role, excels. Biplab raids the family’s residence for basic inquiry, and extracts some facts about Mamata’s personal life (the type of garments she was wearing on that day). Sreela provided Biplab and his assisting officers with the necessary details.

Meanwhile, the brother and his friend check out the morgue to ascertain whether his sister’s dead body was brought there. The family also receives a news that a lady matching the description of  the missing woman lay badly injured in an accident in Nilratan Medical Hospital. The father, along with the good neighbour Shyamalda, set off for the Hospital to find out…

It was found that the girl was not his daughter. They return home relieved.

However, it was a harrowing time for the family during the night. In the wee hours of the morning, the small girl of the family sights her eldest sister (Mamata Shankar) coming back. Surprisingly, everyone in the family eyed her with suspicion. No one asks her as to where she had been the previous night…

The landlord alights the staircase and asks the father to vacate the house as soon as possible. He harped upon the fact that the locality is meant only for decent people.

The last sequence shows Gita Sen in the morning hours(who was keeping bad health the previous night) begin her preparation for her everyday household chores…

The film was released in 1979, and won awards at several International Film Festivals. The camerawork by K K Mahajan is brilliant capturing effectively the moods and emotions of the actors & the tense atmosphere of the surroundings.

Analysis: The critics may find faults. They may argue that in a big city where neighbors live like virtual strangers, neighbors discussing the non-returning of the girl to the house at such length is not a realistic portrayal of modern times, where people are mostly unconcerned about the lives of others. Maybe such debatable  issues apart, the novelty of the theme has never been explored in Indian cinema. Sen’s penchant to keep the audiences guessing as to where the girl disappeared is very much in evidence because he doesn’t offer any solution. Film Critic John W Hood finds an excellent example of the liberated woman in “Ek Din Pratidin”. “The heroine is her own boss. There is no answer to the question why she did not return home at night. Sen says it is her business where she had been.”

In an Interview, when Mrinal Sen was asked about his personal relationship with Satyajit Ray, Sen said that they never discussed each other’s films in great detail. Ray made some acerbic comment regarding this film, saying that the filmmaker doesn’t know where the women character had disappeared the previous night. Mrinal countered this and said that definitely he could have offered a solution in the film (the telephone call in the neighborhood medical dispensary late at night that went unanswered was an indicator of the missing woman trying to contact his family members) as to where the girl had disappeared, but that was not where the focus of the film lay. What he was trying to expose was the hollowness of our responses whenever misfortune befalls  someone.

When the core theme remains the same, it is interesting to unravel how two great filmmakers approach it. The theme in question – exploitation of women and the filmmakers – Ritwik Ghatak (Meghe Dhaka Tara) & Mrinal Sen (Ek Din Pratidin). The film EK DIN PRATIDIN came roughly two decades after MEGHE DHAKA TARA. In the Ghatak work, we find novelty in sound design & lighting patterns, the use of classical music in the unfolding of the storyline. In terms of narrative style, it was quite straight-forward. The Mrinal Sen film is an experimentation to convey the message under the guise of a suspenseful incident. MS also incorporates several strands of calcuttan life deftly in his cinema. They become a living document of the lives of the citizens of his favorite city.

The interview: In the book ‘Out of God’s Oven: Travels in a fractured land’ by Dom Moreas and Sarayu Srivatsa (Penguin Viking, Pg 118) there is an interview of Mrinalda with the authors and a Japanese gentleman Watanabe. When asked to speak about his films, Mrinalda smiled ‘Of course, of course. About my films, let me see. Yes, recently I made a film about a middle class family. A woman, twenty five years old, she does not come home one night. She comes home the next morning. That is what the film is about.’

Watanabe looked amused. Mrinalda laughed. ‘When she doesn’t return her family members become worried. The neighbors ask question. They react. The film is about their reaction. Their reaction tells you about the middle-class-ness of Indian families. At the end of the film, the landlord asks the family to leave the flat; go elsewhere.’                                                                                                                                                         Why?                                                                                                                                                          ‘Because everyone in the building say terrible things about the girl. If an Indian girl stays out of the house for a night, it is a very bad thing.’

Watanabe nodded slowly. ‘ Ah soo. Ah su desu ne. Rike Sita in Lamayana. I see now. Sita come home to God Lam , but she spend so many night out so Lam not accepting her. Hai, so desu ne, Lam was worried that Lavana would have touched Sita. So-so, the doubt was there in Lam’s mind. I see, I see. So, yo- a story based rittre bit on, Lamayana? Hai.’

Mrinalda digressed and said, “The film is about women, the inequalities that exist even now and how people treat women.’

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

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PODDOKKEP highlights the loneliness faced by the elderly in our so-called modern society under transition from conservative values to newer liberal ones. The story is credited to the director Suman Ghosh (Nobel Chor, Kadambari) himself.
The film comprises of three acts: Act 1 is named SHASANKHA & MEGHA, Act 2 is TRISHA & Act 3 is titled THE FINALE.
Shasankha (Soumitro Chatterjee) is an elderly man living with his daughter Megha (Nandita Das) who works in a corporate office and an elderly spinster woman (Sabitri Chaterjee) – a relative of theirs. Soumitro has lost his wife around three years back in an accident. The lives of the protagonist delineates the conflict that exist between the new (daughter Nandita) and the old(dad Soumitro) through incidents about the kind of calendar hangings fit for walls of the living room (a rather cutesy scene this) or the Tagore fixation of Bengalis
Nandita: “Why’re Bengalis obsessed with Rabindranath Tagore? When you elevate a human being to the level of God, doesn’t it imply stagnancy of intellectualism?”
Soumitro: “He is timeless, just like Shakespeare”
Through course of interaction between the daughter and the father, we are given hints about the leftist leanings of Soumitro. When the daughter mentions of having watched a good film GOODBYE LENIN on collapse of Communism, the father questioned as to whether his daughter was mocking him.
A couple (Tota Roy Choudhury & June Malliya) has returned from America and is a neighbor of the father-daughter duo. The US returned couple has a 7 year old daughter Trisha. A strong bond develops between Soumitro and Trisha. Megha is in love with a Muslim colleague of hers, looks for opportunity and goes on a two-day visit with her paramour to Bangalore. When Soumitro makes a call to her when she was in bed with the guy, a male voice response informs the father of the relationship.
The film explores a gamut of issues – flight of professionals from the City of Joy to places like America and the Silicon Valley of India, the pangs of separation for the elderly and the challenge to adapt to liberal values in vogue, apprehension of forging alliances across religious divide. The sequence where Soumitro is shown playing with Trisha during a picnic and collapsing is reminiscent of the sequence of Marlon Brando as Don Corleone, succumbing while playing with his grandchild in THE GODFATHER.
The film has quite a few poetic shots capturing the locales of Kolkata and its neighborhood with great finesse.
Rating: 4 out of 5

Bengali cinema surprises us with gems once in a while. PHORING is one such film.

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PHORING (which is Bengali for Grasshopper) is an imaginative boy who lives in a village in North Bengal near Maynaguri. He flunks his exams and incurs the wrath of his alcoholic father who beats him mercilessly.

A pretty young female teacher (Sohini Sarkar) joins the school of the boy, and starts taking an interest in the boy and his studies. The bond between the boy and the teacher grows stronger. She calls the boy to her residence, celebrates his birthday and gifts him a smart-phone. This leads to suspicion and questioning of her code of conduct.

The present situation of unrest in North Bengal have been effectively captured on screen. The film touches issues of education, childhood obsession, involvement of promising youths in terrorism, and ruthless parenting.

The filming qualities are superlative, and the natural beauty of North Bengal have been lovingly captured by the cameraman Indranil Mukherjee. The film is directed by Indranil RoyChoudhury. The supporting actors are Ritwik Chakraborty and others.

Rating: 4 out of 5