Archive for the ‘Bangla 1970-80’ Category

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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

On Ray’s b’day, a brief note on JOYBABA FELUNATH ……

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I read some Feluda stories in my childhood. Since then I haven’t ventured towards the book of the ace sleuth written by Ray that have endeared him to millions across the globe. I have seen several films of the detective though, two directed by Satyajit Ray himself, and quite a few directed by his son Sandip Ray.

Among the multiplicity of themes that Ray explored in his films and in his writings, one often finds a thematic recurrence interspersed among his works. The core theme in JOYBABA FELUNATH – about a thriving business involving smuggling of heritage art objects from India to the West was also seen in his book KAILASHE KELENKARI, which has been made into a film by Sandip Ray. The penchant of Ray to showcase rare skills such as jugglery (Phatikchand) is again seen in this film in the spine-chilling act of a skilled marksman aiming at humans – it was filmed on ‘Jatayu.’

JOYBABA ..  is an engaging, suspenseful film from the master filmmaker. The film has the Hindu holy city of Benaras as the backdrop. Apart from a fine performance by Soumitro Chatterjee in the role of Feluda, the film was elevated several notches by the terrific performance of Utpal Dutta as Maganlal Meghraj – rarely has Utpal Dutta looked so menacing as a villain, his act in Bollywood films playing the evil man was mostly comical. The pivotal child character in the film, endearing called Captain Spark, brought out the child that used to reside in Ray who was enchanted by magic, mysterious occurrences & other aspects of the supernatural, besides his love of adventure.

Rating; 4 out of 5

 

STREE features the two titans of Bangla cinema in a complex tale of unrequited love and trust, and frightening consequences of leading a life of debauchery. At some level, it echoes the Tagore story NOSHTO NEER (made into CHARULATA by Satyajit Ray)  where the heroine Mrinmoyee (Arati Bhattacharjee) resembles Charulata in that she is married to an aristocratic household and a hard-drinking husband (Uttam Kumar) who has no time for her. This becomes the pretext for the amorous relationship to flower with her ex-lover Sitapati (Soumitro Chattopadhyay) when they accidently meet once again.  At another level, the film is a sort of SAHEB, BIWI & GHULAM, the powerful Bimal Mitra story about feudal extravagance and decadence.

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Towards the end, when Soumitro finally walks out of the house, he looks back once in a sort of homage to the concluding scene in Mrinal Sen’s AKASH KUSUM. There’re several wonderful songs (‘Tomader konta asol konta nokol tomra nijey jano na … & others), fine performances by the lead cast (Soumitro, Uttam, Arati) & the supporting cast (Tarun Kumar, Subrata Chatterjee, Jahar Roy).

All in all, quite an absorbing fare directed by Salil Dutta.

Rating: 3.8 out of 5

PONKHIRAJ narrates the tale of three struggling friends – Sankar (Soumitro Chattopadhyay), Robi (Samit Bhanja) & Sunil (Santu Mukherjee). They run a garage – International Motor works in an area infested by evil persons like Mota Ghosh (Utpal Dutt) and others who are involved in a racket that steal and deal in cars.

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The film echoes influences of several Bengali films – from Tapan Sinha’s APANJAN to Ritwik Ghatak’s AJANTRIK to the much later Sandip Ray film UTTARON based on a Satyajit Ray story about the inability of the weaker section of society to purchase expensive medicines.
It is a sheer pleasure to watch the two greats of Bengali cinema, Soumitro Chattopadhyay and Uttam Kumar, in top form in the film ably supported by the strong cast of Utpal Dutt, Samit Bhanja, Santu Mukhopadhyay, Tarun Kumar and others. There’s Chinmoy Roy for comic relief.
The film mirrors the relentless fight that ensues between the evil and the righteous. When Soumitro says “Ami struggle korte chai, ami criminal hote chai na…” you feel the genuineness of the utterance. Robi is a gifted singer and rescues small child from unscrupulous employers. There’re moments of love and tenderness involving the protagonist with fine songs pictured effectively. Issues of child labor and need of education for such children are highlighted.
There’s murder and intrigue and much else in this watchable mainstream Bengali film. The end provides the director’s comment on his film – “Ei osamajik manush gulo ke amra jeno grina na kori” (We should not hate these unsocial elements of society). The film was directed by Pijush Bose.
Rating: 3.6 out of 5

Streer Patra (1973)

 

Streer Patro would translate as The Wife’s Letter. The story was written by Rabindranath Tagore, and the film was directed by Purnendu Pattrea (PP).

The epistle that the title refers to is the letter the wife (Madhabi Mukherjee) sends to her husband from Puri where she went on a visit with one of the relatives. In it, the injustices meted out to a female protagonist, a young girl Bindu who stayed with her and forcibly married off to an older mad man (Nimu Bhowmick) was mentioned, and she revealed that she would never return to family life as a protest.

The film was set sometime around 1910 and the sub-text has the Indian freedom struggle in the background. Madhabi delivers a stunning performance. PP uses stills and innovate camera techniques and fantasy elements reminiscent of the films of Mrinal Sen.

Rating: 4 out of 5

 

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There is a thematic similarity and continuation seen in the films of Satyajit Ray. The struggle of an individual to cope with unethical practices in his profession has been the leitmotif in several Ray works – Mahanagar, Seemabaddha, Jana Aranya, Ganashatru & Shakha Prosakha. Some sequences like that of the dinner table conversation between the father (Satya Bannerjee) & sons (Pradip Mukherjee & Dipankar Dey) could also be seen in later works of Ray like Shakha Prosakha.

Based on a story by famed writer Sankar, Jana Aranya (The Middlemen) is a probing work by Ray that delves into the innermost depth of the human conscience.

Some of the sequences of the protagonist Somnath Bannerjee (Pradip Mukherjee) scouring for a job & facing rejection amidst a huge number of applicants can also be traced in Mrinal Sen’s CHORUS (1974). But while MS adopted a playful approach in telling a topical tale about unemployment, Ray strikes a rather serious note and JANA ARANYA is bereft of any lighter sequences.

The supporting cast includes Lily Chakraborty, Robi Ghosh, Utpal Dutta, Aparna Sen and others.

Rating: 3.7 out of 5

 

 

A tale of reincarnation filled with mystery and great action sequences – sometimes on a train, at times in cars and camels on other occasions. This 1974 film has Soumitro Chattopadhyay delivering a superlative performance as Feluda and ably assisted by Santosh Dutta (Jatayu) & Ajoy Bannerjee and Kamu Mukherjee as the villians in supporting roles. The film is a blend of mystery laced in a historical travelogue.

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Rating: 3.8 out of 5

Postscript: In the two Feluda films that Ray directed – this one and JOY BABA FELUNATH – it appears that the villians were really chasing a fake treasure – was Ray making fun of the avaricious trait of humans in these films?