Archive for the ‘Cinema techniques’ Category

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The year 1965-66 is an interesting phase for Bengali cinema in terms of experimentation with the medium. Mrinal Sen’s AKASH KUSUM (1965), Tapan Sinha’s GALPO HALEO SATTI (1966) and Satyajit Ray’s NAYAK (1966) showcases the penchant of these titans to incorporate new devices into the narrative. In this Ray work, one sees use of surrealism in abundant measure – the scene of the actor (Uttam Kumar) drowning in a pile of money or the sequence of the seductive actress (Anjana Bhowmick) haunting the actor among others …

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There is also a commonality of NAYAK with the much later film PRAKTAN (2016), exactly fifty years after the first was made, in that both these films are based entirely on a rail travel.

The film narrates the compromises an actor has to make to scale heights of popularity and the regimentation binding him to keep it going. Just see the sequence where the actor’s friend (Premansu Bose) takes him to address a group of agitating workers in his company to provide a morale booster and the actor doesn’t accede to the request of his good friend.

The aspect of the mega-star with a feet of clay also found echo in Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s GUDDI (1971)..

Rating: 3.9 out of 5

 

 

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A couple falls in love, gets married and thereafter separates. They meet quite unexpectedly fifteen years later on a train journey where the man (Prasenjit)’s second wife (Aparajita Auddy) befriends the former spouse (Rituparna Sengupta). A group of singers (Anindyo Chattopadhyay, Surojit, Anupam Roy), an elderly couple (Soumitro Chattopadhyay, Sabitri Chattopadhyay) & a newlywed couple on their honeymoon are also on this train bound for Kolkata from Mumbai.
The situation look somewhat implausible though the film remains immensely watchable. A highlight would certainly be that of Soumitro Chattopadhyay reciting Tagore’s poem HATATH DEKHA. A hilarious sequence is Sabitri Chattopadhyay’s attempt at speaking Hindi laced in heavy Bengali. In a TV show on Zee Bangla the Bengali director Prabhat Roy said “The technical qualities of PRAKTHAN is of a very high standard.” In the same TV show the actors who acted in the film revealed that the renowned art director Nitish Roy created such an authentic set that it looked like exactly like a real train.
The production work of the film was done entirely in Kolkata and use of drones were made of for the first time in Bengali cinema for high angle shots of landmarks of Kolkata. The supporting cast includes Manali De and others.

The film has been directed by the duo Siboprasad Mukhopadhyay – Nandita Roy.
Rating: 3.5 out f 5

Recently the versatile actress Geeta Sen passed away. Besides acting in the films of her husband Mrinal Sen, she has also acted in Ghatak’s NAGARIK and Shyam Benegal’s AROHAN. Kolkata DD showed her film CHALCHITRO recently as a mark of respect.

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The Mrinal Sen directed CHALCHITRO (Kaleidoscope, 1981) is a film that has not been screened in India previously as far as I know. It is a film that only a Mrinal Sen would have the courage to make. There is hardly any story so to speak, no attractive heroine features in it to make it pleasing to a viewer. But Mrinal Sen being Mrinal Sen, he has the rare ability to make the mundane the stuff of great cinematic material. Like Jean Luc Godard, MS captures life in everyday Kolkata with its vicissitudes, idiosyncrasies, humaneness and pettiness under the pretext of a storyline – the hunt of a print journalist (Anjan Dutt) for a story/scoop that is saleable. The editor of the newspaper (Utpal Dutt) likens modern life to a stock market – every aspect of it involve a kind of buying and selling.

“How many ovens are there in Kolkata?” The director also highlights environmental concern with rapid urbanization and use of unclean energy used for cooking during the late seventies. Gita Sen acts as the mother of the protagonist struggling to make ends meet for the family. The lives of several independent families all living under a common roof quibbling and sharing joys and miseries have been depicted aptly.

The film was screened at London and Venice Film festivals. Watching CHALCHITRO recently one felt sad for the demise of THE ACTRESS who brilliantly brought to life the quotidian characters in the films of Mrinal Sen, be it in CHORUS, EK DIN PRATIDIN or KHANDAHAR.

Rating: 4 out of 5

The older generation would recall the criticism of the late actress Nargis against our most celebrated filmmaker internationally, Satyajit Ray, saying something along these lines “Ray exports India’s poverty to the West.” The eminent filmmaker Mrinal Sen says “Poverty is a fact of life in India. My business as a filmmaker is to understand Poverty.”
Roughly around 70% of our country lives in poverty. How truthfully have our filmmakers captured poverty in the right perspective and depicted the resulting consequences of a life lived in penury?
I was watching the Satyajit Ray films APARAJITO & APUR SANSAR recently. The films are like an elegiac verse on celluloid. While unfolding the tragedy that befell Apu at several stages in his life, from a rather young age losing his sister Durga to the loss of his parents and thereafter his wife, the tenor of the films and the visual imagery in particular has a poetic quality about it. How does poverty and poetry merge into a cohesive whole in a realistic depiction can be open to debate. But we must not forget that feature films are not documentaries, and storytelling ought to incorporate several other devices – be it fantasy, lyricism or surrealism to communicate with viewers in newer and newer ways.

Ray as a pioneering depicter of poverty went the lyrical route in THE APU TRILOGY, while in his ASONI SANKET (Distant Thunder, 1973) he was more stark, probably influenced by the films of Mrinal Sen and Ritwik Ghatak.
With the exception of his last film (Amar Bhuvan) poverty as shown in the films of Mrinal Sen have a despairing tone (Baisey Shravan, Calcutta 71, Oka Orie Katha ..) even when he attempted narrating them in a light hearted manner (Chorus, Parashuram). Ritwik Ghatak was likewise bleak (Meghe Dhaka Tara, Subarnarekha) as was Gautam Ghose (Paar, Antarjali Jatra), Buddhadeb Dasgupta (Neem Annapurna) and Nabyendu Chaterjee (Aaj Kal Parshur Galpo) and a few others. Mira Nair captured the plight of street urchins of Mumbai to much critical acclaim in her SALAAM BOMBAY. Some of the films of K.A.Abbas, Raj Kapoor and Bimol Roy (Do Bigha Zameen) also revolved around the theme of poverty, though at times these filmmakers made use of commercial devices like heightened melodrama and songs to rope in a larger audience. The joys and hardship of the street children were effectively portrayed in Madhur Bhandarkar’s TRAFFIC SIGNAL.
In several films poverty has been shown to lead to debasement of the individual (Bicycle Thieves, Oka Orie Katha, Akaler Sandhane, Asoni Sanket) but did we really see a film where the characters rose above their misfortune to a higher strata in society? (Okay, the Dhirubhai Ambani inspired Mani Ratnam’s film GURU is a rags-to-riches story as are numerous commercial flicks like DEWAAR & their clones)
In the final analysis, poverty is a blur on our society. Filmmakers who use cinema as a weapon for social change can do a kind of association mining of how poverty correlates with debasement, and use the medium to contribute towards creating an awareness and possibly help the cause of alleviation of the social malaise. After all, cinema can truly act as an ‘agent provocateur’, and can bring about a positive social change.

The 1991 Mrinal Sen film MAHA PRITHIBI bears resemblance to some of the later films of Ray like GANASHATRU, SHAKHA PROSAKHA & AGUNTUK. In these films the two master filmmakers are seen reflecting on the winds of change sweeping contemporary society. These have been shot mostly indoors and verbosity dominates unlike their other works.
MAHA PRITHIBI shows the maturation and brilliance of a filmmaker in telling an incidental story weaving in the external forces (World Outside) into the drawing room of a middle class Bengali family (World Within).The usual Mrinalian signature style is all there – oscillatory/flashback mode, the probing of human relationships, use of newsreel and such devices, politics and violence.
Some of the sequences also seem a continuation of scenes that we have seen in the past. The scene where Soumitro gives money to his naxalite son in this film before he begins his journey as a fugitive is reminscent of the last sequence of PADATIK where the ‘differing’ father extends solidarity to his son (Dhritiman Chatterjee).
Sen conveys a lot visually in this film in comparison to his other works. Whether it is the sequence of the foreign returned son (Victor Bannerjee) inspecting the room of his dead mother, the fan in which his mother ended her life, or the unfilling of liquor on a potted plant the scenes are quite poignant in its communication of feelings.

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In assessing the tumult of the times where violence is an integral part of our lives, nowhere Sen seems to be judgemental but in the sequence of the boy Tinni playing with his gun cutting into a preceding newsreel report on violence Sen seems to be hinting that seed of violence and gun culture are imbibed in children since an early age. And there is no escape from it.
Rating: 4.2 out of 5

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(This review is written by my brother Smarajit Ghosh)     

Did Amol really fall in love with Charulata, his brother’s wife?

I do not think so, though I wouldn’t debate on that, especially without having read the story (“NoshtoNir” – by Rabindranath Tagore, written originally in Bengali) on which the film is based. And a film, as a medium of expression, just like literature, can be subjected to varied interpretations. That is never its source of greatness; and I’m definitely not the first one to realise that ‘Charulata’, as a film, is one such creation.

So what is it that makes it stand apart?

A film is like art in motion, a dynamic canvas trying to create impressions in your mind through the images and sounds that it presents frame-by-frame. And this film accomplishes that task to a superlative degree; right from the start where, over a few scenes, lucid camerawork and adroit focus capture Charu’s boredom and solitude with alacrity. Near-flawless compositions with occasional sprinkling of eloquent imagery, dominate the whole film.

Some of the most moving images are:

1) A singing Charulata going up and down on a swing, her feet intermittently touching the ground while a contemplative Amol lies at some distance on the ground. The camera covers this shot both from the front when we see only Charulata and also from the side when Amol dominates the frame with Charulata swinging in the background. It produces a dreamlike effect. This is the strongest metaphor of Charulata’s yearning for Amol.

2) Charulata’s recollection of her childhood which inspires her to write – a brilliant montage of diverse scenes, such as a river, dancing men, a village fair and fire crackers, juxtaposed over a big close up of her face.

3) The final freeze shot, symbolising the indelible fracture in Bhupati and Charulata’s marriage.

Music plays a significant role and qualifies most of the scenes.

Acting perhaps ceases to be of supreme importance in such a masterful work but the very fact of the film’s quality is testimony to good acting, though Amol (Soumitra Chatterjee) appears slightly theatrical in a few scenes and Bhupati’s mannerisms a little arcane in the context of contemporary Bengali civility (which is perhaps irrelevant).

Ray himself has talked of ‘Charulata’ as his most consummate work, and we can understand why. Here he successfully blends picture and music, with his usual fluent style of narration, to create a deft composition, which is both adroit and expressive – adroit in its adaptation of technique and expressive as a work of art.

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Meghe Dhaka Tara (The Cloud Capped Star, 1960) is a cult film among serious film buffs, and some film lovers and critics praise it so highly so as to put it among the ‘top 10 films in World Cinema.’ Do I agree? At the outset let me state that I think I haven’t ever seen a film as bleak as this. Based on a story by Shaktipada Rajguru, the film traces the post-partition plight on a family and the exploitation of Nita, an earning woman with a large number of dependent family members. Her sacrifices eventually lead to a tragic ending. I am eschewing a detailed storyline which can be found in several reviews on the film.

Technically, the film is rich and uses interesting interplay of light and shadow, innovative sound (especially ‘when Nita descends the staircase’ sequence), symbolism (the last shot where a girl similar to Nita fixes her broken slippers and walks away, the recurring motif of a passing train signifying the division between the two Bengals), inventive shots (Nita’s face appearing in a latticed window, Nita viewing through the window when her lover comes to their house etc.) and quite a few others.  There is plentiful of music as well, Rabindrasangeet and Indian Classical music, used to good effect.

I have some issues with the storyline as well. How come Nita’s elder brother Sankar (Anil Chaterji), penniless when he left the house, suddenly become financially stable, so as to be able to sponsor a trip to the hill station for both of them. The time span appeared to be short between the two events. We have heard countless stories of how hard it is to make one successful in a big, mean city like Mumbai from where Sankar returns.
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The actors perform credibly. Supriya Choudhury as Nita gives a soul stirring performance. Anil Chaterji as Sankar is terrific. Others in the cast viz., Niranjan Roy, Gita Dey, Bijon Bhattacharyya, Gyanesh Mukherjee and others are competent. The film does exhibit flashes of a genius at work, but for his pessimism and overt melodrama, Ghatak never figured in my favorite’s list.

Rating: 3.8 out of 5