Archive for the ‘Cinema techniques’ Category

parashuram

(Pix src: mrinalsen.org)

I recently saw the 1979 Mrinal Sen directed PARASHURAM on Youtube. It is generally considered as a lesser work in the ouvre of the veteran filmmaker. Watching the film, I found several strands which MS uses in this particular work, that find recurrence in many of his later films, some of which are considered to be among ‘his very best.’

PARASHURAM (THE MAN WITH THE AXE) is a tale of the sub-altern migrants in a city. Many of them were small time farmers who couldn’t sustain a livelihood back in the village. The influx into the city hasn’t improved their conditions, and they have been reduced to pavement dwellers in a city which prides itself on its moniker ‘The City of Joy.’

But does joy embrace the life of these have-nots, or wretchedness pervades their existence? No Indian director excelled in weaving humour around a central ‘grim narrative’ like MS, the light-hearted moments providing relief and yet contributing in the progression of the storyline, showcasing the dreams and aspirations of the protagonists. Probably this story-telling style is an ode to Charlie Chaplin, a favourite of the director. Though in his earlier CHORUS, MS had used a gimmicky style quite innovatively, some of the characters in that film were from the upper echelons of society. In PARASHURAM Sen has focused his lens on the pavement dwellers and brings in certain tenderness while narrating their life stories which are otherwise harsh – this technique was used in great abundance in his last film AAMAR BHUBAN. A particular shot of Sreela Mazumdar framed against a wall  is reminiscent of a similar shot of Shabana Azmi in KHANDAHAR (1983) which became iconic a few years later.

The non-returning of a woman to her home, which formed the main narrative of the masterful EK DIN PRATIDIN (1979), also finds appearance in a sub-plot in PARASHURAM. Allegorical use to represent class struggle and its inevitable destiny, surrealism that reflect the mental conditions of the protagonists and such devices, have been skillfully used to broaden the context – from the individual to the collective.

Through some of the characters in the film, the director seems to be making a critique on modern existence. When the elderly character of Bibhas Chakraborty narrates to our ‘Parashuram’ a tale of the missing girl being rescued and saved from a devastating flood in her early life, yet she couldn’t be saved from the magnetic pull of the cities (she elopes with her lover) later, the underlying social message does come to the fore.

Overall, such a grim subject on pavement dwellers runs the risk of being boring and sentimental, but it’s to the credit of the director that he elevates the film to become an authentic celluloid document of the homeless in our metro cities. The growing homelessness across the globe is a major challenge to cope with for developing / developed country.  For example, in the National Capital Region of India where I live, even now each year several homeless people die during the harsh winters – something that is a blot on our society.

As far as I recall, this is probably the only film the private Marxist filmmaker (as Mrinalda liked to describe himself)  has made that has a direct reference to the Hindu religion, the titular character being a reincarnation of Lord Vishnu and though being a Brahmin was known for his warlike traits. Whether the protagonist in the film succeed in vanquishing all the adversaries like the character from Hindu folklore, one would refrain from divulging such details and would recommended watching the film, which despite the harshness remains a work brimming with hope and despair, cinematic novelty and an authentic portrayal of the marginalized, often viewed as the dregs of society.

SG

Rating: 4 out of 5

Excerpts from an Mrinal Sen Interview:

Tell us about your latest film.

Ans: My latest film – a kind of fiction- documentary combine- called PARASHURAM, depicts life on the city pavements. The pavement dwellers are mostly rural migrants who once were landless farmers and who are now reduced to the level of the sub-proletariat community. The leading character, not by any chance my protagonist, once killed a tiger with him axe while felling trees in a jungle. It was just on an impulse that he killed the tiger. But, as everybody knows, Parashuram’s crusade against the Kshatriya’s was an act of retribution. My job in the film was not to look for the militants among the rural migrants. It was just to make a few valid socio- economic points and, in the process, to be critical of the soul-killing system prevalent in our society and also to develop respect for the circumstances in which my characters live and perish.  In a way, the film also tries to portray the concept of an average man who, suffering humiliations all his life, indulges in pitifully impotent fantasies. I wanted the film to be funny and grim.

Read more at: https://www.deccanherald.com/metrolife/metrolife-move/auteur-mrinal-sen-indian-712015.html

shabdo

I have watched Kaushik Ganguly’s SHABDO umpteen numbers of times. I rank this film very highly and feel this is as ground-breaking a work as Ray’s PATHER PANCHALI & Mrinal Sen’s BHUVAN SHOME. The two main protagonists in the film are a dedicated foley artist and a lady doctor, who is trying to diagnose the debilitating condition of the foley artist, where the foley man seems to be lost in his own acoustic world, unable to appreciate and communicate in real world situations. The doctor too is extremely dedicated and the deteriorating situation of her patient affects her tremendously.

The film gives an insight into technicalities and contribution of sound engineers in filmmaking. Ritwik Chakraborty and Churni Ganguly enact the protagonist. The supporting cast includes Victor Bannerjee, Raima Sen, Srijit Mukherjee and others.

Rating: 4 out of 5

DANGAL (Hindi, 2016)

Posted: August 17, 2017 in Cinema techniques, Hindi films

On Independence day I saw the money-spinner and much feted blockbuster film of recent years – DANGAL. Based on a true story, it is basically a tale of triumph of the human spirit against all prevalent societal norms seen through the story of a stern once-upon-a-time wrestler father (Amir Khan)  who toils hard after his two daughters since their childhood to make them top-notch wrestlers – something unthinkable of in a patriarchal Hariyanvi society. Quite an inspirational tale – every countryman should know and get influenced positively…

Did I like the film? I would have to reply in the negative at this self posed query. Why? … I felt that this three hour long biographical sports film could have been far more effective as a 30-40 minutes documentary. Sustaining interest in a film for three hours can be a challenge for the viewers and unless you have made a SHOLAY (to give an Indian example) it is bound to disappoint. Even Martin Scorcese’s brilliant biographical sports film RAGING BULL with a superlative performance by Robert De Niro had a running time of two hours. In that film there were sub-texts of personal problems of the protagonist boxer with his wife and his brother woven into the narrative to make it cinematic. DANGAL goes on and on about training sessions and the brooding father’s often uncompromising persona acts as a killjoy, making the film a far from pleasurable experience.

Rating: 2.8 out of 5

An exchange with my friend on FB:

Gaurav Dey Purkayastha Actually I read in an interview with one of the daughters that the film barely portrayed a fraction of what the sisters had to go through. Unlike you, however, I think this movie is a tour de force for Amir Khan’s acting.

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Subhajit Ghosh
Subhajit Ghosh This is a personal opinion..
The huge popularity of the film and the glowing press it received certainly puts me in a minority

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Subhajit Ghosh
Subhajit Ghosh Gaurav
As a film buff I am intrigued by the question ‘What makes a ‘great’ film’? I feel if you have to tell a great story, write a book. If you want wider reach (which btw all of us do) use the medium of TV. And these days you also have the web to reach everyone across the globe.
IMHO the best of cinema need to incorporate newer devices and innovate story-telling mechanism to make it engaging. When a Kurasawa re-creates a Shakespeare or Satyajit Ray makes a film on Tagore they incorporate ‘their’ thinking into such stories. I hear that the director of DANGAL changed the ‘climax’ from the original story. This is just to make it more melodramatic …
Actually my preference in films (Fellini, Chaplin & the early Mrinal Sen & …) have generally been those ones which tells good stories through innovate methods and humor. To give a Bollywood example, I hugely enjoyed Dibakar Bannerjee’s first film KHOSLA KA GHOSLA …

NAYAK1

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 …

NAYAK

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

 

 

Praktan.jpg

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.

chalchitro

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.