Over the last few months I enriched my repertoire of what I call New Wave Urban films of Bengal. The first part of this broad topic concentrated on the same. I watched some new releases by the directors I discussed and some not so recent releases.
I had mentioned films by Shiboprasad Mukherjee, but did not really discuss him. He definitely demands more than a mere mention. I watched his Icche (was on my wish list for long) but missed out on his new release viz. Alik Sukh. Anik Dutta made his second film; as sharp and satirical as his Bhooter Bhabishyat. But he probably set too high a standard for himself with his first venture. Ashchorjo Prodip didn’t garner the frenzy of Bhabishyat but it was not an entire failure either.
Srijit released two more. Both were well received. I was all but overwhelmed with Mishwar Rahashya, and am yet to see Jatiswar. Raj Chakrabarty came out of his Southern remake mode and gave a good film in Proloy. And I can go on and on.
But today I intend to write about the ones who took the reins of ‘Parallel Cinema’ since its decline during the late 70s and continued well past the turn of the millennium. Most of them continue to make films till date and have been joined by a few young guns as well. At the onset, I must admit that I am not too well acquainted with the works of most of these filmmakers. But, nonetheless, I have some impressions.
The first name that comes to my mind is Buddhadeb Dasgupta. He made a short called Samayer Kache in 1968 but started his film career in 1978 with Dooratwa. His early films are known for its hard-hitting realistic depictions that make you cringe. I have not seen any. But I often used to see my Mother shudder while she spoke of Neem Annapurna, his second feature. Kaalpurush is the only Dasgupta film that I have seen. Dreamy, surreal, soul stirring. The shift from real to surreal with the passage of time, I suppose.
Some say he is a better cinematographer than a director. He’s not too bad as an actor either! Yes, Goutam Ghose. In fact, I have come to admire him in the capacity of a character actor after watching 22 e Srabon and Ekla Akaash (bad movie, good performances). I cannot comment on his works as haven’t really seen any. But he definitely kept meaningful cinema alive when it was having a tough time and still continues to do so.
Aparna Sen is the only lady who features here. Perhaps the sole director, most of whose works I have seen. Although her latest offerings viz. Goynar Bakso and Iti Mrinalini bored me to death, I generally have a high regard for her. 36 Chowringhee Lane, her 1981 directorial debut, tops the list. Never have human vulnerability, selfishness, longing, loneliness and the need for company been better portrayed on screen. Jennifer Kapoor outdid herself. The young Dhritiman and Debasree too played their parts well. The last frame of the lonely woman walking past Victoria Memorial with the dogs for company…I still get goose bumps! I have not seen the films she made till 2001. Paroma, being the most celebrated during the period I have no idea about. Her preferred medium has been mostly English with the turn of the millennium and the stories justify the choice: Mr. & Mrs. Iyer, 15 Park Avenue and The Japanese Wife. All three were well-made films with heart-wrenching themes.
On a personal level, I found his exhibitionist attitude ludicrous. I also did not quite understand why did he have to imbibe themes of his own sexuality in the films he made post his on-screen debut as a transgender in Just Another Love Story, including the effeminate Byomkesh in Satyanwesi. But some of Rituparno Ghosh’s films kept the flag of credible cinema in Bengal fluttering high during the 90s and early 2000s.
The three films I love the most are Dosor, Khela and Abohoman, in that order. Other picks would be Shubho Mahurat and Bariwali. There are some films which I have tried to watch time and again, still want to, but somehow ended up watching bits and pieces such as Unishe April, Utsab and Titli. Some I could never sit through; such as Raincoat, Shob Choritro Kalponik and Chitrangada. Two of his most celebrated works- Chokher Bali and Antarmahal– have consistently put me off. Maybe, one of these days I will shed my pre-conceived notions and give both of them a try. And another thing, I sort of think he should have given Tolly stars more exposure rather than roping in Bolly biggies for his own marketing and publicity benefits. After all, they were the ones who helped him make a name for himself in the first place!
During the mid 2Ks, there emerged a director by the name of Suman Mukherjee. His debut film Herbert, made critics and intellectuals sit up and take notice. Based on Hungrealist Nabarun Bhattacharya’s eponymous novel, Herbert, till this date remains one of the best Art House films I have ever seen. Engaging, poignant, real yet surreal, Mukherjee drew out a killer performance from perhaps one of the most under-utilised actors in the industry: Shubhasis Mukherjee. He followed Herbert up with Chaturanga, Mahanagar@Kolkata and most recently Kangal Malsat. He’s perhaps the Kubrick of Bengal! Controversy is his second name. I have seen Mahanagar@Kolkata. Not as captivating as Herbert and definitely not meant for ones who believe Kolkata to be the ‘City of Joy’. Kangal Malsat brewed up a mini-storm and I am yet to know what all the fiasco was about. And I would like to see Chaturanga as well.
Anjan Das. Again, I have seen none of his works. But he belongs here by all means. His most noted films are Sanjbatir Roopkathara, Iti Srikanta, Faltu and Jara Brishtite Bhijecchilo. All these were made during the 2ks. Prior to becoming a feature-film maker, Das was a docu-specialist with considerable success in the International circuit. Someday, I hope!
The youngest of the lot is probably Bappaditya Banerjee. I have seen but portions of a couple films viz. Kaal and Kagojer Bou. From the little that I have seen, his story-telling seems to be non-linear with surreal props at times. Honestly, doesn’t interest me much.
This definitely does not exhaust the list of ‘purist’ Art House directors of Bengal. Shekhar Das’s Mahulbanir Sereng, Krantikaal and Kaaler Rakhal ought to be mentioned here. I am sure there are a few more.
Some make an honest effort but come up with substandard and kitschy stuff (eg. Ekla Akaash, Tobe Tai Hok, Krishnakanter Will etc.).
And then there are those who are neither too arty, nor absolutely urbanized and not even blatantly mindless. I can’t recall any right now though. Bengal is back on the cinema map by all means.