Retrospective: Bhuvan Shome

Someone I know distinctly draws a difference between ‘films/movies’ and ‘cinema’; with reason, in my humble opinion.

In a nutshell, films are synonymous with light entertainment, frivolity, not too much thinking (mostly none at all in Bollywood). As the mob says ‘Paisa Vasool’. Cinema on the other hand stirs you, makes you think, form an opinion and elevates your artistic sensitivities. There’s the third breed- not quite sure what to call it- which sort of does both in some ways.

I recently watched Bhuvan Shome, Mrinal Sen’s breakthrough work. It certainly falls within the purview of ‘cinema’ and is considered to be a landmark in ‘Modern Indian Cinema’. I am not sure if I liked watching the film though.

My exposure to the celebrated quartet of the Bengal film fraternity , viz. Satyajit Ray, Ritwik Ghatak, Mrinal Sen and Tapan Sinha is mostly limited to Ray’s work. So I have consciously decided to explore the others. Particularly Sen and Ghatak.

Bhuvan Shome, I believe, ought to be a good starting point. But I think after watching too much Ray, it is perhaps difficult to appreciate another director from his era. Not to say, all Ray movies are consistent cinematic experiences. Shatranj Ke Khiladi is thought to be a masterpiece, by and large. I found it’s pacing too slow and repetitive.

Anyway, back to Shome. I am not aware of technicalities of cinema. I base my likes and dislikes mostly on the charaterisations, the plot, the music, the narrative and at times camerawork (cinematography in technical terms?).

Bhuvan Shome could not have been better portrayed by anyone other than Utpal Dutt. A rigid, uncompromising man who unintentionally becomes a comic relief under circumstances. Suhasini Mulay, as the beautiful village belle with a mind of her own also does justice to Sen’s vision.

The plot and (sub plots) is quite relatable and timeless: metamorphosis of a man and his ideals, the thin line between having morals and being moralistic, the vanity that comes with position, loneliness and it’s repercussions.

The background score could have had more of Gujarati folk songs rather than classical scores. Gouri humming a song while stitching perched on jhula, unaware of the presence of the man, she’s transformed, is definitely a lingering frame.

Sen is known for introducing a lot of experimentation in his narrative techniques. There is Amitabh Bacchan’s, now famous baritone, making the audience aware of Bhuvan Shome, the man. There are close-up freeze frames of Dutt, cigar dangling from his lips, thinking his thoughts out loud. There are illustrations satirizing the protagonist’s mundane and routine life as an ‘afsar’ and the real time in which the story takes place. Gouri, too is freeze-framed quite a few times. So many different perspectives hampered the flow of the film for me. Also some sequences such as the Cart-ride, the chasing buffalo, the walk through the corn fields, the bird hunting soujourns were way too prolonged.

There is one long shot of the two leads walking through the sands to get close to the birds. That was one moment when I thought the film should have been made during the age of technicolour.  Dutt’s all white traditional Gujarati outfit and Mulay’s presumably colourful ghagra-choli amidst vast expanses of sand would have looked haunting with colour.

In conclusion, can’t say it was a wholesome cinematic experience for me. Interestingly enough, not so long I saw Ek Din Achanak, Sen’s not so well-known 1989 film. I had liked it quite a bit.  I plan to watch Mrigaya next.

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