Millennium Post

Is Bengal losing out to National mediocrity?

There are the Filmfares, the IIFA and the Zee Cine Awards. And then there are the National Awards. The two cinematic schools of thought have always been poles apart and therefore have been treated very differently by movie enthusiasts.

While the former faces the flak of being commercial and therefore ‘low brow’, the National Awards carry the heavy load of being the only awards function that picks the best off the silver screen, a probable Indian version of the much celebrated Oscar. It is believed to be the clearest mirror to an industry that runs in the veins of this country, the changes in society, whose thought processes are best reflected in the award winners. It gave a rather controversial documentary on sex -
Love in India
- the awards for the film with ‘Best Family Values’. Got the point yet?

And over the years, as has been the case, the commercial films and the ‘art’ films have parted ways and moved miles in different directions. As have the award functions. All top actors rave more about a National Award on their mantle rather then a stock of Filmfares. The very moment an actor gets the ‘national award winning’ suffix to his or her name – that is a game changer.

In a lot of instances, the Indian nomination to the Oscars in the foreign language category has also turned out to be films that were applauded by the National Awards jury. This year however, the ‘self-serious’ (pardon the classification) had quite a few surprises up their sleeves.

- this year’s nomination for the Oscars was totally ignored by the jury, though it did boast of some stellar performances from both the lead actors. However, one must admit that India has not been sending winners to the international forum. Sorry – Lagaan isn’t exactly a star in our opinion.

Alternately, they did put a well deserved golden star on Tigmanshu Dhulia’s Paan Singh Tomar, on Irrfan Khan and Nawazuddin Siddiqui. Two actors who do not exactly shine on the glamour scale at Filmfares and other red carpets.

But here we will leave aside the Bollywood banter, and look eastwards. Regionally. Bengal seemed to have been very conspicuosly left out of the National Awards bandwagon this year. While Rituparno Ghosh got a special jury award for
Anirban Sengupta and Dipankar Chaki got the award for Best Audiography for the movie Shabdo. That pretty much starts and ends the list. I am sorry, but the Bengal support group is wondering what went wrong there.

Buddhadeb Dasgupta, director of award winning films like Kaalpurush and Tahader Katha, is not surprised at the lack of accolades for the Bengali film industry at the National film awards this year. ‘Our mediocrity has grown by leaps and bounds. Can you think of even a few Indian films which have done well at international festivals? Even Taiwanese films are doing well at Cannes,’ said Dasgupta, who is busy shooting in rural Bengal for his upcoming films
Anwarer Ashchorjo Kahini
and Trayodashi.

Other regional films aced and how! The Malayali film industry bagged 11 awards while the Marathi film industry picked six. Bollywood took 11 and not all were ‘art films’, mind you! The fact that Bengali films fell completely off the radar has raised quite a few eyebrows. Is it political or are we missing a link somewhere?

Bengali references and connections abound in Bollywood – take a Vicky Donor which had a Bengali female protagonist who spoke in abundance about her Baba and Pishi and even a Kahaani which was saturated with Bengal - Kolkata, the metro, Durga Puja – you name it – they had it. It is rather ironical when after all this, Bengal absurdly falls right off the consideration list! If there is a Bollywood lobby at the National Awards, we are wondering what made them pick winners the way they did. Were none of the releases in 2012 worth their screen time?

Bengali directors, however, are not surprised it seems. Legendary director Mrinal Sen said he doesn’t watch cinema of our times at all. ‘How can I comment when I don’t watch movies made today?’ said Sen, winner of four national awards. Sen has said on record that he might make another film too, since the last he made, Amaar Bhuvan, released in 2002.

Playing both sides, musician-turned-actor turned director Anjan Dutt, whose film Ranjana Ami Are Ashbona won three national film awards in 2011, rues that the real reason why awards are eluding us is ‘mediocrity’. ‘I don’t think any prominent Bengali film was made in the last 10 years. However, having said that I would like to add that regional films, like Punjabi films, are doing well. Also, take heart from the fact that Bengalis are doing well in Bollywood,’ said Dutt from the floors of his third film in the thriller series,
Byomkesh Bakshi.

Admitted there were no stunners that came from the eastern screens, but movies like Bhooter Bhabishyat, Hemlock Society, Abar Bomkesh and Dutta Vs Dutta were as entertaining as a Vicky Donor and a Ishaqzaade if not less. No matches for Paan Singh Tomar or a Kahaani, we agree. But were they exactly worth the blatant ignore.

Actor-turned-film director Arindam Sil also feels that there is severe lack of good Bengali films made in Kolkata last year. ‘Apart from from Hemlock Society, Ichche and Bhooter Bhobishyot, I can hardly remember a good flick that was made in Tollywood last year. Rituparno’s film
was the other good film and it did win a special jury award,’ said, Sil, who recently directed the film, Aborto.

A prominent political commentator, who did not wish to be named, is of the opinion that since the ruling party in West Bengal, the Trinamool Congress, is no longer a part of the central government, there is a possibility that in such a government sponsored award function, the bias might have spilled over.

Bengali actor Ushasie Chakraborty, however, feels that mediocrity is not the problem. ‘A lot of good Bengali films have been made last year. Movies like Ranjana Ami Are Ashbona did well in 2011, luck matters a lot in the case of awards. It didn’t work for us this time, but it will change by next year because a lot of good releases are lined up,’ she says. Naming directors like Kaushik Ganguly, Anik Dutta, Anjan Dutt, Indranil Roy Chowdhury, actors like Piu and films such as Phoring and Kangal Mangsat – Ushasie is hopeful for 2013.

A bit of hope and a lot of doubt still. Political or reasons otherwise, we just hope the Bengali film industry is not left high and dry next year.
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