Millennium Post

Old whine in new bottle

The urban Bengali audiences are flocking the theatres to watch Bengali cinema, primarily at the multiplexes (where ticket rates are high) and also at single theatres like Priya, Prachi, Nandan and some others. Films that don’t boast of super starcast, films that are essentially director driven are getting more attention and a good recovering cost. There is a general happy feeling in the cine circle of Kolkata.

I am not very sure whether it’s the same in the suburbs. I am also not certain as to how the hot shot producers and distributors of Tollywood are reacting to this. The mainstream industry in the 80s focused primarily on hardcore potboilers targeting the absolute bottomline and since the 90s resorted to remake Telegu or Tamil potboilers. They have been commercially viable, thereby actually keeping the industry kindle burning. Apart from Satyajit Ray’s
Goopy Bagha
and Feluda series, Aparna Sen and most certainly Rituparno Ghosh were perhaps the two ‘knights’ who broke the so-called ‘art cinema’ barrier and ate into the popular sector with urban sensibilities for middle class Bengali audience. They surely can be referred to as the fore runners of this current resurgence. That was in the 80s and mid 90s. Films like 36 Chowringhee Lane, Paroma, Unishe April and Dahan once again after many years saw the middle class urban Bengali flocking the theatres.

Then came the 2000. I decided to make up for all the mistakes that I had committed in my first attempt
Bada Din
and make amends to my audience whether in Bengal, Bangalore or Baltimore with The Bong Connection. We didn’t manage to reach either Baltimore or Bardhaman in big way but the urban, educated Bengalis came forward. With me was my colleague Aniruddha Roychowdhury with his Anuranan which also created a big stir. Very honestly there was no vehement attempt from my side to be ‘populist’ or ‘glossy’ but rather to be ‘contemporary’ and as Satyajit Ray always stressed on ‘good humour and good taste’. By then I had worked with some of the world acclaimed filmmakers like Mrinal Sen, Buddhadev Dasgupta, Gautam Ghosh and Aparna Sen to understand what ‘good taste’ is all about.

Since then many new, fresh and young filmmakers have flocked the scene with their own urban sensibilities, some uniquely successful like Srijit Mukherjee. Today, there are many young producers coming forward to finance low budget but urban and sensible cinema. It is up to us to keep the fire burning and push the budget.

I am 58 now and as I grow older, things that are of utmost importance to me are these strange things called ‘good taste’, ‘intelligent humour’, ‘honest artistic expression’ and a ‘world view’, no matter what it is. To me my audience will always be as sensitive and intelligent as me. Nothing is perfect, let alone movies. There will be flaws. Movies will have mistakes. But an honest expression will always reach out to some. That ‘some’ needs to be nurtured so that it reaches out to more people. The media today is busy making celebrities out of any and everybody. It needs to be pampered all the time and hence it won’t be able to predict or nurture a truly talented person. The real and true talented people will have to walk alone for a long time till the audience comes forward and appreciates them. And it is this
talent who will decide the future of Bengali cinema.

At the moment it all seems rosy. But are most of us choosing the right cut? Are we choosing to stick by good taste? Are we telling the stories that we desperately want to narrate from our souls, irrespective of what the industry feels is ‘saleable’? There are a lot of encouraging financers emerging. But we still don’t have a Harvy Weinstien to help or guide us find our market. We have designations flocking the market with laptops and Blackberrys who label themselves as Executive Producers or Creative Producers. But how many of them actually know their jobs and can steer the course of Bengali cinema? We filmmakers are still a bunch of individuals who have to etch out our own destiny and also take responsibility of the future.

This article is turning out to be one long lecture but much of that has got to do with my age and a gnawing fear that my time has started ticking. All I can finally say is that I am deeply grateful to my past that has given me a great, meaningful and beautiful cinema. I respect my audience who get swept away by the superficial but also have hearts that can be touched. I love and respect my younger colleagues like Srijit Mukherjee, Kaushik Ganguly, Sumon Ghosh, Aniruddha Roychowdhury, Parambrata Chatterjee, Anik Dutta, Mainak Bowmik, Birsa Dasgupta, Somnath Gupta, Amit Sen, Kamaleshwar Mukherjee, Suman Mukherjee, Sujan Mukherjee, Atanu Ghosh, Aditi Roy, Arun Roy and all those whom I have left out or are aspiring. All I hope is they, no matter what they do, don’t ever confuse a cheap whiskey with good old scotch. Both can give you a high.

Anjan Dutt is a rockstar/film maker of Bengal.
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