Crossroads of uncertainty

first_imgOne can identify the third generation of directors now at work after Satyajit Ray, Ritwik Ghatak and Mrinal Sen carved out an idiom for modern Indian cinema. But it is also time to assess what exactly has been achieved in the past 25 years. It was an era that began with Rituparno Ghosh producing a predominantly urban consciousness, starting with Unishe April. It was fed with talent growing on the small screen. Kaushik Ganguly, Atanu Ghosh and Arindam Sil were among the names seen on title cards of telefilms. It was the most visible medium for the masses that had witnessed the virtual death of popular Bengali cinema with the passing of Uttam Kumar in 1980 and later the decline of the crassly contrived drama that writer-director Anjan Chowdhury had turned into a magic formula. When that phase passed into history, something had to fill the vacuum. Digital era was yet to grip the lives of the urban young as it did in the early years of the 21st century. It was this vacuum that Rituparno Ghosh and his circle of admirers (read: aspiring directors) filled with a reasonable degree of success. Also Read – Drivers of the economyThat, in brief, would seem to be the contribution of the post-Ray third generation of directors who are still in business in the absence of their mentor who died prematurely in 2013. They had looked up to him for moral and artistic support and, to a large extent, were influenced by his cinematic style rooted in literary appeal, strong characters, lyrical tone and social and human concerns. At some point, however, they had to prove that they had concepts and craftsmanship of their own. Rituparno had presented a diversity that had, by and large, sustained the intensity of his early work. The question now is whether his associates and prominent names of the present generation can bring the same diversity with the same degree of artistic integrity. Also Read – The water pictureIt is here that Bengali cinema stands at crossroads of palpable uncertainty. This was not the question that was asked when films by Ray, Sen and Ghatak had become reference points for aspiring directors, actors and technicians across the country. Not everything that they did was glorified but no one had any doubt that they were creative icons. Ray spread his creative concerns over a staggering range of experiences with subtle elements of universal appeal. Ghatak developed a passion rooted in an inescapable sense of tragedy. Sen had commitments that gave his films an unmistakable stamp of artistic honesty. The generation that followed imbibed that spirit, however selectively. Aparna Sen had seen a lot of the cinematic environment before launching into direction with 36 Chowringhee Lane and confirming her artistic credentials in Paromitar Ekdin, Yuganta and Mr and Mrs Iyer. It was a harder grind for Goutam Ghose who had to go through a variety of experiences from acting to direction to commissioned work before rising to real heights in films like Paar, Moner Manush, Padma Nadir Majhi and Sankhachil. One can only wonder whether the post-Rituparno circle of directors is clear about the overall image that they wish to be judged by. The question arises when one finds potentially talented actor-directors like Anjan Dutt and Kamaleswar Mukherjee plunging into a variety of interests that cast serious doubts about their core concerns. Anjan Dutt had made an impressive start as a singer while relying on inspiration from Mrinal Sen to adjust his stage performances with the restraint demanded for camera in films like Kharij. But somewhere down the line, he plunged into Darjeeling-based drama, detective fiction and musicals in overlapping phases along with other assignments that confused the total picture and overshadowed some of his impressive work. It was much the same with Kamaleswar Mukherjee whose serious directorial attempts like Meghe Dhaka Tara had to be placed embarrassingly beside blockbusters like Cockpit and Amazon Obhijaan and the thrills of acting in Meghnad Badh Rahasya and Chaamp. This confusion has crept into the work of some of their contemporaries. Srijit Mukherjee, for instance, has been experimenting with unrelenting zeal but with hardly the kind of success that he can deservingly claim. Autograph, Jaatishswar, Rajkahini, Zulfiqar, Ek Je Chhilo Raja and Shahjahan Regency are just some of the films that have twisted the originals – either in terms of history or literature – to an extent that has made his work easily forgettable. Yet, they seem to come with a kind of notional success that has made the director a champion of supposedly bold but essentially barren experiments. On the other hand, Anik Dutta is a glaring example of a one-film wonder. His debut work, Bhooter Bhabisyat, scaled great heights both critically and commercially. When the subject was turned on its head with a blast of forced ideas (that was also the case with Meghnad Badh Rahasya), it claimed notice for all the wrong reasons. Into this cauldron of uncertainty, hope flickers from two sources – the films of Kaushik Ganguly and the Shibaprasad Mukherjee-Nandita Ray duo. They have left a steady trail of work that has claimed attention not because they test the intelligence of audiences but because they claim a measure of conviction. Not that they have anything in common apart from their predominantly narrative styles. But, by and large, they are clear about their artistic objectives. On rare occasions, Kaushik strays from those objectives. But there is no doubt that he would rather dismiss the odd misadventure and concentrate on his core strengths in Bishorjon, Shabdo and Apur Panchali that have fetched him a string of awards. On the other hand, Shibaprasad Mukherjee and Nandita Ray have managed to penetrate the mind and heart of the middle class in a manner that made Praktan, Belasheshey and Hami chart-toppers and left audiences expecting more from them. Surprisingly, their flair for off-beat ideas converted into popular scripts makes no bones about their interest in contrived drama. There is a sense of veiled logic woven into the stories with unmistakable polish that has been drawing audiences without aspiring for awards or critical appreciation in the real sense. If all these point to islands of hope in a sea of disarray, it is largely the climate prevailing in the industry as a whole. The biggest production house has run into unexpected problems with the head under a cloud. Veteran Soumitra Chatterjee soldiers on at 84, doing cameos for projects that disappear in a few days. Industry senior Prasenjit keeps looking for appropriate roles for himself and otherwise spends his time sorting out production-related problems in Tollygunge. Heroes Dev and Jeet have turned producers and keep explaining the losses that no producer wishes to acknowledge. The miracle that no one can explain is how so many failures can be digested. With two or three new films lined up every week, no one worries about the money being splurged. What one does worry about is how long all this will last – more so in the changing environment in which the industry finds itself. There is no doubt that a large section of the cinema in Bengal has acquired a level of technical skill and human appeal that can be compared with the work being done elsewhere. Atanu Ghosh’s Mayurakshi and ChurniGanguly’s Tarikh were inspiring examples of modest productions rising to excellent heights. But there is still a gulf between creator and consumer that needs to be bridged while the perception of an overall decline in public response needs to be destroyed. The relentless concentration on urban issues alienates viewers who may not relate to the experiences of the big city. The cinema now competes with digital attractions. Aggressive promotion of every new project is considered essential but may also lose the intended punch and turn out to be counter-productive. Individual agendas to be fulfilled within a limited time-frame are perhaps inescapable in a consumer-driven society. This applies mainly to directors who are desperately in need of work. It is also perhaps necessary to sustain a feel-good climate so that the wheel keeps moving. But it may not be long before the industry confronts the truth. There are too many examples which confirm that real success in the entertainment world comes from natural, rather than manufactured, appeal with the masses. Bengal is a treasure-house of timeless realities. The new generation with required skills needs to look in the right directions. (The author is a National Award-winning film critic and former Director, Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute, Kolkata)last_img


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