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Bengali films seek new pastures

Commercial Bengali cinema is in doldrums, observes Saibal Chatterjee.

india Updated: Feb 23, 2006 19:31 IST

Does a film like Faltu serve any real purpose besides consuming some inconsequential screen time in sundry urban multiplexes? No matter what the glaring critical demerits of the film are, it probably does.

Despite the nagging suspicion that exercise reeks of tokenism, the nationwide release of Anjan Das’ screen adaptation of a well-known Bengali literary work by Syed Mustafa Siraj (which, famously, had once drawn the attention of Satyajit Ray) represents yet another significant, if small, step towards wresting a bit of space for regional cinema in the pan-Indian distribution network.

It is quite another matter that Faltu is a film that delivers itself too obviously for much negative punning on the title and lacks the steam to make a strong enough impact. Commercial Bengali cinema is currently in the doldrums, especially in terms of artistic quality, and it needs much more than a Faltu to alter the situation.

The signs are, however, rather encouraging. Purveyors of alternative cinema in Kolkata seem to be doing pretty well, with leading producers and stars from other major filmmaking centres of the country making a beeline to be a part of their ongoing or upcoming projects. That is a trend that began some years ago, but it only of late that it is starting to pick up sustained momentum.

Faltu   is a film that delivers itself too obviously for much negative punning on the title. It lacks the steam to make a strong enough impact.

Even as their new ventures assume a higher profile and greater viability, widely feted Bengali filmmakers like Buddhadeb Dasgupta, Goutam Ghosh, Aparna Sen and Rituparno Ghosh, among others, are into out-and-out experimentation mode. These directors are seeking to explore cinematic territories that are fresh as much in the context of Bengali cinema as a whole as in relation to their own previous work in the medium.

One of the more interesting pieces of news to come out of the Kolkata cinema scene lately pertains to Buddhadeb Dasgupta’s plans to helm a Malayalam-language film for National Award-winning Kerala producer Aryadaan Shoukath. Shoukath has films like TV Chandran’s Padam Onnu: Oru Vilapam (Lesson One: A Wail) and Jayaraj’s Daivanamathil (In the Name of God) to his credit. If the film does indeed get off the ground, it will represent a rare first. No Bengali filmmaker has ever made a film in Malayalam though the reverse did happen on one occasion. Remember the late G Aravindan’s Vasthuhara?

Well, the signs are that the world is shrinking for many other Bengali directors. The amazingly prolific Rituparno Ghosh, for instance, is about to begin work on the Hindi-English bilingual Draupadi, a film designed essentially for the global market. Rituparno is looking for actors from all of Asia.

Commercial Bengali cinema is currently in the doldrums, especially in terms of artistic quality, and it needs much more than a Faltu to alter the situation.

The hotshot director has, of course, already worked with Bollywood actors like Aishwarya Rai, Kirron Kher and Abhishek Bachchan. He is now giving finishing touches to

Khela,

starring Manisha Koirala. While in the case of both

Chokher Bali

and

Bariwali

respectively, a dubbing artiste dubbed Rai and Kher’s lines, Rituparno is believed to be using Koirala’s own voice for his newest film. So, is the language divide finally vanishing for good?

For Goutam Ghosh, that had happened several years ago. He is now making a Hindi film, Yatra, with Rekha, Nana Patekar and Deepti Naval. The lead players may be mainstream, the plot of the film certainly isn’t. It revolves around the encounters that a writer has in the course of a train journey. The film, Ghosh’s fourth Hindi film after Paar, Patang and Gudiya, is nearing completion and is expected to open in theatres across the country later this year.

In the wake of the disappointment over the stillborn Gulel and the high provided by the subsequent critical success of 15 Park Avenue, Aparna Sen is ready to branch out into another new direction with a Bengali film starring Sharmila Tagore, Soha Ali Khan and, surprise of surprises, Govinda. For Sen, Goynar Baksho (The Jewellery Box) promises to be a clean break from the universe that Mr and Mrs Iyer and 15 Park Avenue inhabit.

Another Bengali filmmaker who is seeking to break out of the confines of regional- even national- boundaries is actor-singer-director Anjan Dutt. He is in the midst of filming The Bong Connection, a film that is being tipped as Bengal’s first serious contribution to Indian ‘crossover’ cinema. Being shot in Kolkata, Santiniketan and Houston, Texas, the film deals with the questions of cultural identity and personal imperatives that face Bengalis settled in the US of A.

That age-old clash of cultures dilemma probably also mirrors the predicament of those Bengali filmmakers who are essentially globally oriented. They are people who have grown up on cinema from around the world, but are faced with a shrinking domestic market. Insularity is the last thing they can afford. It is, therefore, only natural for them to seek pastures outside their state and region. At the present juncture, things appear to be panning out just right for these filmmakers. But the final outcome will hinge entirely on how well their films are packaged, positioned and promoted when they are ready for distribution.

If they go the Faltu way, the end title card of this story can only read trouble with a capital T.