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The road to Kolkata

Will Sen and Ghosh ring in better times for Kolkata directors in Hindi cinema, asks Saibal Chatterjee.

india Updated: Aug 16, 2003 18:07 IST

When Aparna Sen and Rituparno Ghosh make the transition from non-mainstream Bengali films to the glitzy world of commercial Hindi cinema, they will only be appending a new chapter to a tradition that goes all the way back to the early years of moviemaking in India.

Yet, their move will not be without significance: over the past few decades, Kolkata filmmakers haven't tasted much success in the big, bad world of Hindi films. Will Sen and Ghosh turn the tide?

Kolkata's links with Mumbai cinema began in the silent era itself. The setting up of New Theatres in the early 1930s by BN Sircar cemented that fruitful interface. A spate of Hindi-Bengali bilinguals rolled off the pioneering studio's busy floors in the wake of the arrival of sound in Indian films.

The studio also gave Hindi cinema a phalanx of exceptionally influential directors, notably Debaki Bose, Nitin Bose, Bimal Roy and Hrishikesh Mukherjee. Ever since, filmmakers from Kolkata have contributed their mite to India's national Hindi-language cinema despite an unmistakable tapering off of their clout in recent years.

It is in the context of the current level of interaction between Bollywood and Tollygunge - it is clearly lower than ever before - that Sen and Ghosh's decision to try their hands at mainstream Hindi films must be seen.

Sen is on a high following the critical and relative commercial success of her latest directorial venture, Mr & Mrs Iyer, which has fetched her an enviable clutch of National Awards. It is not without reason that she is a much in demand filmmaker.

The prolific Ghosh, too, has emerged as one of Bengal's most sought after directors, thanks to a steady stream of tautly scripted, well-made and commercially successful films. On the shoulders of the two directors now rests the onus of putting Kolkata back in the national reckoning.

Ghosh, currently in Locarno Film festival with his latest feature, Chokher Bali, will kick off his Hindi filmmaking career with an Anil Kapoor-Kareena Kapoor film tentatively titled Kaaya.

Sen is all set to helm an Ajay Devgan-Saif Ali Khan starrer, Gulel. While this will be a first for Ghosh, Sen did release a Hindi version of her controversial but critically acclaimed Bengali film, Paroma, in the mid 1980s. Paroma clicked at the box office, but the Hindi Parama was hardly seen.

That has indeed been the fate of most Hindi films made by Kolkata directors in recent decades. Way back in 1969, Tarun Majumdar, one of Kolkata's most successful filmmakers, made Rahgir, a remake of his own Bengali hit, Palatak (1963). Rahgir bombed despite garnering rave reviews.

Fate was kinder to Majumdar when he remade his biggest hit, Balika Bodhu (1967), in Hindi a decade later. It achieved a fair degree of commercial success, but that wasn't enough to open the floodgates either for him or other Kolkata directors of his ilk.

Another well-known Bengali filmmaker who occasionally sought to make his presence felt in Hindi cinema was Tapan Sinha, but big time success never quite crowned his efforts. Films like Zindagi Zindagi, Sagina (a remake of the Bengali Sagina Mahato), Safed Hathi, Aaj Ka Robin Hood and Ek Doctor Ki Maut fetched Sinha critical acclaim all around - but little else.

Internationally known Bengali directors like Satyajit Ray, Buddhadeb Dasgupta and Gautam Ghose have, over the years, created some remarkable films in Hindi without making any major breakthroughs. Ray's Shatranj Ke Khiladi, based on a Premchand story, has a worldwide following to this day, but it failed to make inroads in the domestic market when it was released in 1977.

Dasgupta has two Hindi-language films to his credit - Andhi Gali (the third part of a trilogy that includes Dooratwa and Grihajuddha, both made in Bengali) and Bagh Bahadur.

Andhi Gali is generally regarded as the weakest film of the trilogy and Dasgupta has blamed that on his unfamiliarity with the national language. Bagh Bahadur won the National Award for Best Feature Film of 1989, but failed to secure a decent nationwide release.

Much the same happened to Ghose's Paar, which won a National Award in 1984, besides much applause around the globe. His Patang and Gudiya fared much worse.

Ghose also made a Hindi version (Mahayatra) of the critically acclaimed Antarjali Jatra. While the Bengali film ranks among the best work he has done, Mahayatra is a forgotten footnote in his career.

When was the last time that a Kolkata-made film enjoyed commercial success on the national level? Between the mid 1970s to the early 1980s, Shakti Samanta, a Mumbai-based producer-director, made several Bengali-Hindi bilinguals - Amanush, Anand Ashram, Anusandhan/Barsaat Ki Ek Raat. All of them turned out to be money-spinners for the banner.

But clearly, the lows far outnumber the highs. Rituparno Ghosh, who is slated to launch a film with Amitabh Bachchan as soon as he wraps up Kaaya, and Aparna Sen have their tasks cut out.

They will have to draw upon all their creative resources if they are to regain even a semblance the pre-eminence Kolkata once enjoyed on the national stage as a filmmaking centre.

First Published: Aug 13, 2003 12:45 IST