Bengali Cinema: From Satyajit Ray to Kaushik Ganguli I National Award Winners through a glimpse!

The Bengali film industry certainly has a lot it can boast of. Ever since its inception, it has dedicated itself to cinematic excellence. But why do we always forget that Indian cinema is way beyond Hindi cinema and has some crazy ideas that could match up to the international films that we love. Bengali cinema, over the years, has always managed to present a bold perspective towards the mundane things of life. It won’t be misleading to say that Bengali cinema has been way ahead of its time when it comes to its ideas and philosophy. Fortunately, the films that are mentioned are easily available and show an incredible variety of Bengali cinema from drama to thriller to subtle romance stories to crime pictures which will definitely blow your mind with its undeniable elegance. With master filmmakers like Satyajit Ray, Tapan Sinha, Ritwik Ghatak and Mrinal Sen, the cinema that churned out through them, and carried forward like a legacy had its own presence, producing some of the country’s best films.

 

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In 1954, when Chitta Bose gave us ‘Chheley’, which was the first Bengali Feature Film to win a National Award, he had no idea that he was marking a legacy of good cinema to follow. Starring Chhabi Biswas, Arundhati Debi, Bhanu Bandyopadhyay and Jahar Roy among the others, the movie is about a poor school teacher that had brought up an orphan. Unfortunately, the teacher discovers that he is suffering from tuberculosis, and he, along with his friend Rabin goes on the lookout for a person who could take care of his adopted nephew.

Satyajit Ray, the most influential filmmaker of Bengali cinema… In 1955, he gave us ‘Pather Panchali’…Even today, it features in lists like ‘Greatest Films Ever Made’.
In the same year, Certificate of Merit for Second and Third Best Feature Films in Bengali were also given to ‘Jadu Bhatta’ by Niren Lahiri and ‘Annapurnar Mandir’ by Naresh Mitra respectively.

After this came the entry of Satyajit Ray, the most influential filmmaker of Bengali cinema. In 1955, he gave us ‘Pather Panchali’ (English: Song of the Little Road) which is based on Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay’s Bengali novel of the same name starring Subir Banerjee, Kanu Banerjee, Karuna Banerjee, Uma Dasgupta and Chunibala Devi. ‘Pather Panchali’ was the first film of the Apu trilogy and due to lack of funds, the movie was produced by the Government of Bengal. It was among the films that pioneered the Parallel Cinema movement, which adopted social reality and originality. Even today, it features in lists like ‘Greatest Films Ever Made’. The National Award winning movie was also given the “Best Human Document” at the 1956 Cannes Film Festival, gathering a global audience for Bengali cinema.

 

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Ray’s contemporary, Tapan Sinha was also a brilliant director who bagged his first National Film Award for Best Feature Film in Bengali for his movie ‘Kabuliwala'(1956) which was based on Rabindranath Tagore’s short story by the same name. The plot revolves around a fruit seller from Afghanistan, who befriends a small Bengali girl who reminds him of his daughter back in Afghanistan.
In recent times, we cannot fail to mention directors like Kaushik Ganguli, Rituparno Ghosh, Aparna Sen, Pinaki Choudhury and Anjan Dutt. These contemporary Bengali directors are well known for their hard-hitting storyline and creating masterpieces with minute perfection.
World-renowned Rituparno Ghosh’s 1998 film ‘Asukh’ was a benchmark to Bengali cinema… It is the first film that brought AIDS into the industry limelight.

Kaushik Ganguly is the avant-garde and an ingenious director whose 2012 film ‘Shabdo’ won him his first award for National Film Award for Best Feature Film in Bengali. In 2016, he won his second award for the film ‘Bishorjon’. In both the films, Kaushik creates a unique imagery and something Indian cinema had never seen before. ‘Shabdo’ paints the picture of a foley artist whose job is to create ambient sounds for films, but later sees himself getting trapped in his world of sounds and then he loses his grip on reality. His films are customarily on the less elevated matter of contention, again creating history for the second time with ‘Bishorjon’. ‘Bishorjon’ portrays the story of love between West Bengal and Bangladesh after partition, where a Muslim man washes up on the Bangladesh side of the Ichhamati and is rescued by a Hindu widow.

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World-renowned Rituparno Ghosh’s 1998 film ‘Asukh’ was a benchmark to Bengali cinema in the last decade starring Soumitra Chatterjee and Debashree Roy. The film has a very simple plot depicting schism between a film star daughter and her father who reluctantly depends on his daughter’s earnings. The narrative revolves around the sudden illness of her mother for unknown reasons. It is the first film that brought AIDS into the industry limelight. The previous year before ‘Asukh’, Rituparna had bagged the National Award for the same category for his film ‘Dahan’ which was based on a rape survivor. He further went on to win National Award for Best Film in Bengali for his movies, ‘Shubho Mahurat’, ‘Chokher Bali’, ‘Sob Charitro Kalponik’ and ‘Abohoman’ in the year 2003, 2004, 2009 and 2010 respectively. Indeed, the world cannot forget a filmmaker as such.

 
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A singer turned filmmaker, Anjan Dutta, earned a kingdom for himself through his movies. His movies have imageries which can connect anybody to the rich Bengali culture. His 2011 ‘Ranjana Ami Ar Ashbona’ (English: Ranjana, I will not come back again) is a Bengali rock-drama starring Anjan Dutt, Parno Mittra and Lew Hilt. The film portrays a legendary Bengali singer who is arrogant, uncouth and a compulsive womanizer and his grey areas of the relationship with a young girl.
Director Aparna Sen has been a clear winner for her sensitive appeal in direction. She has received three National Film Awards and nine International film festival awards for her direction in films.
Most of the Bengali actresses even in Indian cinema are recognized for their exceptional beauty and talent, but some of these women choose to move beyond the limelight and have done remarkable direction. In the past few decades women too, have marked their presence and have taken over the film fraternity by storm in the otherwise male-dominated industry. Director Aparna Sen has been a clear winner for her sensitive appeal in direction. She has received three National Film Awards and nine International film festival awards for her direction in films. She has been directing films since her debut in 1981 with ‘36 Chowringhee Lane’ for which she won the National Film Award for Best Director. She went on to direct films like ‘Parama’, ‘Sati’, ‘Yugant’, ‘Paromitar Ek Din’, ‘Mr. and Mrs Iyer’, ‘15 Park Avenue’, ‘The Japanese Wife’, ‘Iti Mrinalini’, ‘Goynar Baksho’ and gained critical recognition. Her National Award winning movie ‘Paromitar Ek Din’ (lit. “One day of Paromita’s”, English title: House of Memories) beautifully describes the friendship between a mother-in-law and a daughter-in-law despite their differences. Sen’s specialization in complex human relationships can also be seen in her other National Award winning movie, ‘Yugant’ (English: What the Sea Said) portraying an estranged couple who lead separate lives in Cuttack and Bombay. After 18 months of separation, they meet again at a small fishing village where they had once honeymooned. They drift apart because of their career choices but secretly yearn for a reconciliation.
 
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With this list, we come to the realization that there is absolutely no dearth of creativity in Bengali cinema. The cinema of West Bengal, which is also known as Tollywood industry has created some spectacular masterpieces that have been critically acclaimed in India and abroad. However, most of the times, a lot of striking masterpieces come out, win various awards at national and international platforms and then disappear into oblivion without ever coming into the focus of attention. This list was definitely a must watch, not just for the Bengali community but for all the lovers of good cinema. Immediately add them to your viewing list!
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