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No small wonder

If you grew up in the Sixties and the Seventies, you couldn’t have missed Tenida. He was the local dada, whose tales were as tall as could be, and whose antics were the stuff of every child’s dream. But if you missed out on one of the most popular fictional characters of Bengali literature, fret not. The man with the big nose likened to a mountain by his creator Narayan Gangopadhyay is right now looming larger than life in a theatre near you.

Actor-director Chinmay Ray’s Tenida has hit the screens almost 34 years after Umanatha Bhattacharya made Charmurti, featuring Ray as Tenida. For lovers of children’s literature, there is reason to smile, for children’s films long missing from Tollywood are coming back with a bang. “The genre is still popular even though it is still to be explored thoroughly,” says Ray.

The year 2011 was a trendsetter. Among the films screened were Haranath Chakraborty’s Chalo Paltai, Nitish Ray’s Gosain Baganer Bhoot and Sandip Ray’s Feluda film Royal Bengal Rahasya. Subhankar Chatterjee’s Handa and Bhonda was screened in 2010. This year promises not to disappoint either.

Director Nitish Ray has already finished shooting for Jole Jongole, which is expected to be released in the middle of this year. After the success of Gosain Baganer Bhoot which has been running in movie halls since December 9 he is now working on Mahakash Kando. Indranath Chatterjee’s Totoner Arekti Galpo will hit the screens in mid-August.

There’s more. Sandip Ray plans to make a film on Professor Shanku, another of his father Satyajit Ray’s much loved creations an absent-minded scientist who lives with his cat and manservant and falls headlong into adventure. “Shanku has a fan following too. Though I have not finalised the project, ‘Shanku’ is definitely in the pipeline,” says Sandip Ray.

The senior Ray’s detective Feluda has for long been a children’s favourite in books and in films. The first Feluda-starrer Sonar Kella was directed by Satyajit Ray in 1974. Ray also directed Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne (1968), based on a children’s book written by his grandfather Upendra Kishore Ray, and later shot a sequel Hirak Rajar Deshey (1980).

Those were the golden years of Bengali children’s cinema. But in the last two decades or so, film industry watchers believe that producers have been showing a lack of interest in the genre. Chakraborty recalls the difficulty he faced in getting a producer for Chalo Paltai, released last March.

“Commercial movies are always high on the list of priority for producers,” says Chakraborty, who found few takers for his children’s films even though his 1995 venture Raja Rani Badshah was a big hit.

One of the reasons for this is the belief that children’s films are not financially viable. Chinmay Ray recalls the trouble he had with his film Ding Dong 12 years ago. “The movie was never released. Now I am happy to hear that a distributor has bought the rights of the film and DVDs will be released sometime this year.”

Financiers believe another stumbling block is the high costs of such films especially in the use of special effects and graphics which appeal to children. Till recently, Bengal didn’t have the infrastructure for high-tech special effects, says Avik Bagchi, managing director of Prayag Group, which, among other businesses, also produces films.

“To fill this gap, Prayag Group has come up with the Prayag Film City in West Midnapore. This will house high-tech facilities and cut down the production costs of films, increasing profits,” says Bagchi. The first two scenes of Nitish Ray’s Jole Jongole were shot in Prayag City.

Nitish Ray’s foray into children’s films after directing cinema in different genres was the realisation of an old dream. “I had read the story some 25 years ago and always wanted to film it but got diverted by other projects. Moreover, it was difficult getting a producer,” he says.

But now producers many from abroad are coming in, enthusing directors, who are looking for new themes that will appeal to children. Finding a producer for Tenida was a breeze: Ramendu Chatterjee was willing to fund it, says Chinmay Ray.

“These films have a moral but they also give a director the space for his message,” he adds. “Tenida, for instance, is full of adventure but its aim is to pull children out of the fear of mindless superstition and to push them towards nature. Even when we impart knowledge, the humour quotient has to be maintained.”

There’s a lot to be done in the genre, adds director Indranath Chatterjee, because there are “green pastures” to graze on. And the magic, he adds, lies in the fact that these films appeal to everybody. “Everyone has a childhood that one wants to go back to,” says the director who had earlier made documentaries and corporate films.

Totoner Arekti Galpo, he adds, is a mix-and-match of stories culled from the works of Lila Majumdar, Ashapurna Devi and other writers. “In the process the script has become an original one.”

Some directors, however, are uncomfortable labelling these works as children’s films. Subhankar Chatterjee of Handa and Bhonda stresses that he never makes a film for a particular age group. “A movie should be such that it can be watched by the entire family.”

Sandip Ray too feels his films address both young adults and older people. “Feluda has been popular among all age groups. It is unfortunate that people think that there is less scope for such movies in the box office,” he says.

The director, however, admits that children’s movies are not an easy proposition. “That’s because children are very direct in their response. If they do not like a movie they will say so to your face and there lies the biggest tension,” he laughs.

It’s to be seen if children give a thumbs up to the new trend. “Right now, there is a stir among directors and producers to make children’s films,” explains Mainak Biswas, professor at the department of film studies, Jadavpur University. “But whether they are here to stay is something that we need to wait and watch.”