During the 1980s, Doordarshan used to telecast award-winning films on weekend afternoons. I was around 10 years old then and, to be honest, was more fascinated by the commercial fanfare of Amitabh and Mithun than waste my time in watching those dimly-lit films which seemed to have an imposed seriousness in them.
During one of those afternoons, suddenly a scene caught my attention. A poor villager who had come to Calcutta for work with the only contact address he had on a chit of paper loses it in a crowded railway station. His frantic search, his helplessness, his anxiety was being brilliantly portrayed by the actor which impacted the mind of a boy.
I sat down to watch more. The film just gripped me and what I saw subsequently — the river crossing scene with the pigs — hit me so deeply that the first seeds of understanding the impact and power of cinema was permanently etched in me. The film was Goutam Ghose’s Paar and the actor was none other than the great Naseeruddin Shah.
That film changed my outlook towards films.
Cut to many years later, that would be in the mid-’90s. I faced a crossroads in life. I now seriously wanted to be a filmmaker, but then on the other hand I had just got admission for a PhD programme in economics at Cornell University.
Of course, for my family the choice was obvious but the youthful rebel in me thought that there was little doubt about the fact that being a filmmaker was my call in life.
Just to confirm this, I gathered all my courage and called the director who had first sown the seeds of film mania in me.
I took out the phone registry and called Goutam Ghose. He was kind enough to meet me but what followed in the meeting deeply disappointed me. Rather than encouraging me to follow his path, I distinctly remember what he had said. “You see, Suman, filmmaking is a very risky career. Since you have got into one of the best universities of the world, I would advise you to go to Cornell, and if you have it in you, follow up filmmaking later. Don’t leave this opportunity to go to an academic place where students all over the world just die to get into.”
I came back from his Gol Park apartment — grudging his words. I had no other choice — I did go to Cornell. Only years later did I realise that it was such mature advice he had given me at that point.
Alongside my PhD curriculum, I took my filmmaking courses and five years later I called Goutam Ghose again and asked him to allow me to be a part of his films. I had diligently followed his advice, now it was payback time! He took me in as an observer for Dekha. That was my introduction to Tollywood.
Ever since, I have been in close association with Goutamda and I have come to know what true ‘passion’ means.
He is that breed of intellectual whose knowledge base not only encompasses films but literature, music — both eastern and western — and, very importantly, history. All of these elements coalesce and find expression in his work. He is a restless mind who viscerally needs to react to the world around him.
In recent years — whether it be Kaalbela, Yatra or Moner Manush — his political and social consciousness is really something which today’s filmmakers can imbibe. He keeps on incessantly harping on his point of view.
Who else would have the guts to make a film on a sage in this world of sensationalism and marketing gimmickry? It’s another matter that Moner Manush became a runaway hit but knowing him personally, I can guarantee that rather than the commercial calculation it was the need to convey the relevance of Lalan in today’s world of religious bigotry that made him embark on such an ambitious project.
Let me give another specific example. There is a character in Yatra who is a mere labourer in a construction project who was a very accomplished sarangi player of yesteryears. What a wonderful way to represent our cultural degradation.
He told me later that that character was inspired by a real person. Such sensitivity is seriously lacking in today’s films and directors like Goutam Ghose are the last vestiges who possess that.
His knowledge and passion for the technical aspects of filmmaking is unfathomable. When I ask him some minor things about camera or technology, he just goes on and on.... Honestly, after a point I just relish the passion, oftentimes forgetting the actual question. He is arguably one of the best cinematographers of the country. Apart from his own films, who can forget his wonderful camerawork in Aparna Sen’s classic Mr. and Mrs. Iyer?
I am not delving into his documentary films which have won him so many National awards but the basic point which comes out in all his work, in whatever form, is the artistic honesty.
That feature which we need so much in any form of art today.
In the early 20th century, the legendary Russian filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein had coined a term called “kino fist” which alluded to the power of cinema to deliver an effective punch. Shunyo Awnko released on Friday. Let the audience be prepared for another Goutam Ghose “kino fist”.
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