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Our Phalke is no more, Ranchi mourns

- Burial mass for Father Steve van Winckel at St Xavier’s chapel today

Jesuit priest, bursar of St Xavier’s College, Ranchi, and pioneering filmmaker — 92-year-old Father Steve van Winckel was all that and more.

When the Belgian-born priest breathed his last at a Mandar hospital on Tuesday morning, a pall of gloom descended on former students as well as filmmakers in the state.

Though not many were aware of it, the priest used to, nearly half a century ago, go around capturing moving vignettes of popular tribal fairs around Ranchi with a Super-8 camera.

“Those are really worth viewing,” said Meghnath, a national award winning filmmaker of Ranchi who had the privilege of seeing the priest’s footage of Murma Mela, a well-known annual tribal fair and Jangannathpur Mela, organised on the occasion of Rath Yatra.

“I also saw his film on agriculture methods of villagers and was impressed by the sounds he captured,” Meghnath said, adding that he had a “tremendous aesthetic sense so far as the texture of a film was concerned”.

So impressed were those who saw his works that two former students of St Xavier’s College made a short film on him and named it Our Phalke.

“He was a pioneer in filmmaking in the region as Dadasaheb Phalke was in the country. So we named the film Our Phalke,” said Seral Murmu, who graduated in film editing from Pune and made the documentary on the priest jointly with his friend Kundan Munda, who works in a bank.

“I also had the opportunity to view some of his short films like New Horizon and It Can Happen,” Murmu said, adding that one of his films was about a poor boy who fought all odds to educate himself.

What struck Murmu was the priest’s attachment to his Super-8 camera that he shot all his films with. And the fact that he did not treat films as a medium of entertainment only, and always maintained that they should be purposeful.

“He recently saw Taare Zameen Par and appreciated it as the teacher in the film helped realise the dreams of an apparently weak student,” Murmu said.

Winckel was given the lifetime achievement award in documentary filmmaking by Celluloid Chapter, the oldest film society of the state based in Jamshedpur.

A condolence meeting has been organised on Wednesday morning for the priest, which will be followed by burial mass at the college chapel in the afternoon, St Xavier’s authorities said.