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Remembering late Buddhadeb Dasgupta, on his birth anniversary

His art remains like a balm on a distressed soul and initiates a mind to dream, says film-maker Sohini Dasgupta

Sohini Dasgupta | Published 11.02.22, 04:24 AM
Buddhadeb Dasgupta with wife Sohini Dasgupta

Buddhadeb Dasgupta with wife Sohini Dasgupta

That date from 2003 remains spotless, vivid, cherished! With dreams clinging to my hair like clouds, I went to Buddhadeb Dasgupta, the poet-film-maker whose film Charachar (In Shelter of Wings, 1992) had drilled two wings in my head when a 13- year-old-me watched the film on a black-and-white Konark television. I watched it alone, on some lone Sunday afternoon, scheduled for broadcast of award-winning art-house cinema. I don’t remember if I had understood Charachar or not, what I remember is that I exploded with colliding emotions of elation and pain, thrill and calmness after experiencing that film! I cried and that felt so good!

Years later while studying English literature, for the first time I came across the word called “catharsis”! Charachar probably changed my genealogy, since that film I just wanted to run with arms spread wide like wings or fly like wings spread open like arms. Since then I wanted to make films; films that are so powerful that it can drill wings into heads — yes, that should be the power of cinema, and there lays the power of an auteur, Buddhadeb Dasgupta!

He had unknowingly gifted me a pair of invisible yet magnum wings which nobody and nothing could ever clip. Buddhadeb was looking for an office-cum-film assistant. I was probably the fourth or fifth candidate he interviewed where he had asked me questions that I had never asked myself, so I had no answers. My answers were instantaneous, triggered by my heart. Buddhadeb asked: “How far can you go for cinema? Can you starve, stay thirsty, forego sleep? Can you stand in sun, rain or just keep standing... for hours... and hours?” He asked further: “Cinema is not easy, you sure you won’t run away leaving cinema in mid-way?”

My wings fluttered, I looked into the eyes of this man sitting across me and I knew instantly that the internationally celebrated master film-maker, winner of numerous national and global accolades is a solitary poet, a wandering film-maker traversing his lovely lone journey shoulder to shoulder with his films and poetry.

Buddhadeb Dasgupta, born on February 11, 1944, in a remote railway township called Anara (District Purulia) to a physician father and a home-maker mother, was an imaginative, sensitive child from the beginning. Growing up on the diverse terrains of Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand, watching the forest fires in distant hillocks, immersed in the silence and solitude of the boundless arid topography and the uninterrupted sky, Buddhadeb had soon woven a world of his own, his dearest “secret second world”, his personal time and space in a realm of reality that was just his. This secret second world became the nest that would nurture the embryos of his future works of art — be it poetry or cinema, where he created an inimitable signature style that rested as much on the visual poetry of his films as on the socially relevant themes he highlighted.

Duratwa, Buddhadeb’s first film, has been marked as a turning point in the history and legacy of Bengali cinema. It achieved national uproar immediately and had soon become a prized work in international market, taking off from none other than the coveted Berlin International Film Festival. After the rich classical period of Indian independent cinema with films by the three masters — Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen and Ritwik Ghatak — there arrived the New Wave of Indian Cinema. Buddhadeb Dasgupta and his brilliant contemporaries stamped their advent with their very own take on content and style of film-making. They were young and experimental independent film-makers who challenged the overpowering control of narrative over visual language of cinema.

Buddhadeb, the then lecturer of economics, an illustrated poet and writer already, left the steady respectful job and decided to chase his dream — making films. Under his own banner, with the financial support of friends, family and well wishers, Buddhadeb made his first feature film, Duratwa (The Distance) in 1978. And, since then he had to never look back!

In Duratwa (The Distance), the protagonist of the film Anjali (Mamata Shankar) becomes pregnant by her lover who shows no interest in marriage. Anjali marries Mandar (Pradip Mukhopadhyay), a liberal, feminist, leftist social science professor. Later, when Anjali reveals about her pregnancy, Mandar gets caught in between a massive conflict — his left-liberal philosophy of life and his rights as a “husband”. Anjali decides to leave Mandar and single-parent her child. The film begins with a matchless voice-over given by celebrated actor Anil Chattyopadhyay, introducing the actors of the film and stating about the roles they would be playing. The city of Calcutta was introduced as the premise of the film, while the film got introduced as “just a mere film”! The originality and smartness of such a path-breaking treatment from its exposition to its end, the power of the content absolutely startled the film fraternity, nationally as well as globally. Duratwa triggered the journey of an auteur whose film language was starkly original, free from any influences of his powerful predecessors or contemporaries.

Buddhadeb’s body of work includes a gamut of exceptionally distinct films that evolved from strength to strength. His earlier films like Duratwa, Grihajuddha (The Crossroad, 1982), Neem Annapurna (Bitter Morsel, 1979) were distinctly urban, political and a critique of his time. Buddhadeb stylistically progressed with Phera (The Return, 1988), Bagh Bahadur (The Tigerman, 1989) and Tahader Katha (Their Story, 1992). From these films the auteur began flirting with his camera. His premises became rural India and its people. His shots got alluring and choreographic, the movement of camera creating a spell! The element of poetry was evoked and so was his way of toying with the known reality. In his own words, reality is boring and predictable. In his cinema he extended reality and surfaced a world that he would like to describe as a “shake of reality, dreams and magic”!

Uttara won him the Best Director’s award in Venice International Film Festival. Buddhadeb’s gamut of films will remain an experience whenever seen, which is organic, cerebral, aesthetic, creative, critical, unconventional and most powerfully, spiritual. His art transcends human minds to a zone elevated and bigger. His art remains like a balm on a distressed soul and initiates a mind to dream.

When I joined Buddhadeb Dasgupta Production, Buddhadeb had just bagged the best feature and best non-feature films national award for Mondo Meyer Upakhyan (Tale of a Naughty Girl, 2002) and Meeting Manjit, a documentary film on artist Manjit Bawa. Mondo Meyer Upakhyan got sold at record prize in the international market, was screened at Master’s of World Cinema category, Toronto International Film Festival, a rare achievement for an Indian film-maker until then.

He used to keep very busy, in airport transits all the time, yet I found him shunning the limelight. Choosing to stay away from the grandeur of the film industry, Buddhadeb quietly spent his time in his cosy office apartment. During this time, he started chit-chatting with me slowly and in a few days he would pour out his thoughts, those on art, life, love, loveless-ness, dreams, fears and what not. As we talked I discovered a superbly sensitive and unconventional man who was probably sitting and waiting for ages to find a new listener, an inspiration.

We fell in love pretty fast, got married eventually while cinema and poetry held that love, protected it in a tight embrace all through, till the end and beyond. Magic happens, reality gets extended with people ready to spread arms and fly. Fly away Buddhadeb. Fly towards an amazing new adventure once again, show how is it to love, to live yet another time. Your works will never cease from drilling unseen magnum wings into the heads of many many generations to come.

Buddhadeb Dasgupta Memorial Lecture will be held today at Nandan 2, from 5.45pm onwards. It’ll be followed by poetry reading and film screening

Last updated on 11.02.22, 04:24 AM
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