The Reel India – Take 1
India is a country of many stories. Some thrive in the everyday life of the housewife, as a bead of sweat trickles down her face when she’s stirring the curry with her right hand and holding the baby in her left. Some lie stifled in the bated breath of the engineering student as he hits refresh on his results page, the fruit of two years of hard work just a click or a hundred away. Every story deserves a voice, and cinema in India for many years has been just that.
Regional cinema has some gems that are often lost in translation. The MIT Post aims to be the microphone that amplifies the voice of everyday India to a scale international. Here are some of indigenous cinema’s finest—transcending regional, economic, and linguistic barriers.
Home to silver screen heavyweights like Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen, and Ritwik Ghatak, Bengal is the snarling tiger of Indian cinema. What was once the hotbed of revolution, both literary and political, is now the fountainhead of some of bioscope’s finest.
Cloud-Capped Star (Meghe Dhaka Tara)
What is an artist?
Is it someone who caters to the masses or to the elite? Is he a humble servant of the people, or an arrogant recluse who believes his art to be untouchable? Kamaleswar Mukherjee’s dark psychological drama explores these questions by adapting the life story of one of Bengali cinema’s finest, Ritwik Ghatak, on whom the main character of the film, Nilkanta Bagchi, is based. Nilkanta is a man firm in his ideals – he considered himself a “People’s Artist”, declaring that his films will be the voice of a torn society and not a platform for entertainment that appeals to the baser instincts of the masses. Bagchi is a steadfast non-conformist, obsessive alcoholic, and borderline cynic, ruing the state of Commercial Cinema and the Bengal Government. ‘Cloud Capped Star’ is film noir in all its glory, emerging as a dance-off between light and shadow, showing the various characters in their own shades of grey. This movie boasts one of the finest feats of acting in recent Indian cinema— Saswata Chatterjee playing the protagonist. He artfully captures the manic obsession and crushing pain of Bagchi, a man who spends time in an asylum with invisible fingers clasped around his neck like a boa constrictor, steadily collapsing his lungs Critically hailed as a movie worthy of being a classic, replete with amazing imagery and artful direction, this is one for the ages.
The Re-Incarnate (Jaatishwar)
If there’s a name worth mentioning in the field of upcoming directors in India, it is Srijit Mukherji. He has proved himself by being one of the most critically and commercially celebrated filmmakers of Bengal, earning a National Award for Direction this year. Even though each of his films, ranging from the crime thriller ‘Baishe Srabon’ to the suicide satire ‘Hemlock Society’, deserves a solid mention on this list, the film we’ve picked is his 2014 musical expedition, ‘The Re-Incarnate’. This film involves two separate timelines stitched together, one documenting the life of folk singer Hensman Anthony, and the other featuring a man, Kushawl Hajra, who believed himself to be his re-incarnation. Both timelines face a head-on collision as Hajra spends nights tormented by memories of what he believes to be his past life.
Even though the two timelines, one set in the 19th Century and the other in present day Bengal, are drastically different in terms of socio-political and economic conditions, they share a common link—love, and its immortal pursuit. This heartbreaking story of a mind burdened with two lives, and a heart burdened with an incomplete love story is artfully told by means of music and deftly portrayed by veteran actor Prosenjit Chatterjee. ‘The Re-Incarnate’ earned four well-deserved National Awards. Two for Best Make-up and Best Costume design that brought 19th Century Bengal to the big screen, one for Best Male Playback Singer, and the last to Kabir Suman for his excellent music direction.
In ‘Ratatouille’, when the waiter asked Anton Ego what he wanted to eat, Ego purred like a lion, “You know what I’m craving? A little perspective. That’s it. I’d like some fresh, clear, well-seasoned perspective.” It seems that while Anton Ego was talking, Anik Dutta was listening. So closely, in fact, that it led to one of the freshest and wittiest comedies regional cinema has seen in a long time.
In the film, the eradication of grand old colonial-era mansions of Kolkata to make room for malls and apartment complexes results in an unexpected consequence. The ghosts that were popularly known to inhabit these old buildings suddenly have nowhere to go. Of course, there is no “rehabilitation package” from the government for these homeless spirits because, well, ghosts neither vote nor pay taxes. Old ghosts are, after all, not the aged spirits men normally prefer.
This lack of shelter leads to a mixed-bag of ghosts, ranging from a stately zamindar from the time of the British Raj to a ‘free-spirited’ young girl who killed herself over lost love inhabiting one particular mansion. Absolute pandemonium and comedy ensues. ‘Bhooter Bhabishyat’s success spread like wildfire across Bengal, and people were pulled in by the point-blank humor, subtle innuendo, and the dash of social satire that the movie had on offer. It involved a good deal of English and Hindi to go with the Bengali, breaking the language barrier to the extent that you can set aside one lazy Sunday afternoon for this film, letting these spirits thoroughly intoxicate you.