The Crisis Of Contemporary Bengali Cinema

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 Still from Moner Manush ( 2010)

The Bengali contemporary cinema has become so insipid, so trivial that it has forgotten the basics of film-making. The Bengali filmmakers as well as the filmgoers, both have almost no knowledge of film language or the formal expressions of cinema. The shots have no logic, the mis-en-scen no meaning, the light settings are arbitrary, the editing is mechanical and the sound is ad-hoc. People have forgotten that a film is not just stitching of pictures in a sequential manner to tell events from point A to point B. We can read instruction manuals for that. Cinema is primarily a poetic expression which has a basis of its own language, namely, the cinematic language. The contemporary Bengali films are devoid of any poetry, any beauty and any subliminal stimulus to the finer sensibilities of man. A 60 second advertisement has better things to offer audio-visually than almost any contemporary Bengali film. To quote Partha Chatterjee from fountainink.in, ‘The inability to understand the nature of cinematic language or the basics of scriptwriting seems to be at the core of all the structural and aesthetic problems troubling Bengali filmmakers these days. The end result is usually a static narrative in which people talk their heads off.

But what is more frightening is that the Bengali audience, who is devoid of any film culture and film education, champions this trash as ‘Art’. Production houses resist any change in the formulae, for which they have coined a specific term, ‘Bangaliana’. Any deviation from the norm is met with suspicion. New projects with high cinematic value and international viability are shunned suggesting the local audience is unprepared for any change. New filmmakers with fresh ideas are ignored or belittled.  The Bengali film industry seems to have no ambition to improve and reach out to the world. As a result we are seeing the slow death of cinema and the rise of mediocrity in Bengal.

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 Still from Gandu (2010)

The only possible exception is the films of Q (Gandu, Tasher Desh).  It will be futile to judge his work in a conventional critical framework as his films are reactionary to the current state of Bengali cinema. Hence his expression is more of a rebellion than that of an artist. But Q is on the right path and Bengali cinema would need more filmmakers like him. It’s time for a drastic change. It’s time we go back to the basics and understand the logic of cinema. It’s time that the new filmmakers, especially the debutantes, who are not yet contaminated by the system, churn out radical cinema which has international appeal. It’s time we speak in a universally legible cinematic language. An approach like this alone can save the downward spiraling Bengali cinema and the Bengali audience.

A few better films from Bengal post-2000

  1. Herbert (2006) by Suman Mukhopadhyay
  2. Dosar (2006) by Rituparono Ghosh
  3. Moner Manush (2010) by Gautam Ghosh
  4. Gandu (2010) by Q
  5. Shabdo (2013) by Kaushik Ganguly
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The Necessity Of A Universal Expression In Cinema

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Japan has produced some of the greatest filmmakers of the world. But the most well known Japanese filmmaker Kurosawa, is more Western than Japanese. Mizoguchi, Ozu and Naruse are much more Japanese in essence, than Kurosawa. Even in the Samurai genre Kobayashi is more rooted in Japan than Kurosawa. But the Western traits of Kurosawa’s work have made him more accessible to the audience outside of Japan. And thanks to that, the rest of the world knows about Ozu, Mizoguchi, Kobayashi and Naruse.

The same can be said about Satyajit Ray and Ritwik Ghatak. Ray’s popularity clearly lies in the fact that his body of work has definite roots in Classical Hollywood and Italian Neorealism, even though he is primarily working with Bengali literature. On the other hand Ghatak’s films are so deeply rooted in the socio-politics of post-independence Bengal, and the narrative style is so authentic to its local roots (melodrama in this case) that they become inscrutable and distant to the Western audience.

Two most important Russian film-makers from the post-modern era are Tarkovsky and Paradzhanov. Tarkovsky, by all means is beyond any comparison to any filmmaker from any era. But in the context of this topic a parallel can be drawn between Tarkovsky and his compatriot Paradzhanov. Both resisted Soviet interference in their films. Both the filmmakers’ created a visually stunning but highly demanding body of work. Their films can prove to be truly difficult for most audience. But where as Tarkovsky’s films are founded on the Western aesthetics and sensibilities of Russia, Paradzhanov’s films blossomed from the ancient cultural and traditional roots of Eastern principles. The widespread accordance to Tarkovsky’s canonical position and the unfortunate neglect of Paradzhanov may be attributed to this characteristic difference in their films.

Let’s look into Iranian cinema. It’s possibly safe to say that Majidi is more popular locally than Kiarostami, even though they both work with thoroughly Iranian subjects. Majidi’s films have a lyrical style based on his ethno-religious background, which hits the pulse closer home in Iran. But they fail to appeal to the Western sensibilities to a larger extent. Without the local context they seem to appear more melodramatic and less subtle. Kiarostami, in contrast, has been able to find a minimal, non-cathartic and neutral observant style, which breathes more profundity and poeticism in his films and almost always provide an open angle for contemplation and interpretation, which is principally a European ideology. Hence it is not difficult to understand Kiarostami’s high regards in contemporary Cinema, where as Majidi is greatly reduced in importance, even though his films thoroughly deserve much more attention.

The objective of modern Bengali cinema should therefore be to create a more Western and universal expression. The storytelling should become more open and subjective. We must at all cost avoid rigid, definite storytelling and let the audience have a chance to interpret the films. And we must stop making locally exclusive films. Even though we should make films on local subjects they must always be relevant to the rest of the world.