By Nitya Chakraborty
Buddhadeb Dasgupta, one of the most talented film makers of Bengal who stirred the international film festivals year after year with his films of ‘other kind’ passed away in his South Kolkata flat on June 10 morning during sleep. He was 77, ailing for the last five years due to his severe kidney problems, was on dialysis, but till the last days, he was mentally active dreaming about new subjects, relating to lonely people, extraordinariness of the ordinary and the changing relationship of individual with surroundings- that can be close relations or nature or some objects of the past.
Buddhadeb was two years younger than me. That way, he belonged to my generation. We underwent the same turmoil in Calcutta of 1960’s during our growing up years. I could very well understand the agony and ecstasy of this film maker in his earliest films beginning with Duratwa and Grihayudhha. I had one long meeting with Buddhadeb in early 1980s at a bar in Park Street hosted by a common friend who was involved in a documentary with him. The meeting lasted more than three hours with drinks and dinner. That was the only interaction of mine with Buddhadeb in the last forty years.
He was softspoken but firm. He knew what he was planning to make. By that time, he was already a national figure, but this did not show up in his manners.
He was a great fan of Luis Bunuel, Akira Kuroshowa and Ingmar Bergman. I told him about my Film Society background and my role in holding as an active member of Federation the French Film Festival in 1966. Buddhadeb also became a member of Calcutta Film Society in his college days. We discussed about films. He told me at that time itself that he was more interested now in exploring the minds of the common people. Every person is fascinating to me. I observe them and try to understand something special ingrained in them though they seem apparently losers to the outside world, he said.
After that 1982 meeting, I have not seen him in person but made efforts to see all his films, but two or three, I missed. But all these films depicted Buddhadeb in a different avatar far removed from his initial stint when he was a chronicler of the turmoil of the Bengali middle class of that period. In the first three films of political nature Duratwa, Grihayudhha and Andhagali, the society with all its torments of the time came into the films. The impact of the naxalite period of sixties and seventies, was all evident in different forms. But after that, Buddhadeb reinvented himself and came back to his own self which he continued till last.
Just yesterday, I was going through one of his interviews given last year. He said that I do not like materialistic persons. I am fond of characters who may be losers but keep their dreams intact till the last. Ghunuram of Baghbahadur, Shivnath of Tahader Katha all represent Buddhadeb himself. The filmmaker was a success in international festivals, but he was not a commercial success. There were hints to him for making films of a bit mix kind for making them marketable, but he refused. He was a dreamer like all his characters. He was ready to lose, but he will do that with his head high and dreams continuing.
Only this year, I saw his film Janala (The Window). I was stunned. Because of the pandemic I was working from home since March 2020. I was seeing lot of foreign films in OTT in the last one and half years of pandemic and only the day before, I finished a thriller on US presidency House of Cards in Netflix. It was fabulous. Then suddenly, I was shifted through Janala to a surreal world which I Iost decades ago. I identified myself with the hero who wanted to do something for his old school but had no effective means to do that.
He used his girlfriend’s bank deposits to fabricate the window on the same design he remembered this now broken window had. He was not an imposter. Just he was looking for a breather to earn more and deposit that money to her girlfriend’s bank account. He was disheartened. Neither the school management appreciated him nor his girlfriend who really loved him, understood. There was no villain in this film Janala. They are all ordinary human beings with their respective strengths and weaknesses. But they are all prisoners of circumstances.
My view is that Buddhadeb has many commonalities with Satyajit Ray though they have a differing approach. Ray had his honours in Economics from Presidency College and then went to Shantiniketan for his arts course at the persuasion of his mother. Buddhadeb did his M.A. in economics and for a short time, taught in a college. He left his teaching job in 1976 at the age of 32 and plunged into film making. He was a poet from his school days and by the time, he entered film making, he was already known as a thinking poet. Similarly, Ray plunged into film making in early fifties but he was already well recognized as a great art director.
Ray’s father the great Sukumar died when Ray was barely three years old. Buddhdeb’s father was a doctor of the railway hospital. He did not give enough time to his children including Buddhadeb. When his father came to know that Buddhadeb had resigned from the lecturer’s job to join wholetime into film making, he stopped talking to his son. But Buddhadeb was determined in his mission. He came out with his mastrerpiece Duratwa which got him his first national award. In his 2005 film Kalpurush, he showed in some form the estranged relationship between a father and his son and the film had some reflection of his own relationship
Buddhadeb’s mentor during his Scottish Church College days was Prof. Tarun Sanyal, who apart being a great teacher of economics was a leading poet of that period. Buddhadeb spent a lot of time with him. Tarunda, who was a fantastic orator, had a large collection of music, both classical and western. Buddhadeb had long discussions with Tarunda on everything that was relevant in late sixties. Prof; Tarun Sanyal certainly played a significant role in moulding the thinking of Buddhadeb as a poet as also a film maker.
Satyajit Ray was ailing for nearly eight years before his untimely death in 1992, but during this period, apart from lot of writing, he did complete three films Ganashatru (1989), Sakha Prasakha (1990) and Agantuk (1991).The last film was made one year before his death in 1992.Buddhadeb was ailing since 2015, with his dialysis continuing. But he was active all through and in 2018, he made his last film Urojahaj which showed his same grip over the film medium and his visual power. Both the film makers, in their own ways contributed to the understanding of the individual, the society and the relationship in a materialistic world.
With Buddhadeb passing away, now Goutam Ghosh and Aparna Sen are the only two of that generation who are in a position now to make films showing the same level of sensivity. The opening of OTT platform has given a big opportunity to the film makers with new ideas. Some of the young film makers have come out with outstanding films. The present political and social situation offers a good opportunity for creative young people. Bengal does not lack in creative talent, but they are not smart enough to seize opportunities. This is the right time for the real talents to take the plunge in OTT platform. (IPA Service)