Thursday, 19 February 2009

Tapan Sinha, the Legend

Not about Ray, Sen or Ghatak; nor about Eisenstein or Hitchcock – I just thought of talking about the filmmaker, as a breather, who taught the so-called average Bengali intellectual the way to “see” cinema, in his very typically simple, yet wordful, songful way. Tapan Sinha.

It has just been over a month of the demise of the legendary filmmaker. He passed away on the 15th of January, 2009. Hence, many are likely to view this post as a sort of a tribute to the grand old man, and though I personally would have liked to believe that to a great extent, I suppose, it can hardly be called anything more than a mere talk about Sinha’s films and style.

Well, as usual, firstly a little about “me, me and my”! Given that, I’m from the generation which availed television from their very baby-hood, I really can’t remember the first film I saw, nor for that matter, the first work of Tapan Sinha. I remember watching many movies in the early shows of Sunday matinee on Doordarshan. So, it could have been either of ‘Kabuliwala’, ‘Atithi’ or ‘Golpo holeo shotti’, all making equally likely events in this problem of probability.

A lover of poignancy and beauty, Sinha gifted us with some of the most unforgettable scenes created in Indian cinema. A boy with a flute in hand, his garb askew and lazily uncared for, his hair ruffled in rhythm with the riverside breeze; his eyes lost, as if in flight with the birds soaring high above in the sky; and a song he is singing in his still adolescent voice “dhora diyechhi go aami aakashero paakhi…”. ‘Atithi’.

A child of six to seven years old, his lean legs debarred of strength enough to stand, is struggling to get rid of his disability. A dedicated doctor trying to heal him, is yelling at the kid, as if something far greater than his professional knowledge is at stake for this one case. “Kaar laagi bolo utola, ke tumi boshi nodi kule ekela…”. ‘Kshaniker Atithi’.

Three unemployed and ruthless young men, who have drifted off in the wrong paths and a poor widowed old woman. They develop a bond in a strange course, ultimately coming to a tragic end. ‘Apan Jon’.

An Afghani vendor of dry fruits, develops a deep bond of affection with a little girl, in whom he finds his own daughter back in Kabul. “Kabuliwala, Kabuliwala! Tomar jholay ki aachhe?”. “Ha ha ha! Khoki! Haamar jholay haathi achhe, ghora achhe…”. A worn out five rupee note and a more fragile bit of paper, with the finger imprints of a child, together make the most treasured possessions in the world of a father. ‘Kabuliwala’.

How a harmonium is passed on from one person to the next and then to several others and finally back to the first owner… alongwith the harmonium, scratches of the lives of each of the owners, all joining to give us a view of the multifaceted life of the metropoly. A Ruskin-Bond-looking Anil Chatterjee walks outside his own abode and listens as Arundhati Devi plays the harmonium and sings in her plain voice, “Mon bole aami moner kotha jaani na…”. ‘Harmonium’.
Two trains stationed alongside each other leave in opposite directions, as a couple, long-divorced yet linked somewhere still, split off for the second and the last time, never to meet again. Two bone-china cups, in which the couple had sipped their tea together, just a few minutes ago, sitting in the station waiting room, are washed by the waiter and then are carefully hung from two hooks well separated by several other cups in between… ‘Jotugriha’.

A disheveled middle-class joint-family household, where every member is engaged in trifle feuds with every other member, making it on the whole a ridiculous cacophony of mismanagement. It goes through a remarkable transformation as a benevolent cook comes to their service, bringing back the terms "time-management" and "discipline" to their lives and most importantly “peace”. ‘Golpo Holeo Shotti’.

A young woman who is molested late one evening in office, handicapped in the due course of the aftermath, presently confined to a wheelchair, is treated by a crusading doctor, emotional support being the most important healing agent in the treatment. An unnerving tale of pain and optimism. ‘Wheelchair’.

Oh! Now that I’ve started, I just can’t stop myself from ruminating about all those bits of Sinha that have struck me, moved me, shaken me and have left a mark on me for my lifetime. The list, as you know, goes on and on. Much of Sinha’s work was considerably inspired by Tagore. The love for beauty in him had found expression through the works of the great poet and philosopher.

The most notable aspect about his films, as is discussed widely, is the wide diversity of the subjects that he worked upon, this inspite of the fact that he didn’t make more than forty films. From children and childhood on one side (eg., ‘Kabuliwala’ and ‘Atithi’), to comedies like ‘Golpo holeo shotti’ on the other, moving on to simple tales like that of the gardener in ‘Banchharamer Baagan’, and again to themes like that of ‘Jhinder Bandi’ revolving around the dark ploy of a royal family, to detective chronicles like ‘Baidurjo Rahasya’, making a deep contrast with the psychological turmoil that a middle-aged, middle-class couple goes through when their daughter is kidnapped in ‘Antardhan Rahasya’… Sinha’s first film was ‘Ankush’ (1954), which was based on a story by Narayan Gangopadhyay and had an elephant as the protagonist. His last project was ‘Teenmurti’, filming Soumitra Chatterjee, Sabitri Chatterjee and Manoj Mitra, but though he finished the screenplay and the music recordings, the work remained incomplete as he suffered from ill health during the last days of his life. He had been married with the renowned actress Arundhati Devi, who breathed her last a long time back.

Not to mention that it was Sinha who discovered a great many fresh talents, like Partha Chatterjee, Samit Bhanja, Satabdi Roy and many others. His films had another marked feature – music. Often, Tapan Sinha himself preferred to direct the music for his films, but whether he did it or not, music certainly had always been a marked aspect: accentuating the enchanting ambience of his films.

A director of the commoner, his name is somehow carefully placed apart from the queue of Ray, Ghatak and Sen, but his films have popularised simplicity combined with art and intellect among general public. He was awarded the Dadasaheb Phalke award in as late as 2008, the year before his demise. His last film ‘Teenmurti’ is to be completed by director Raja Sen as had been insisted by Sinha himself. Well, not too sure if Sen will be able to do justice to his film, accomplished director though he is, and fit enough to take over the reins. But, the scene where a breathless Nirmal Kumar - will anything like this be made again? (and that's a looming question mark we are left with) - is running behind the bus carrying away Ruma Guha Thakurata and the little boy; he keeps running and running until the bus picks up speed and moves further and further away; unable to compete, he comes to a halt, as the guest of transience bids him farewell… Guest of transience, ‘Kshaniker Atithi’ that Tapan Sinha was.

P.S.: (Sincere apologies for the sloppy editing, friend. Glad you put it right!
- Sudipto)

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Rewind... Fast forward

I've been rather desperate to get down with writing some movie reviews for the past two weeks, given that my diet of cinematographic pieces, old and new, has been rather steady-- at least, one a day, and on some, two-- for the same period. Whenever I watch a film that I really like and have something to say about (which isn't always: some I love, but don't have anything to add in the form of appraisal or criticism), my temper gets a bit itchy unless I get down to the job. Given this nugget of a fact-- it's not without considerable restraint on my part that I've kept my promise of not writing a movie review after three straight ones preceding this current post! But, also, keeping in mind my record and inherent ability to be simultaneously dual, and possibly treading on what the great Siddhartha called the Middle Path-- this actually is a movie review, and a book review, and something more. Not with much of a disguise, I suppose. My aim is not to write the great mystery novel anyway. Enough of this bullshit beating about the bush and let's get down to the heart of the thing, if that's the phrase I was really looking for (if more-or-less avid readers find a shade of Wodehouse-ian humour in this introductory paragraph, it's not completely unfounded, let me assure you!)-- children.

Now, of course, children are cuddled by almost everyone-- as they indeed should be, till it doesn't start getting on their nerves-- but it's no small wonder when you start realising that the adjectives that qualify a little child are not just "sweet" and "cute". If anything, their ability to detect the true essence of almost anything that really matters is nothing short of uncanny-- I've met lots of kids who can make out good people from bad, though they can't of course articulate what it exactly is that makes a man good or bad in the first place. It is intuition that guides them in making choices like these, and funnily enough, they have little in the form of experience that helps them form an intuition. Isn't that a mystery then, how they know the very basics of moral judgement (be it in a rudimentary stage) without any external influence of any sort! To me, it is. That it is without any external influence is actually a great thing if you ask me-- the child's conscience still retains the pristine purity of something untouched by artificiality or evil, of any form. The sad thing is that in one of every thousand cases or so (or maybe an even smaller fraction-- I don't know what!) as the child grows up, his intuition is shaped by external factors, and shaped in a bad way. Which, of course, is mostly due to a grave mistake on the part of parents. Instead of clearly telling the child what is right and wrong, most parents try to shield children completely away from all wrong-- knowing well in their hearts that evil is sure to creep into the untrampled consciousness of the little one sooner or later. 'Creep' is the word, because it catches the child unaware, slowly tempting him into falsehood and untruth, all along quiet and imperceptible. Wouldn't it have been better just to show evil for what it is, maybe in a suitable and subtle manner, and give the child a fair idea of what he must resist as he starts absorbing the 'practical' ways of the world? That's just one of the several complaints about parenting I have, but digress I must not (maybe, if time and my whim destines so, I'll post a long essay on the subject-- something which has been drafted and saved permanently into my memory).

So where was I? Intuition. Which brings me to another I-word: intellect. The intellect of the child far outshines that of the grown-up. Be it the willingness to listen to the yarns from old grandpa or grandma, the instinctive questions that prop up as he starts learning the basics of science, and in my personal opinion (one that is thankfully shared by many great philosophers of the day and yore), some of the deepest questions in philosophy-- where did we come from, where did he come from, and where do we go; why is it that the Earth has been chosen for human existence of all heavenly bodies that we do know of, and what exactly is it that we are living for... Too many questions, and not without surprise, too few answers. Or maybe, too few people capable of understanding the questions to even start thinking about the answers! Predictably, a lot of these questions are dismissed as random banter-- but of course, that couldn't be far from the truth. It isn't hard to see why the gurukul system admitted mostly little children (at least, that's what I know!)-- the guru knew well enough that the most thoughtful and intelligent questions would come from the little toddlers barely capable of speaking clearly, and that these little children would be both the most attentive and intelligent audience he could wish for!

Another I-word for the record: imagination. That a child has in plentiful! There is no bound to his imagination-- and even the most unnoticed and silent of objects lying about in the melee of our day-to-day life can fire up his own wishful world of seeing what adults can't. Uh, adults can see little anyway-- they spend all their lives chasing nothing, nothing of real value anyway, and die unhappy. Well, most of them do. They are interested in what they call the real world, and tax their brains on stock markets, success, fame, money, power and what not. They sometimes have loads of that, and still they want more. And still more. They do not see that happiness eludes them, that peace leaves them sooner than they could have imagined. Oh, I forgot, adults can't imagine! They scorn the child for his ability, and ask him to prepare themselves for the fruitless endless chase of whatever practical mumbo-jumbo it is that they pursue. Not for once do they see that reality extends beyond what meets the eye. Reality is, in essence, abstract; well, real reality is, anyway! You create your own reality, and what is real to one may not be to others. Isn't it wise to practise and learn the art of creating reality than seeing what every other average Joe can-- a reality that has been met with common consensus (which naturally, following the example of the highest common factor, stands as the thing of least worth)?? The grown-up does not realise this, but he is scorned by children far more than he scorns their apparent childishness. When a child imagines a thing that is beyond the realm of 'practicality' (in my opinion, one of the several catchphrases which most adults use without pondering over or even knowing it's meaning!), he silently taunts and challenges the grown-up. Some of the greatest innovations and discoveries have in fact been extensive evaluations of little observations that children noticed. Recall: James Watt was a little child when he noticed the kettle singing, and his mind suddenly wondered why was it so. Was there a ghost somewhere inside that made the kettle hum so, and rattle its lid about? From that grew possibly the greatest invention of the industrial revolution: the steam engine! Think of our little Ishan, the protagonist of Taare Zameen Par, who imagined a great lot and painted his imagination in bold colours!

The child's ability to feel and express emotions far extends that of his elders. Whether it be a sudden unprecedented smile, or the look of wonder at having discovered a little something that has a natural charm of it's own, the quiet serene look of having all that he needs in the world, the playful cackle that precedes a small act of mischief, the hung-down face on the brink of bursting into tears... It all identifies the capricious child, and sets him apart. None of it is plastic, there because it has to be there, made-up or silly! He encompasses the whole world in his own little expressions of joy and sorrow. He is the antidote to the cynic's bitterness, a little reason to live on between the madness of this world that is both unthinkably cruel and randomly kind. The child feels for his dear ones without knowing why he must. He has guilt and conscience, and when he has done a little something wrong, his face expresses it better than words can!

When the wise sage called children the messengers of God, he wasn't joking at all. If there is hope for mankind, it is in following the way of the children. In deciding what is truly necessary to be happy and contented, in simple little ways much like toddlers, and what is lumber and can be easily laid down for good! If there is one thing that you can start doing today, respect little ones. A little less respect to elders would do no harm, believe me. As for me, in the footsteps of countless philosophers, thinkers, artists and my dearest friend, I vow never to grow up! :)

In case you're wondering what made me write this post, there are a few people I'd like to mention, without taking their names. My most baby-like dear friend, of course, and a little niece who adores me, and another very sensitive little child I know. And some people who have years behind them but are still child-like in many an aspect. Among other inspirations: Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's The Little Prince, parts of Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner, and Majid Majidi's Bacheha-Ye Aseman (Children of Heaven). All lovely pieces about the delightful world of children. Makes me want to become a leedle kid yet again!

P.S.-- Now some childish banter on my part. I was expecting a wee bit of extra response to my previous post on Ikiru, ah but anyway... Now, I suppose, I can get back to movie reviews yet again.