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)


Tanmoy said...

Thank you Sudipto for posting this essay on Tapan Sinha. Despite gifting us with such nice films, the 'intellectuals' of Bengal never really talked of him that much. Even if they have, at least I have never come across many such articles as you have written.

In fact, each and every film of his was unique and he hardly ever repeated himself.

At some point of time we used to stay very near to his place in New Alipore. I still remember him driving his old Morris car.

He has gifted many favourite moments in Bengali cinema. Though in some of his films, actors overacted a bit but still somehow the entertainment value of those films were immense.

You have already mentioned most of his good work. Some of my favorite characters from his films were Soumitra as Mayurbahan in Jhinder Bandi, Manoj Mitra as Bancharam, Ajitesh Bandopadhay as Lachman in Haate Bajar, Pankaj Kapur as Dr. Dipankar Roy in Ek Doctor Ki Maut.

Tapan Sinha's films shall always have a special place among Bengali movie lovers.

Further, may not be in the same league but I feel Tarun Mazumdar is another Bengali filmmaker who is one of the better ones that we have. I think his Shreeman Prithiraj ranks as one of the best comedies ever made in Bengali cinema.

Sudipto Basu said...

Thanks a lot for the comment, Tanmoy-da, but this was written by Sayantani, not me. :) She is much more well-versed in Bengali cinema than me.

Tanmoy said...

My apologies for the mistake in the name. It was written in such a small font that I failed to notice.

Anupam De said...


Anonymous said...

I like your Blog! I just scanned through the blog, and I adored the way the blog is written. Be it Japanese Wife or Modern Times.
But this one on Tapan Sinha is really good! I myself was planning to write a thorough article on one of the most undermined film maker of our time. I am yet to see a handful of his films. Just wanted to let you know that a print of "Louhokopaat" has been recently released in the market by 'Shradha' videos.
It is a shame that it is rather unlikely that movies like Ekhoni, Amar Desh, Kaalamati will be ever recovered.
A wonderful read nevertheless, and you'll find me as a regular visitor of your blog from now on.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Ragingmind! Your comments are really precious since for a long time I have been in a dilemma as whether to remove this blog-post or not, knowing not if it was enough up to the quality.. But, now, I'm assured.

P.S.:- Visited your blog. Quite interesting!