(1944 – 2021)
Shoma A. Chatterji
In many ways, Dasgupta was a typical product of the turbulent Seventies. Though not an activist himself, the poet in him with pronounced, pro-Left sympathies could not hold himself back from the volatile atmosphere of the time. According to Dasgupta himself, he never intended to be a political filmmaker. The fact that one can read some political point of view in his earlier films like Neem Annapoorna, Andhi Galli, Dooratwa and Grihajuddha, is testimony to his awareness and his commitment to give his voice to the time he lived and worked in, through his films.
Young Dasgupta was sensitive to the beauty and richness of the life around him, which spoke to him through images. “I always used to think in terms of images which I kept storing in my hard disk through the years, and whenever I want to, I can recall and translate them into the idiom of cinema,” Dasgupta would insist. Most of these memories belonged to his boyhood days. The image of his mother playing the piano in the evenings, of trips to nearby villages in railway trolleys, listening to the tales of railway labourers, of the various annual festivals which were marked by the acting participation of the Telengis, the expatriates from Andhra Pradesh. Added to this was the culture consciousness of the family, the poetry reading and the piano lessons.
“All these images keep coming back in my films,” says Dasgupta. Thus, the childhood mantra of chhoti moti pipra boti, lal darwaza khol de came back in little Navin’s fists in Lal Darja, the Telengi performers found a voice in Bagh Bahadur and the village magician turned up in Tahader Katha. “My fondness for films was a natural offspring of my passion for poetry and painting,” he would say.
To Dasgupta therefore, filmmaking, as also his poetry, was a mission and a quest. His radical commitment remains the hallmark of his genius. “We used to dream not of practical things as career and wealth but of a new world,” he said a bit wistfully. “For me, filmmaking is a quest. There are many questions we have to face in life and I am trying to find answers for some in my films. But I am not absolutely satisfied with any particular film of mine. It is this dissatisfaction that leads me on to the next film, and I must say this is a continuous quest,” he would say.
His later films such as Swapner Din, Janala, Aami O Amaar Madhubala, Kaal Purush and Uro Jahaj explore more in abstraction than in concrete images, the mindset of one of the most brilliant filmmakers in contemporary Indian cinema. The commitment and the dedication of the filmmaker are evident throughout these films but the fund-crunch and the time-cutting hiccups are sometimes evident. These films are better known abroad than in India. They are either released very late or are not released at all. The Indian audience therefore, remains deprived of films that mark an outstanding phase of his career where through a simple, narrative storyline, presented somewhat in anti-narrative style, he excels in portraying psychological insights into the mind of an ordinary man or woman to bring out some of the hidden, unpalatable truths and values of contemporary life.
“I find myself getting involved with ordinary people more and more. I have discovered that out of the ordinary, what emerges is something unique, something extraordinary. This is true of all my films and these two are no exception. Other than dreams and the loneliness of individuals, my two passions, I have also found the concept of a man’s failure an interesting element to portray through my films. The concept of failure in common sense understanding attaches to one who fails to succeed – success here defined again by common sense perceptions of material status symbols or recognition through reward, fame and glory. Dooratwa, Grihajuddha, Phera, Andhi Gali, Tahader Katha, Charachar, are depictions of men who the world in general would consider failures. They keep chasing me all the time, and the best way I can present them is through my films,” said Dasgupta.
Steering completely away from a chronological documentation of the filmmaker’s life and career essaying his birth, childhood and so on, the film takes a conceptual approach to probe into the psyche of a creative artist, capturing him in moments of pensive loneliness, as Dasgupta takes a ride in a local train, looks out of the window to catch a glimpse of the sky, listening to a Tagore song and so on.
When asked what made him explore the anti-narrative within the narrative, Dasgupta said, “I never stop mixing a bit of dream and magic with the reality around me. Otherwise, it becomes very predictable, repetitive, boring and tedious. This is a process of evolution that started a long time ago. I was in primary school and a magician came to perform for us. My first encounter with the magician and his magic taught me many things in life – that one can blend magic with love and magic with loneliness. I believe that dreams are so essential an ingredient of life that in its absence, one might actually invite nightmares, which is also a part of reality at times. Dreams and nightmares are just a part of reality and not the whole of it.” And that perhaps, could be called his “last word.”
Thursday, June 10, 2021