a short guide to notable bengali films
by Pramathes Barua, this remains one of the most admired versions
of the film currently making box office waves in Bollywood.
Roy, the acclaimed Hindi film director, made his Bengali directorial
debut with this film.
Many believe this film, directed by legend Satyajit Ray, marked
the beginning of the golden age for Bengali films.
fans will no doubt be interested to see this blockbuster hit,
which stars Sharmila Tagore and Bengali superstar Uttam Kumar.
Ki Khiladi (1977)
Adapated from a story by famous Hindi novelist Premchand, this was actually
Satyajit Ray's Hindi language directorial debut, and is still
considered one of his greatest works.
The second film made by acclaimed actress and director Aparna
Sen, this film caused a minor storm by sympathetically portraying
the extramarital affair of a young Bengali woman from "good
To find out more about Bengali cinema
considered the seat of Indian high culture, Bengal has produced numerous
luminaries, including Nobel prize-winning poet Rabindranath Tagore, "Devdas"
novelist Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay, and above all, filmmaker Satyajit
Ray, who singlehandedly brought Indian cinema to the world's fawning attention.
Indeed, most Westerners who have seen an Indian film will have seen only
would not be amiss, then, to assume that Bengali cinema occupies
a place of honor amongst the film industries of India. During
the 1950s and '60s, Bollywood actors considered an invitation
to work in Tollygunge (the headquarters for Bengali filmdom, and
the root of its occasional nickname, Tollywood) the ultimate compliment.
Tollygunge also sent forth homegrown stars like Sharmila Tagore,
Jaya Bhaduri, and Rakhee to conquer Hindi cinema. What these actresses
encountered in Bollywood was an industry far less inclined to
the literary and realist work that had nurtured them to professional
maturity. Bollywood was largely entertainment for the masses;
Tollygunge prided itself on playing to the intelligentsia.
To the intense displeasure of Tollywood afficionados, they can no
longer comfortably assert such a claim. In 1980, the death of
superstar Uttam Kumar -- THE Bengali film hero, whose name had
consistently sold out state cinema halls since his first hit in
1953 -- created a vaccuum that the industry has yet to fill. The
ever-encroaching threat of Bollywood, which caters to the sensibilities
of rural, illiterate audiences;
the advent of cable television, which permits viewers to choose from numerous
films in the comfort of their own homes; and the rise of Bangladeshi films,
which offer Muslims an alternative to the largely Hindu-driven storylines
of Bengali cinema -- all serve to further weaken the industry. Additionally,
a lack of government funding compels Tollygunge to recognize profit, rather
than quality, as the fundamental consideration when making films today.
result is a slew of recent movies which owe more to the traditions
of Bombay than Bengal. Masala -- that term used to denote a formulaic
mix of action, melodrama, and romance -- has become a fixture
in recent Bengali films, as producers struggle to regain the rural
audience lost to Bollywood and, increasingly, dubbed southern
imports. Some films are even released now in outlying districts
before they reach the urban centers, a telling disruption of Calcutta's
identity as the arbiter of Bengali culture. Literary adaptations,
which have long been the source of the best Bengali films, are
no longer in vogue, viewed as too elitist to reap returns.
Bengal still owns a wealth of talent, but directors like Aparna Sen and
Gautam Ghosh face an uphill battle to secure the funds as well as the audiences
which would validate their work. Perhaps as a result, they have turned away
from feature films for the time being, with Sen focusing on television and
Ghosh putting the final touches on his documentary about Satyajit Ray --
who would, we have no doubt, be appalled by the current state of the cinema
he helped to make one of the most respected in the world.