SPECIAL PROGRAM

FOCUS ON BENGALI CINEMA

PROGRAM'S NOTE: FOCUS ON BENGALI CINEMA

T he film critics in the West commonly dub Bengali cinema as ‘Tollywood” referring to the Indian Bengali language film industry based in the Tollygunge region of Kolkata, West Bengal, India. As the very first Hollywood inspired-name in India, Tollywood merely connotes the commercial and popular genre but it overlooking other films produced in the West Bengal region. For the outsiders, Indian cinema is only associated with the Hindi language film industry based in Mumbai (formerly known as Bombay) or popularly called “Bollywood,” although Bollywood accounted for less than 25 percent of all the films produced in India. As it is well known, India has eighteen officially recognized languages, and films are made in all of them. Thus, Bengali cinema, which was first produced by the Madan Theatre Company of Calcutta and released on 8 November 1919, is classified as a regional cinema similar to other films produced in languages such as Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Marathi, Kannada, and Assamese.

Indeed, popular and artistic films are being produced in all regional cinemas in India. Thus, the terms “popular” and “parallel” cinema is equally relevant in the discourse of regional cinema. “Parallel cinema” is the term employed by film critics in India and elsewhere to connote the artistic tradition of filmmaking that has grown alongside with popular cinema. Popular films were largely melodramas given to excess and sentimentality. The elements of exaggeration, excess theatricality, declamatory dialogues that characterize Indian popular films are not conspicuously present in films that are generally included in the category of “parallel cinema.” Film directors associated with the “parallel cinema” have sought to explore vital social experiences connected with the everyday life of the people in a realistic fashion. In contrast, “popular” filmmakers deal with fantastic and melodramatic experiences that do not display the kind of deep commitment to social exploration that “parallel cinema” does.

It should be noted that the strength of regional cinema resides in the “parallel cinema.” Not surprisingly, Bengali cinema reflects the vitality of regional cinema as well as its resistance to be simply incorporated into “Indian national cinema.” Like other regional cinemas, Bengali cinema has become a vital site for the discussion of public issues and negotiation of cultural meaning. The strength of Bengali cinema as regional cinema lies in the way local forms of culture and cultural practices were captured on the screen.

The incredible works of leading Bengali filmmakers such as Satyajit Ray(1921-1992), Mrinal Sen (1923-2018) and Ritwik Ghatak (1925-1976) can be understood not only as an expression of personal visions of the filmmakers but they also dealt with contemporary issues, mostly social hardships, the suffering of women, the plight of the dispossessed; in many of them there was a political edge to the textualised experience. Although those works address issues of the subalternity and the economic underprivilege, they can still be considered as an auteristic cinema where the personal signature of the director was in clear evidence, as opposed to “popular cinema” in which genre was privileged over auteurship.
While depictions of poverty and suffering or social ills were not new to Bengali cinema, for a large part these had been tempered by means of a certain view on human goodness and the underlying sense that hardship did not necessarily destroy the individual’s moral fabric and his zest for life: the classic case was Satyajit Ray’s Apu trilogy (Pather Panchali, Aparajito, and The World of Apu). Here poverty did not mark a process of dehumanization, as it would in the work of those who made ‘parallel’ cinema.

Of course, while contemporary Bengali cinemas might retain the social realism inclination, it explores the new terrains in addressing contemporary urban themes, issues of sexuality and even reinterpreting Bengali ‘classic’ cinematic traditions. Reality and fiction, surreal and bizarre may come together. Furthermore, they may also indicate the distance traveled by Bengali filmmakers since the wide-eyed innocence and idealism of Apu, and the optimism of the post-independence years. There are three contemporary Bengali films in this program: Indrasis Acharya’s Parcel (2019), Amartya Bhattacharyya’s Rananubandha (The He Without Him, 2019) and N. Rashed Chowdhury’s Chandrabati Kotha (The Tales of Chandrabati, 2019). While Parcel and Rananubandha are set in the contemporary urban landscape imbued with psychological thriller and mystic journey, Chandrabati Kotha is a tribute to the ballad writing traditions in the 16th century East Bengal.
We hope this program will provide more nuanced take on Bengali cinema on its 100 years of establishment in India and the rest of world.

 

Budi Irawanto

CATATAN PROGRAM: FOCUS ON BENGALI CINEMA

Selama ini, lazimnya para kritikus film di Barat menyebut sinema Bengal sebagai “Tollywood” merujuk pada industri film berbahasa Bengali yang berpusat di Tollygunge di wilayah Kolkata, Bengal Barat, India. Diilhami oleh nama Hollywood, Tollywood memiliki konotasi hanya pada genre film komersial dan popular, namun mengabaikan bentuk sinema lainnya yang diproduksi di Bengal Barat. Bagi orang luar, sinema India kerap diasosiasikan dengan industri film berbahasa Hindi yang berpusat di Mumbai (dulu bernama Bombay) atau yang popular dengan sebutan “Bollywood,” kendati produksinya kurang 25 persen dari total film yang diproduksi di India. Kita tahu, ada sekitar 18 bahasa resmi di India dan sebanyak itu pula film diproduksi. Karenanya, sinema Bengal, yang pertama diproduksi oleh Madan Theatre Company di Kalkuta dan dirilis pada 8 November 1919, diklasifikasikan sebagai sinema regional sebagaimana film berbahasa Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Marathi, Kannada dan Asam.

Tentu saja, film popular dan seni bisa ditemukan pada semua sinema regional di India. Karenanya, istilah “sinema popular” dan “sinema paralel” bisa pula disematkan pada sinema regional. Istilah “sinema paralel” digunakan oleh para kritikus film di India maupun di tempat lain untuk menyebut tradisi artistik dalam pembuatan film yang tumbuh membayangi “sinema popular.” Film-film popular berwatak melodramatis mengingat anasir sentimentilnya yang kelewatan. Film-film itu mengandung elemen yang cenderung melebih-lebihan, teatrikal dan dialog-dialognya bak deklamasi yang lazimnya sulit ditemukan dalam “sinema paralel.” Sutradara film yang diasosiasikan dengan “sinema paralel” secara realistis mengksplorasi pengalaman masyarakat dan pertautannya dengan kehidupan sehari-hari mereka. Sebaliknya, para sutradara “sinema popular” mengangkat pengalaman melodramatis dan fantastis dan kurang mengksplorasi secara mendalam pengalaman nyata masyarakat.

Penting dicatat, kekuatan sinema regional sejatinya bertumpu pada “sinema paralel.” Tak aneh, jika sinema Bengal merefleksikan daya hidup sinema regional serta resistensinya untuk dikotakkan ke dalam “sinema nasional India.” Sebagaimana sinema regional lainnya, sinema Bengal menjadi ruang bagi perbincangan masalah publik dan negosiasi makna kultural. Kekuatan sinema Bengal terletak pada kemampuannya mengulik bentuk-bentuk budaya lokal dan praktik kultural ke layar perak.
Karya yang menakjubkan dari sutradara Bengali terkemuka seperti Satyajit Ray (1921-1992), Mrinal Sen (1923-2018) dan Ritwik Ghatak (1925-1976) tak hanya mengungkapkan visi personalnya tapi juga mengolah persoalan kontemporer seperti masalah sosial, penderitaan kaum perempuan, nasib mereka yang tak berpunya—sebagian besar mengandung bobot politik lewat pengalaman tekstualitasnya. Kendatipun karya-karya itu mengangkat persoalan masyarakat bawah dan kemalangan ekonomi, tapi tetap bisa dianggap sebagai “sinema auteristic” yang kita bisa mengenali dengan jelas jejak pembuatnya serta berbeda dengan kebanyakan sinema popular yang cenderung mendasarkan pada genre.
Melukiskan kemiskinan dan penderitaan atau penyakit sosial tentu bukan hal baru dalam sinema Bengal, namun semua itu ditapis oleh pandangan tentang kebajikan manusia dan memeragakan ketegaran moral maupun gairah hidup di tengah kesulitan sebagaimana ditunjukkan oleh Trilogi Apu (Pather Panchali, Aparajito, dan The World of Apu) karya Satyajit Ray. Di sini, kemiskinan bukanlah proses dehumanisasi yang barangkali ditemukan pada kebanyakan “sinema paralel.”
Sinema Bengal kontemporer boleh jadi masih merawat gaya realisme sosialnya, mereka menjelajahi dataran baru dalam mengangkat tema-tema urban, seksualitas dan bahkan menafsir-ulang tradisi klasik sinema Bengal. Realitas dan fiksi, yang aneh dan yang liar seakan berbaur menjadi satu. Lebih jauh, sebagian sinema Bengal kontemporer mengisyaratkan perjalanan yang kian jauh sejak tatapan tak berdosa serta cita-cita Apu maupun optimisme pasca kemerdekaan India. Ada tiga film Bengal terbaru dalam program ini, yakni Parcel (2019) karya Indrasis Acharya, Rananubandha (The He Without Him, 2019) karya Amartya Bhattacharyya dan Chandrabati Kotha (The Tales of Chandrabati, 2019) karya N. Rashed Chowdhury. Sementara Parcel dan Rananubandha mengambil latar perkotaan yang dibumbui teror psikologis dan perjalanan mistis, Chandrabati Kotha merupakan persembahan bagi tradisi penulisan balada abad ke-16 dari Bengal Timur.
Kami berharap program ini mampu menyajikan sinema Bengal yang penuh nuansa mengingat kehadirannya di India serta di dunia telah berusia 100 tahun.

 

Budi Irawanto

Parcel

Indrasis Acharya/ 123 Minutes/ 2019/ India/ Fiction

Runanubandha

Amartya Bhattacharyya/ 109 Minutes/ 2019/ India/ Fiction

Chandrabati Kotha

N. Rashed Chowdhury/ 105 Minutes/ 2019/ Bangladesh/ Fiction