Saturday, September 29, 2007

Bengali Classic Literature and Bollywood Films

Influence of Bengali Classic Literature in Bollywood films

Bengal in the eighteenth and nineteenth century had produced intellectuals of different dimensions in different fields including academics, politics, music, literature, social science, etc. Social reformers like Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Vidhyasagar brought social awakening through the prohibition of evil practices like Sati and bringing modern legislations with the help of the British Government in the colonial era like Widow Remarriage Act. In the field of religion Swami Vivekananda redefined Hinduism in his Chicago Conference in USA and provided the deliberations of Sri Ramakrisha in condemning materialist philosophy. Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose was one of the most dynamic personalities of the freedom struggle movement of India.

Literature is a field where the immortal works of the Bengali Legendary thinkers have influenced the silver screen the most which even has significance after around 50 years of creation of the classic works. Bankim Chandra Chatterji was given the title of Sahitya Samrat (the Monarch of literature) who nurtured Bengali language from its Sanskrit-oriented origin in almost the same manner in which mythologically Lord Mahadeva brought river Ganges from his knotted hair (jata) and created classic novels like Kapalkundala, Anandamath, Devichowdhurani, etc. His song Vandemataram had instilled patriotism and respect for the motherland and was the guiding mantra in India’s freedom movement which became the national song of the country after India got independence. His novel “Anandamath” was picturised as Bollywood film in 1950 with Pradeep Kumar, Bharat Bhushan, Prithviraj Kapoor playing significant roles.

Bimal Mitra’s epic literature Saheb Bibi Gulam, directed by Karthik Chatterji became a historically eminent work depicting the Zamindari existing in Kolkata during Colonial rule. Chabi Biswas was the second brother, showed the aristocracy, grantieur with which the feudal lords ruled the state. Uttamkumar was the observer of the events as Bhutnath.[1] Guru Dutt played the same role in the hindi film Saheb Bibi Aur Ghulam, 1962, where Meena Kumari played the chotibahu in her own style.

Rabindranath Tagore, the winner of Nobel Prize in literature for Gitanjali, in 1913 had galvanised the firmament of creativity with short stories, poetry, prose, plays, songs and had influenced both Bengali and Hindi films with his revolutionary thinking. His story Kabuliwala was directed by Tapan Sinha in 1957, with Chabi Biswas, the greatest actor of Bengali Silver Screen giving immortal performance of an Afghan father who left his country, came to Kolkata to sell his produce of mewa, pesta and loving a small Bengali girl “mini” who brought him memories of his own daughter back in the country. [2] Tapan Sinha’s films Khudito Pashan, Atithi, 1965, Satyajit Ray’s cineclassic, Teen Kanya, 1961, Gharebaire, 1984, are based on the immortal prices of work of Tagore.

Bimal Roy, the winner of a number of Filmfare awards for best direction in bollywood films made Kabuliwala with Balraj Sahani in 1961. Although the film could not create the same impact as the Bengali film Kabuliwala, yet the classic literature was well appreciated by the Indian masses. Previously Salil Chowdhury’s Do Beegha Zameen, in 1953 had kept its mark as a Bollywood film having strong storybase and powerful direction.

Sarat Chandra Chatterji, titled Katha Sahitwik, influenced Bollywood films the most as his language was understandable to the people of the grass root level and his observation on social, economic issues of rural Bengal had tremendous impact on the readers and filmlovers. His story Devdas picturised by Bimal Roy stormed the silver screen in 1955, providing Dilip Kumar the title of Tragedy king and the image which did not fade with changing times. The remake of Devdas by Sanjay Leela Bansali shows the fact the story is immortal and has not lost its significance even today, more than 70 years after its creation. Similarly Sarat Chandra Chatterji’s Parineeta was picturised by Bimal Roy in 1953 with Meena Kumari in the lead role. The same film had been remade by Pradeep Sarkar in recent times and had been well appreciated by the Indian masses showing the strength of the story and the depth of thought of the author.

Bimal Roy picturised Biraj Bahu in 1954, another story of Sarat Chandra Chatterji, showing the experiences of rural Bengal. Sarat Chandra Chatterji’s classic story Niskriti, based on the problems of joint family system was picturised in Bengali film and in the hindi film Apne Paraye, 1980, the pain of poverty was well depicted through strong performance of Shabana Azmi and Amol Palekar with Utpal Dutta’s compassionate andaz as elder brother. Sarat Chandra Chatterji could think ahead of his time, because joint families are getting eroded these days due to lack of adjustment and giving birth to nuclear families. Besides the biographies of Sarat Chandra Chatterji were picturised in Bengali cinema in Rajlakhi Srikanto,1958, Kamallata, 1969, where Uttamkumar represented Sarat Chandra himself and Abhaya Srikanto, 1965 where Basonto Chowdhury represented Sarat Chandra. In all these stories, the social stigmas, religious barriers, poverty existing in the rural countryside and condition of women was depicted with such a pictographic dimension that people find themselves and associate themselves in one character or the other.

Noted author Jorasondho had provided immortal stories based on his experiences as Jailor in a Bengal prison. Tapan Sinha mesmerised the Bengali audience with his powerful adaptation of the novel Louhakapat in 1958. Chabi Biswas’s performance was well acclaimed throughout Bengal and Nirmal Kumar playing the role of the observer was well appreciated. Bimal Roy made his epic film Bandini on the story of Jorasandho in 1963. The tragic background of individual prisoners made people think whether our justice system punishes the crime or the offender. Other landmark stories include hinger kachuri, written by Bibhutibhushan Mukherjee, which was picturised as Nishipadda, 1970, where Uttamkumar gave a lifetime performance and also translated into hindi version in Shakti Shamant’s Amar prem, 1972. The list can go on. As Bengalis are characterised with their depth of thinking, analysing and feeling human emotions, Bengali literature still is an invaluable asset, even today. Still realistic films can be made from the classic literature of different ages by thoughtful directors. Efforts should be made to translate the Bengali classic literature into different regional languages, so that more section of the society can cherish them for generations.

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[1] My father Chitta Ranjan Chatterji, Ex-chief Public Prosecutor, Bankshall Court, had interviewed Dilip Roy, eminent actor of Bengali films who was his witness, in a case instituted in Bankshall Court, who said there was no second actor in India who could depict the role of Zamindar in the way Chabi Biswas had done in Saheb bibi Golam, Jalsaghar, Dui Purush, Antarikha, etc. He also said when Raj Kapoor tested Chabi Biswas in the role of a drunkard in the film Ekdin Ratre, 1955, his performance in the song “Ei duniyay bhai sabi hoy” sung by Manna Dey, he came down the trolley and saluted Chabi Biswas saying he had not seen an actor in Indian screen like Chabi Biswas. In the hindi version Jagte Raho, 1956, the same character was played by Motilal, but he could not match the level of excellence of Chabi Biswas.

[2] Kabuliwala received President’s Gold Medal for best film in 1957. Renowned Director Satyajit Ray in his TV interview on DD Bangla had said Chabi Biswas was the greatest actor ever to grace the silver screen and giving him direction was his greatest challenge in the award winning films Jalsaghar, 1958, Devi, 1960, Kanchenjungha, 1962. Chabi Biswas’s performance in the film Manik, 1956, the adaptation of Oliver Twist written by Charles Dickens, in a role of a handicapped grandfather could have brought him Oscar had the film being placed for the nomination.

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