With re-emergence of Bengal’s cult hero, Prosenjit, re-fashioned and revised in the films of Srijit Mukherjee, the manifestations of sharp radicalism and deviancy are gratifying to locate in some feminists in experimental Bengali cinema.
Bengali cinema, particularly because of its feminism has begun to bring uncomfortable questions of transgressive behaviour (sexual or otherwise) to the mass which is largely unexposed to any such explorations on the screen without a moral framework of guilt being attached to itself.
Feminism In Bengali Films
The “intellectual Left” feels the pull of the soil in spaces between Bangla rock bands when bands like Chandrabindoo write sharply immersive songs and critical, Anjan Dutt has a finger on the bourgeoisie pulse, Sandip Ray meanders the colonial lanes in nostalgia. Power shudders delicately in its seat. The question that arises at this point is: who are the storehouses of culture in cinema today in urban Bengal? The women and feminists in works of Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury, Rituparno Ghosh, Ronny Sen, Satyajit Ray and Mrinal Sen may offer feminism that helps us track an emergent political-cultural scenario. Here is a look at a few characters which stood out for me.
Ranga Pishima/ aunt, Shubho Mahurat (2003)
In this film, filmmaker Rituparno Ghosh follows true Miss Marple mannerism. Raakhee Gulzar’s Ranga Pishima investigates an NRI Bengali star actress of times gone by, Padmini Chowdhury’s arrival to Kolkata apparently to produce a film to be directed by her second husband Sambit Roy. She makes it a point to rope a close co-actress and friend Kakoli in for the lead role. Kakoli dies on the first day of the shoot under mysterious circumstances while she was being interviewed by a film journalist Mallika, following the surprising death of a female makeup artist. Ranga (Rakhee Gulzar) dives deep into the matter to find that Padmini came to take revenge on Kakoli who had inadvertently caused harm to her during her pregnancy resulting in her giving birth of a spastic child and his untimely death. It’s very difficult to write a non-judgemental, elderly detective, which is what Ghosh did with Shubho Mahurat’s Ranga. A witty detective, no police intervention: she knows who committed the crime, but she does nothing to punish the criminal. Women, as both criminals and detectives, are inherently more tolerant, as opposed to an ordinary detective story, in which it is always the hunter and the hunted.
Brinda, Antaheen (2009)
In Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury’s film, when IPS, Abhik gets his fifteen-minute-fame on national television, after he masterminds a raid on a consignment of illegal arms, television journalist Brinda telephones him to ask for an on-camera interview. Abhik declines, because he does not want to sensationalize the event. Brinda overhears a piece of conversation between two men about real estate entrepreneur Vijay Ketan Mehra’s project. Brinda, who had decided to reveal the truth about Mehra’s project which deprived the ordinary folk of property rights, encountered a car accident on her way to work, without making it. Brinda has been revered as an immensely talented and hardworking journalist ever since.
Suggested Reading: Who Was Swatilekha Sengupta? The Veteran Bengali Actor Who Passed Away
Biplab, Cat Sticks (2019)
Putting together his life and stories into “shadowy” intoxication and almost living on cobbled streets, transvestite sex worker, Biplab regarding a torn down factory as home, raises his son. A father who smokes up while his son watches TV and eats, and as a marginalised person who falls into the arms of brown sugar gets exploited by a truck driver Raja and two middle-aged men Tamanna Bhai and Gere Bappa while trying to score. Directed by Ronny Sen, the character of Biplab struggles with the chaos of social tension, isolation and regret that invaded his life. The film and particularly his character, gives goosebumps to the viewers as they recollect how powerful addiction is and how it controlled their lives.
Aparna, Aranyer Din Ratri (1970)
An adaptation of legendary Bengali author, Sunil Gangopadhay’s novel, Satyajit Ray has made several changes in writing the character of Aparna. As vain Asim encounters Aparna, she successfully crushes his pride with ruthless intellect and subtlety. The easy-going and vain Asim is faced with a moral dilemma that would make him question his own beliefs and principles.
Chinu, Ek Din Pratidin (1979)
Chinu represents contradictions. On the one hand, the family almost pushes her into the marketplace and on the other, it places severe restrictions on the hours she can be away from home. The family allows her to work because she brings them financial support and yet, they do not hesitate to make value judgements about her. Her family does not allow her to stay away from home because that is considered morally ‘wrong’ by their self-defined rules and orthodoxy. The same family accepts the adult son, Topu, who hardly brings any financial respite for them.
The views expressed are the author’s own.