In first person: Buddhadeb Dasgupta

A more discerning audience now

Print edition : October 18, 2013

KOLKATA, 08/08/2007: Film Director Buddhadeb Dasgupta, in Kolkata. Photo: Sushanta Patronobish Photo: Sushanta Patronobish

Buddhadeb Dasgupta at work.

100 years of Indian Cinema

BEFORE cinema came to my life I was totally engrossed with poetry, which I started writing from the age of 13. At that time the best poetry magazine was Kabita, which was edited by Buddhadeb Bose (one of the greatest literary figures of the post-Tagore era); I was writing for them and also for other celebrated magazines such as Desh and Krittivas. Around the age of 15-16, I was exposed to cinema, but it was the kind that I soon rejected—the mainstream commercial kind. It bored me. When Ritwik Ghatak’s Ajantrik (1958) and Satyajit Ray’s Apur Sansar (The World of Apu, 1959) came out, I discovered something as engrossing as poetry. At that time I was also totally in love with the subject of economics. I had not yet made up my mind about my future at that time, but that I would end up being a film-maker was not in my mind. I was more seriously considering a career in academics.

Subsequently, I started teaching, and around that time I realised that I was deeply in love with images and cinema. I always listened to music and poetry with my eyes closed. Finally, the love for images became so irresistible that my dream to go abroad to pursue further studies disappeared and I had to make films. I left my job, which, coming from a middle-class background, is never an easy thing to do, and devoted myself wholly to the making of cinema. I was, of course, also writing poetry. In the last 40 years, I have never drifted away from poetry.

I finished my first full-length feature film, Dooratwa, in 1978. As you know, it was highly praised by Ray, and the film went to Berlin and many other film festivals and won international and national awards. I never looked back after that. But even after the success of the film, it was not easy for me and I had to struggle a lot for to get finance for the kind of films I wanted to make. But I never lost the love for movies. I was not alone. There was Aravindan [G. Aravindan] whom I consider the greatest film-maker from Kerala, Adoor [Adoor Gopalakrishnan], Shyam Benegal and John Abraham [Malayalam film-maker]. We all started together, and what we had was a passionate love for cinema. I will never come across a personality like John Abraham’s. He was such a fascinating individual. He started the Odessa Movement, the spirit of which will never die. He used to go from village to village to show his films to the people and talk about it. The people would contribute whatever little they could, which would not even amount to the fuel expenses. But John was very happy doing what he did. I once accompanied him on these trips with two of my own films. He wanted to take our cinema beyond just the city. You know the entire money for Amma Ariyan [Abraham’s masterpiece] was made from the donations—Re.1, 10 paise—from the rural people to whom John would be taking his films.

Whenever I feel sad or dejected after seeing what is happening in Indian cinema after 100 years—and there are a thousand reasons to feel unhappy, to feel disturbed, to feel rejected—I think of John. And I wonder where have those dreams gone. We used to dream of creating something. Nobody dreams for cinema anymore today, and it is mediocrity that has taken over Indian cinema.

One of the reasons for this I feel is the fear psychosis that now grips the film-maker—what will happen if the film fails? And in his attempt to make it successful, what he finally presents to the audience is neither cinema nor anything of any importance. This is especially true in Bengal. What I find most pathetic is that some of us who have started together have so completely surrendered to the system, and mutilated their own dreams. There are exceptions, of course. In Mumbai there are film-makers who are doing very interesting things. Recently, I saw Anup Ahluwalia’s Miss Lovely, and ID by Kamal K.M, and produced by Resul Puukutty, the first Oscar-winning sound recordist from India, who is also the sound designer for my upcoming film Anwar ka Ajab Kissa. My regret is that nothing of that kind is being produced in Bengal.

I have never compromised on my vision for my film. My film Anwar ka Ajab Kissa was supposed to be produced by this very big multinational company which had produced my last film, Janala. We had agreed to make the film together, but finally it did not happen because I wanted only Nawazuddin [Nawazuddin Siddiqui] to play this role and they wanted somebody else. There was big money involved, but I just left them. The ones who are now producing the film have given me a free hand. That is the way I have been making my films all my life. I have never allowed any of my producers to dictate anything as far as the creative aspect of the cinema is concerned. That is my domain and my domain only. If a time comes and I am not allowed to make films that way, I will leave. My poetry is still there. But in the process I have become a loner. Creatively, this isolation also helps me to channel myself for my next project.

An idea does not come to me in a storyline. It comes to me in images and I save those images within myself and grow with them. I think poetry has influenced me a lot, of course, completely without my knowledge, in the way I deal with images. For almost a decade I have been writing my own stories and my own ideas. I am happy that there is an audience all over the world for the kind of films I make, and as for all the international and national awards, I must say that these awards really mean nothing as I have never allowed them to dictate my life. And I feel sad when I see film-makers giving too much importance to them. Rabindranath Tagore, even after winning the Nobel Prize, thought what if after decades my writings do not appeal to my readers, what if they reject everything? This is a crisis that any sensitive creative artist has to face in his life. At times I am not happy with my films, my poetry, even my life, the terrible moments I pass through. But slowly I come back and continue.

As for the future of Indian cinema, I am waiting for something to happen. I am expecting something to happen. One new and good development all over, and especially in Bengal, is that a new kind of audience has emerged. They know about cinema, they talk about cinema and can appreciate good cinema. Take for instance this recent Bengali film Shabda (Sound), there are no big stars in it, absolutely nothing in terms of gaining publicity, but it has been loved by the audience. You cannot make this audience swallow anything and everything you serve up. They will reject you, and this rejection is what will bring about a change, and that is happening.

As told to Suhrid Sankar Chattopadhyay