June 23, 2014

Family and Society in Contemporary Bengali Cinema

(This is the second in the series of small posts where we look at some much-acclaimed Bengali films of recent times and their specialties which left an impression all around. I’ll start off by looking at what a film festival means to me followed by my views on the films themselves. The idea is to get excited about the upcoming film festival and get ourselves immersed in discussion ahead of all the special movies we are going to watch and interpret.)

A look at Bengali cinema over the ages would bring to our notice the gradual shift in social structure where the erstwhile “একান্নবর্তী পরিবার” (joint family) has given way to small setups involving 3-4 people. These families, in apartments of their own, live within a community but are strangely isolated in various ways. This isolation often becomes a central theme for filmmakers where the lack of companionship, understanding and trust leads to various complexities in human relationship. 

Look within the apparently happy nuclear families, and you would gradually understand the various factors contributing to people growing apart in spite of their proximity and compact confines. Cinema details how Time-too little or too much of it, can cause relationships to go sour. A scenario where working spouses fail to spend time with each other owing to professional commitments and mismatched timings is quite common in urban society-and this being a major factor behind distances creeping in is highlighted by several films of late. The example of “Bedroom” comes to mind here where personal life is compromised leading to issues between Abir Chatterjee and +Paoli Dam’s on screen characters.

The limited boundaries of modern life also makes us self-centric to a dangerous degree. So many of us talk about how society needs to improve and what should be done for its betterment, but at the end of the day, it’s our personal lives which matter. Very few actually try to change the misdeeds we criticize the politicians of. Among these few, some take up the law in their own hands out of disillusionment while others keep fighting without support and are eliminated by the people they stand against. “22se Srabon” depicts a police officer who, in his urge to eradicate criminals from the society, takes it upon himself to strike them down whereas “Proloy” tells the story of a lone crusader against social evils who tragically meets his end for the lack of social action.

A film which paints a vivid picture of isolation within a seemingly well-knit family is “Maach, Misti and More” which goes on to highlight the differences of opinions and consequent fallout between three brothers chasing very different dreams. In a lighthearted, yet poignant way, the story touches upon the ambitious NRI who struggles to make a mark after returning to his city, the typical middle-class, confused corporate who searches for love and purpose in life and the young, wannabe actor who rages against a society placing endless obstacles along his way. In the middle of all this, there’s the grandfather who tries hard to connect to a generation that refuses to include him in its fold. An interesting study of a group of people living at the same place, yet keeping to their distinct boundaries which exclude people and advise not in keeping with theirs.

With self-centered, busy lives come a short memory. “Apur Panchali” elucidates the disappearance of a once-famous character into oblivion as soon as he stepped away from public scrutiny. In his hunt for one of the iconic characters from Satyajit Ray’s Apu trilogy, a student of film studies discovers fascinating parallels between the reel and real Apu. At the same time, he also encounters social apathy and disregard for someone who was the center of attention at one time.

There are more examples to be found and more themes to discover in our study of cinema and the Bengali Film Festival would surely encourage fascinating discussions along these lines. Meanwhile, the series would progress looking at other aspects of Bengali cinema in recent times. To go back to the pivot of the series, which is “perspectives”, I guess we can conclude that we are increasingly seeing some very interesting takes on our progressive, yet at times intriguing and confused societal norms on the silver screen. A colourful study of characters and approaches that are engaging as well as informative.

An article by +Soumalya Chakraborty 


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