Performing Art
Bengali Film Review

Budhadeb Dasgupta and his Tale of a Naughty Girl

By Sandip Hor

Sydney Film Festival has a long association with Indian cinema. Since its start in 1954, one year after the start of the first film festival in India in Bombay, it has regularly screened Indian films, the first one being Do Ankhen Bara Hath by V. Shantaram. Over the years there has been films from all notable directors, which includes Bimal Roy, Satyajit Roy, Shyam Benegal, Mrinal Sen and others. In fact Satyajit Roy was one of the first overseas filmmaker to be invited as an honoured guest of the festival.

Maintaining that tradition, the festival this year at its Golden Anniversary, invited reputed filmmaker from Calcutta, Budhadeb Dasgupta as an honoured guest with his latest film, Mando Meyer Upakhyan (Tale of a Naughty Girl). It was screened at the festival as a part of the contemporary World Cinema Strand.

Budhadeb Dasgupta today is one of the leading art film makers from India. Born in 1946, he did his MA in Economics and initially started his career as an academic teaching Economics at university. But from his early age, the world of cinema had an attraction for him. According to him, the heart of cinema is its sequential arrangement of images. It comes to one’s vision from various sources such as from music, poetries and paintings. From his childhood, he developed visions while listening to songs and poetries from his mother. During the early part of his teaching career, he came across Shanti Dayabhai, who at that time was Satyajit Roy’s assistant. He inspired Budhadeb to put his images and visions into celluloid and make his dreams come to reality. As a result, the world of cinema saw a new director with his maiden film Dooratawa. Since then he never looked back. .

To date he has made 12 feature films, all in Bengali. They are Dooratawa (1978), Neem Annapurna (1979), Grihajuddha (1982), Shith Grishher Smriti (1982), Andho Gali (1984), Phera (1986), Bagh Bahadur (1989), Tahadher Katha (1992), Charachar (1993), Laldarza (1996) and Uttara (2000) and the current one screened at the festival. He has also made documentaries, notable among them are one on famous painter Ganesh Pyne and another on Tagore Family from Jorasanko .All his films have received a high level of exposure at various international film festivals which includes the prestigious ones such as at Berlin, Canes and Venice

His literary talent also needs to be mentioned. He himself is a distinguished poet and has written and published four novels. He has a passion for poetry. He says,” When I am not making films, I am writing poetry”. All his films thus have a reflection of his poetic genius.

As a part of the festival he participated in a talk on Indian cinema with Dr Jim Masselos who is an honorary reader in History at Sydney University and a devotee of Indian cinema and Safina Uberoi the Sydney based film director and producer whose recent film Mother India received wide acclamation. While discussing on the influence of commercial films from Bollywood, Mr Dasgupta’s view was that a film can not be differentiated as a commercial or an art film. He said that what makes a good film is intelligent synthesis of myth and fantasy. Mando Meyer Upakhyan, where he has fashioned a timeless, indeed, universal tale of women and men, fits in well with that concept

Based on a short story by Prafulla Roy, the film is about a fourteen year old girl Lati, whose prostitute mother Rajani wants her to be given away as a mistress to Natabar, an elderly rich man, whose spiritual state and moral is embodied in two favourite activities –endlessly watching rape scenes of Hindi films in a cinema hall which he owns and watching white ants destroying a large tree. However Lati went to school and can visualise the world outside the boundaries of her current life. She has a globe, where she locates distant countries such as Germany, Italy and France. Her mind set is not to spend the rest of her life as a prostitute like her mother. The timeline of the story is 1969 when the first space shuttle is scheduled to land on the moon. So can she make a similar bold step as Neil Armstrong made by landing on the moon? Budhadeb Dasgupta's lyrical eye has turned this tale of imprisonment and escape to one of the festival’s most distinctive films.

Mr Dasguptas films are a class by itself that focuses on social forces and human behaviour. As stated earlier, he believes in telling a story using images, covering universal social issues and linking them to the main plot. If that be his style, he did that very well in Mando Meyer Upakhyan. . He showed the insecurity and helplessness of women in a male dominated society through the life of some young girls in the prostitute quarter. His character Ganesh as the village taxi driver symbolises existence of a good soul in the society. He showed the fate of aged people who are in deep search for care and affection, by introducing an elderly couple, looking for a hospital that does not exist.

Samata Das as young Lati fitted very well into the character, however Rituparna Sengupta as Rajani appeared at times to be too sophisticated as a village prostitute. It was nice to see Ketaki Dutta and Pradip Mukherjee in their respective roles. Tapas Pal as the taxi driver maintained his innocent and good-man image as the kindest person of the village. The film, which was shot brilliantly against the dry natural backdrop of rural West Bengal, offered some breathtaking visuals. Only comment that can be made was the use of coarse language, which perhaps could have been avoided.

Overall Mando Meyer Upakhyan is another great Budhadeb Dasgupta film. Good news for those who did not get a chance to see at the festival. It will be soon released here in Sydney at selected cinemas. Keep an eye on the newspapers.

Note:This article was published in Sydney in the June 2003 edition of India Post.