Alo released in 2003, marked the comeback of director Tarun Majumdar after a long sabbatical during which he did some telefilms, none of which could set the small screen on fire. The last film he directed was Aranyer Adhikar released in 1997. Alo stepped in, like a beacon of light (Alo means ‘light’) in a world where Bengali literature is making its presence felt, slowly and steadily. Balika Bodhu (1967), Nimantran (1971), Phuleshwari (1974), Sansar Simantey (1975), Dadar Kirti (1980) Bhalobasha Bhalobasha (1985), are just a few of the films one may mention in passing to re-introduce this talented maker of mainstream films who walked the wonderful tightrope between mainstream and parallel cinema. He is one among a handful of filmmakers in Bengali cinema who consistently gave his audience films that were box-office hits on the one hand, and won critical acclaim on the other. He is also responsible for introducing some of the best talents in Bengali cinema and has drawn wonderful performances out of actors whose versatility had remained largely unexplored in other films. Among these, the three most talented actors are – Tapas Pal, Moushumi Chatterjee and Sandhya Roy. Music has played a meaningful role in all his films. An integral part of this music has been songs created and set to music by none other that Rabindranath Tagore.
The veteran director is now busy putting the finishing touches to his new film Chander Bari. The film is a celebration of the joint family system in Indian society. It will offer a fresh perspective on how the decay of this system of an extended family in urban society has had a very negative impact on the children. “Unlike my two earlier films, this film is firmly rooted in the heart of Kolkata. It is totally an urban film unlike my two earlier features, including Alo. The film has a universal appeal because everyone will identify with the emotions that run in an extended family with a patriarch at the head, his sons, daughters-in-law, grandchildren, and the rest. The decay of this system is mainly due to the selfish economics that began to creep into the minds of the younger members. For example, if five brothers contributed to the family kitty, the one that earned and contributed the most, began to think –‘Why should I contribute more and draw the same advantage as others do?’ So he felt that if he separated from the extended family, he would be able to enjoy a lifestyle the present system did not permit him to. Slowly, the joint family broke down to make place for many nuclear families. I felt very strongly about the effect of this breakdown on the children. They are the ones who have suffered the most. The aunts shared in their upbringing and each one gave them a different value that moulded their ideology positively. Today, they can look up only to the mother who may be a working woman and can devote only so much time to her children. The next group to suffer from this breakdown is the senior group oldest members who now find place in old-age homes mushrooming every day in Indian metros. This is a global problem today and it would be an oversimplification to think it is just an Indian problem,” Tarun-da elaborates.
This disturbing feeling led him to make Chander Bari. The story is set in Bhawanipur, Kolkata, where a joint family tries its best to overcome all obstacles to remain united despite all odds and try everything to keep some of its members from moving away to create their nuclear homes. It is a family that understands and appreciates the joy that lies hidden in the very term ‘joint’ prefixed to the word ‘family.’ “The family had its usual share of rises and falls, sorrows and struggles, but the members also drew from the happiness that lay in living together with everyone. There is a very senior member in the family portrayed by Haradhan Banerjee, the seniormost actor in Bengali cinema today. He is not neglected at all. In fact, all members love him dearly and all festivals in the home are programmed around him. When other homes in the neighbourhood remain dark, this house is bright with light and joy. Passers by point it out and say, ‘look, there you have a moonlit home.’ So the name Chander Bari,” explains Tarun-da.
How did he decide on the casting for the film? “It is not difficult when a director is doing the screenplay himself. The images come up on their own while the screenplay is being mapped and scripted. The director visualizes which actor will suit which character in the film, without being stubborn about a given actor for a certain role. The flexibility in the film industry does not permit such rigid mindsets within work. There may be filmmakers who believe that they cannot do a film if such and such actor does not agree to play a given role. I am not making any value judgements on this stance. I am only saying that this does not work when one is coping with reality. I choose my actors according to the characters they have to portray. If the actor has not been able to deliver the goods, it is not his fault, it is my failure to communicate what I wanted out of him and how. I explain every character in great detail to my actors and also show them by acting the scenes out,” Tarun-da spells out.
Produced by Gautam Kundu under the banner of Rose Valley Telefilms Limited, Chander Bari features 80 actors of Bengali cinema ranging from Haradhan Bannerjee who is in his Nineties now, followed by Soumitra Chatterjee and Ranjit Mullick among the veterans, and Rituparna Sengupta in the female lead. Babul Supriyo, the singer who shot to fame with the title song of Kaho Naa Pyar Hai, makes his screen debut as the hero of this film. Koel Mullick and Rishi Kaushik make up the other romantic pair in the film.
Moving on to comment on the sad scenario in Bengali mainstream cinema, Tarun-da says, “West Bengal does not have a single director today who can produce his own film. Earlier, producers were only involved with production, had a long-sighted vision of what would be accepted or rejected by the audience and so, Bengali cinema had its footprint spread right across the span of Lahore to Burma, now known as Myanmar. RD Bansal is one example of this school of producers who did not direct films but whose vision was different from the present crop of producers in the Bengali film industry. The scenario is dramatically different today because the producers do not have the kind of Bengali mindset they had during the 1950s, known as the golden era of Bengali cinema. People involved in other lines of business are stepping into films. Their purposes are different. Some contemporary producers buy videocassettes of outside films and dictate to the director which scene he should take from which film, resulting in a collage of scenes lifted from different, disjoined and distanced films.”
“When an industry faces a crisis, every person involved with the industry, directly and indirectly, has a responsibility to resolve the crisis. In films, it is therefore, incumbent upon (a) the director not to become the slave of the producer, (b) the producer to be emotionally involved with the film he is producing, and (c) the audience who must work towards a conscious encouragement of meaningful cinema. The director must fist think about his producer’s money and then about the audience acceptance of his film,” he sums up.