The flavour of Kolkata

The flavour of Kolkata
The city is known for its old alleys. One such is shot by Atanu Pal.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Review: Cinemawala

Language- Bengali
Cast- Paran Bandopadhyay, Parambrata Chattopadhyay, Sohini Sarkar, Arun Guhathakurta and others
Director- Kaushik Ganguly
Release date- 13th May 2016

I admire Kaushik Ganguly’s prowess of picking up seemingly unexciting subjects and spinning a yarn around them. When Shabdo was released, I wondered how a foley artist’s profession made for an engaging plot. I realized it when I watched the film. I trust Kaushik with this skill and this is the reason why he is able to keep coming with new stories and never needs to fall back on literature.

Cinemawala is a tale of father-son conflict on the backdrop of a closed single-screen theatre in a village. Pranabendu Das (Father- Paran Bandopadhyay) is the owner of the theatre which has had its share of glory in the golden years of Bengali cinema. He finds sustenance from his family business of fish wholesale but refuses to let his undying love for cinema be defeated by his present. So he spends almost the entire day in the office of his theatre Kamalini, reminiscing the better days of Bengali cinema, punctuated with anecdotes, with his sole companion, the jobless projectionist of the theatre- Hari (Arun Guhathakurta). The session stretches till late evening over drinks. Kamalini is named after his wife (Alaknanda Roy) who left his family not being able to cope with his husband’s obsession for cinema with little care for a family life. Pranabendu’s son (Parambrata) doesn’t share his father’s ethics and values and is working hard to grow his business of illegal CDs and DVDs of current movies. He hates his father’s fish business and wants to run his family on his own. He needs money as his wife is pregnant. The father and son’s views on reviving the theatre don’t meet and they don’t see eye to eye. The son’s wife (Sohini Sarkar) is torn between the father and son.

With his finesse, Paran is a treat to watch as the brilliantly understated Pranabendu Das. Being one of the gifted veterans in the business, his acting prowess gets redemption in the well-written protagonist’s role of a ‘cinemawala’ (movie merchant). Pranabendu’s passion for cinema, for which he sacrifices a family life, is exemplary. Parambrata wonderfully matches up to him in a nuanced portrayal of the shrewd son who is desperate to come out of his father’s shadow (so much so that he buys a projector by selling jewellery gifted to his wife and uses it in illegal screening of movies in the village fair). On the other hand, he is good as the husband who loves his wife. Sohini is apt as the naïve wife who silently does her best to keep the family together. Arun Guhathakurta, another fine talent, is perfect as the old Hari who has undeterred loyalty to his master and deep attachment with the celluloid projector he used to operate. Lama is good in a small role as Param’s business partner with speech issues.

Paran Bandopadhyay

 Parambrata Chattopadhyay 

Kaushik’s writing and deft direction touch upon the grave crisis of survival for the single screen theatres and the threat of piracy as one of the primary reasons for it. The well-etched characters crafted by him complimented by the minimal yet effective dialogue has enabled him to use the actors’ fine expressions in close shots and bring out the ideological conflict between the father and the son in flesh and blood. The fine moments like the heartbroken Pranabendu looking out of his office window as the buyer of his defunct projector is taking it out, or the hurt caused by his son at home that makes him throw away the fish he picked up for his pregnant daughter-in-law will be etched in the mind long after the film is over. The film underscores an unknown theatre owner’s passion for and understanding of cinema- qualities those are essential in running the business of cinema. The climax is imaginative with a touch of surrealism.

It is indeed part of Kaushik’s best work. The film also underscores the fact that Kaushik is a ‘cinemawala’ too, who keeps coming back to us with finely crafted films of different flavours that we savour.

Soumik Halder’s camera and Tanmoy Chakraborty’s art direction have helped create the laidback life in the village and its occasional merry-making like the fair (Poush mela) and the run-down theatre (especially the old world office). Indradip Dasgupta’s minimal background score is effective in carrying the poignant scenes. The editor’s job (Subhojit Singha) is well done too as the film never drags in its compact screen time of 105 minutes.

Cinemawala celebrates the nostalgia around the cinema which may inspire us in the audience to go to the theatre more often to watch the movies we desire to, shunning the easy modes of watching a movie available these days. After all, a film is meant for the big screen (As Pranabendu exclaims, “Eta cinema. Eta big screen”). I only wish there was a ray of positivity in the film about the future of the cinema business. Though it is an uphill struggle to run a single screen theatre these days, more so in the rural areas, all is not over yet.

(Parambrata's picture- sourced from the film's Facebook page)

#Cinemawala #BanglaCinema #KaushikGanuly #Parambrata

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Thursday, May 26, 2016

The big bang release of ‘Praktan’

As an impassioned supporter of Bangla cinema, it gives me a high to note the great job the makers of the keenly-awaited 27th May release Praktan has done in distribution. Besides an uncharacteristically wide release in Bengal (last heard 101 theatres, by distributor Piyali Films managed by Arijit Dutta of Priya Entertainments), the film is having an unprecedented big release all over India. Most importantly, and as another first, this will be a day-date release which means the film will see a release all over India on the same date as Bengal.

In the 25 cities that the film will be released in, most do not generally see a Bengali release though they are known to have a sizeable Bengali population (like Lucknow, Kanpur, Chennai, Allahabad, Bhubaneshwar, Patna and Dhanbad). Bangla movies have a release (if at all) deferred by a few weeks mostly in cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Pune and Bangalore.

On top of it and as yet another first, Praktan is going to have a day-date international release in 8 cities in US and 1 city in Canada. The theatres are:

California- AMC Mercado 20, Cine Grant Fremont
New York- Bombay Theatre
Dallas- Fun Asia Richardson
New Jersey- Regal Commerce Center
Los Angeles- Brea Plaza 5 Cinemas
Seattle- Roxy Cinema
Toronto- Albion Cinemas, Woodside Cinemas

Bangla movies don’t see an international release for quite some time. In the past, a US-based organization called Databazar used to release Bangla movies in the US on a small scale but the efforts were not sustained for long.

All this is possible thanks to Eros being the distribution partner. This big and eminent production & distribution house of Hindi cinema and of late, regional cinema, has the necessary clout in distributing Indian movies in the country and international markets. Eros decided to back the Praktan director duo Nandita Roy & Shiboprosad Mukhopadhyay’s films after they distributed their last release nationally observing its success in Bengal (Belasheshe, a blockbuster of 2015). 

If Praktan is a success, a large national and international market will open before Bangla cinema from which it can immensely benefit.  The struggling industry is probably pinning its hopes on the film.

#Praktan #PraktanRelease #ErosRelease #USrelease #CanadaRelease

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Sunday, May 22, 2016

The reopening of a lost hope

It is common knowledge now that it has become a routine for single-screen theatres in Kolkata and other parts of West Bengal to shut down. The state used to have seven hundred theatres (multiplexes apart), a number which is now bleeding at just two hundred and forty eight. Consistent poor business on one hand and rising costs on the other are the primary reasons for their fate. All of us have fond memories of a number of theatres where we used to go to watch movies, which are closed down now.

The just-released Cinemawala by Kaushik Ganguly deals with this brute truth at its core. It’s a father-son relationship story in the backdrop of a closed down theatre in the suburbs.

The lack of business emerges out of basically two reasons- 1. The pathetic box office of Bangla cinema these days (I’m talking of the mainstream releases here, not so-called urban cinema which releases not even in one third of the theatres) and the owners’ apathy to the business. Any business calls for the businessman’s interest and involvement to survive and flourish and there is no reason why a movie theatre would be any different. The state government supported the cause of the theatre owners some years ago by bringing down the amusement tax to just 2% for Bengali movies on condition that the savings would be ploughed back into the improvement and upgrade of the theatres, but most of the theatre owners have been reluctant to avail this opportunity.

On the other hand, changing with the times in terms of technology and amenities and learning smart ways of doing business have kept many theatres in good business not only in Kolkata but in the districts as well. From personal experience in the movie exhibition business (running a movie theatre in other words) spanning Kolkata to interiors of Bengal I know that the audience across economic classes doesn’t mind paying a little more for a better movie watching experience.

At this juncture, it’s incredible to see a closed theatre re-opening. But that’s what has happened almost silently in one corner of Kolkata earlier this month. Ellora, an old theatre in Behala and once a much-loved destination for cine goers, has been re-opened after being closed for three years. This is thanks to the owners of Ajanta Cinema, one of the popular theatres of the city located in the same area.

Tthe owners of Ajanta- the young Satadeep Saha and his father Ratan Saha are passionate about the business of film exhibition and that is the reason why some single screen theatres in Kolkata have moved with time and are sustaining themselves well in the age of multiplexes (Priya being a prime example). Since I was overjoyed with the news, I asked Satadeep how it happened. He shared the inspiring story of their growing cinema business.

They have always wanted to grow screens with good infrastructure. It all started in 2007 when they renovated Ajanta and opened the screen 1 in 2007, followed by its success the screen 2 came in 2008. The next stop was Tripura which has a sizable Bengali population. There was not a single decent theatre in the state. So the Sahas took a calculative risk and opened a four-screen multiplex named SSR Rupasi in 2012. It is running successfully screening new Bengali and Hindi releases.

They were looking for properties to start a new theatre in Kolkata and rather than going for a new property which calls for a substantial investment, re-opening a theatre seemed a viable option. Ellora is a well-located theatre just a few kilometers away, which was closed for three years and they zeroed in on it.

Ellora finally threw open its gates on 6th May 2016. I found it out from a nonchalant status update by Satadeep on Facebook. As he shared, it has been opened as it was,  only with a better projection and sound for now. The Sahas plan to renovate it over time with all modern facilities to qualify it as a movie-viewing option besides the plexes. Ticketing machines are being installed and online booking will be open soon. Good for now! Ellora will show mainly Bengali movies and Hindi movies as well.

A friend born and brought up in Behala informed that decades back Ellora used to be the number one movie destination for the educated middle and upper middle class in Behala. He fondly recalled his family trips to the place in his early school days.

Here’s hoping Ellora earns its lost glory back.

#MovieTheatresKolkata #Ellora #BehalaTheatres #BengaliCinema

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Thursday, May 12, 2016

‘Elixir’ makes it to the Cannes big league

A lady was waiting at a restaurant in Kolkata for her husband’s friend to deliver a parcel. The waiter served her a glass of water. And it changed her life, as it was not water, but ‘Elixir’.

Srija was living an unhappy life because of a failed marriage. Her husband was a corporate slave and had little time for his family. The Elixir gives a U-turn to her living by transporting her to a dream life where she meets a man and they fall in love. Akash, her lover, is in his early thirties, very sensitive and caring and has all the qualities of a quintessential Bengali lover. She starts living two parallel lives but yearns for this imaginary life and prefers it to the reality. It affects her psychological well-being and she eventually ends up in a hospital. There, she is offered a final choice- another drink of Elixir.

This is the synopsis of a short film named Elixir made by debutant Anirban Guha, born and brought up in Kolkata, and working as a banker in Delhi. What makes this film different is that it has been selected among forty films from India for screening at the ongoing Cannes Short Film Corner (11th to 22nd May 2016).

 The official poster for Cannes Short Film Corner

Another interesting bit about the film is that those who have acted in it are all non-actors, except the female lead Daminee Benny Basu. Mahul Brahma, a Kolkata-based senior editor-turned-corporate communicator, plays Akash, her dream lover. Anirban, however, had the support of an experienced cinematographer and editor in Ravi Kiran Ayyagari and Sreya Chatterjee respectively, both alumni of FTII. Sreya won a national award for her work in 2008.

As I asked Anirban how he had zeroed in on the story, he revealed that the story (written by his wife Sinjini Sengupta) actually inspired the film. He was very excited with the story, so decided to base the film on it.

About casting Mahul, Anirban said that he was his first choice for Akash because he was sure that Mahul would be able to deliver. He was glad that Mahul agreed to do the role and did justice to it. Mahul, on the other hand, is happy about his new experience. He said, “When Anirban told me about the role I thought he must be joking. He was absolutely sure that I will fit the role of Akash, the dream lover, best. Every day of the shoot was a challenge for me. But thanks to the excellent team effort, the hard work paid off.  Watching our movie screened at Cannes Film Festival will be an amazing experience.”

Mahul Brahma in a still from the film

The making of the film was quite a challenge. Anirban being extremely busy with his job, shot the film in just four days in Kolkata in December 2015 when he finally managed to take leave. The post-production was the biggest challenge as his crew was spread across three cities. Hence, much of the iterative and intense work had to be carried out over conversations over phone and internet chat. It also needed with some quick trips to Kolkata over weekends to brush up and even out loose ends.

#Cannes #Elixir #ShortFilmKolkata

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Sunday, May 08, 2016

A unique Bengali new year calendar

I read in Ei Samay, the Bengali daily, a few days ago that a Bengali new year calendar was printed in thirty thousand by a leading cake shop chain, and it went out of stock within two weeks of the Bengali new year day this year (14th April) or less, thanks to the demand from customers among whom it was distributed.

Drooling over a calendar of Bengali new year (it’s 1423), something that most of us don’t follow except for certain times of the year! Also, the creative aspect of such a calendar is generally not worth writing home about. So this one had got to be something extremely special, I thought.

The name of the creative agency (Mayurakshi) and that it was for a leading cake shop chain rang a bell. So when I was in Mio Amore earlier this week and had a fleeting glance of someone walking out with a sophisticated rolled up calendar, I asked a salesman whether they had come up with a new year calendar. As he answered in affirmative, I asked whether it was for a price. He embarrassedly said no, and picked up and handed over one to me. It was a wonderful reward from the chain to me for being a loyal customer for many years.

It is a theme calendar based on Satyajit Ray and the legendary sleuth created by him- Feluda, produced in association with the Ray family and Ray Society, with a well-worded foreword by Sandip Ray. It celebrates the fiftieth year of Feluda’s debut in Bengali literature. Sandip has revealed how Feluda had gradually developed noticeable resemblance in psychological traits and similarities in physical traits and dress sense with his creator.

The calendar presents the versatile creative genius of Ray, from writing, illustration and book designing to various aspects of filmmaking.

It starts with the manuscript of the first Feluda story- Feludar Goendagiri along with its published illustration and the book cover design of Joy Baba Felunath.

The manuscript of Feludar Goendagiri

It then walks into his world of filmmaking where we see the first page of the Sonar Kella script, Ray’s work on the production design (like the sketch of Feluda’s room in Sonar Kella), costume design and character sketches.

The first page of Sonar Kella script (Middle at the left)

The sketch of Feluda’s room in Sonar Kella

The character sketch of the knife thrower Arjun (Right) and the design of the dart board in Joy Baba Felunath

Costume design for Sonar Kella

There are stills of the making of the two Feluda films made by Ray showing him busy in the shooting with the actors.

The maestro earnestly believed in getting every small detail right in his films and used to be personally involved in ensuring the same. The shooting stills of Joy Baba Felunath in the calendar bear ample testimony to it. How many of us know that the freeze-frame at the end of Joy Baba Felunath showing the title written on stone at the Beneras ghat was created by Ray himself?

Ray adding touches to the Durga idol in Joy Baba Felunath 

The master writing the title on stone in Benaras which we see in the 
freeze-frame at the end of Joy Baba Felunath 

My sincere thanks to Mio Amore for creating this collector’s item where they have cheered for the Bengali intelligence and creativity.

#BengaliNewYear #SatyajitRay #Feluda50 #FeludaFilms #MioAmore

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Sunday, May 01, 2016

The music release of ‘Praktan’

“Ghum bhange Esplanade
Khola bhange Chine badam
Chena kon ghaasher daag
Shuye thaka ki araam
Kolkata, tumi-o hente dyakho
Kolkata, tumi-o bhebe dyakho
Jaabe ki na jaabe amar sathe”

The city of Kolkata has become a character in numerous Bengali films till date. An apt example in recent times would be ‘Kahaani’(which was technically not a Bengali film albeit its unmistakable Bengaliness). But we are yet to come across a film which romances the city in the true sense.

The wait was over as the first song from the eagerly-awaited May ’16 release Praktan was released in the social media in April. It is called the ‘Kolkata’ song, an excerpt of whose lyric is in the beginning of this post. The protagonist Ujaan (played by Prosenjit), in this movie directed by the famous duo Shiboprosad Mukhopadhyay-Nandita Roy, is a tour guide in the city who has an undying love for the city and prefers calling himself an explorer.

The song, penned and composed by Anupam Roy and sung by himself and Shreya Ghosal was lapped up instantly. I loved the melodious composition and the wonderful lyric, not to say the mellifluous voice of Anupam and the infectious charm of Shreya. I sorely miss the pure romance in contemporary Bangla cinema (the last romantic tale I loved was Antaheen in 2009), so finding solace in the lines “Khunje dite na parle aari/ Amar Byomkesh Bakshir bari/ Tawbei tomar katha/ Kolkata Kolkata/ Sawbkichhu mene nite pari” took no time.

The invitation to the music release was therefore instantly accepted. As I settled down in a sultry afternoon at South City Mall on 27th April, the media and the crowd had started gathering.

The show started a little late. Meanwhile, the trailer of the film (Released earlier on YouTube) was being played time to time. Somak, the emcee took the stage first and conducted a quiz about the cast and the director duo.

 The trailer being played on the backdrop with a screen

Among the known faces from the cast, crew and music team, Aparajita Adhya turned up first, followed by Anupam and Anindya Chatterjee. Shiboprosad came little later and took the stage reluctantly as he was called by the emcee (he wanted to go up with his co-director Nandita). He shared with us the experience of making the film which was conceived in 2002 (long before they debuted with Ichchhe). From the beginning the lead cast was locked as Prosenjit and Rituparna, but they had just stopped doing movies together following irreconcilable differences. The film finally got rolling last year when the director duo, now with seven films behind them, got a nod on the story idea from the actors who had buried the hatchet sometime back and were waiting to make a comeback with the right film.

 Shiboprosad Mukhopadhyay

He also shared the ‘firsts’ for Praktan- from shooting with a helicam on Kolkata streets to Eros, one of the leading studios in Mumbai, backing the film (Eros started taking a long term interest in the director duo as they did the national distribution of their last year’s blockbuster Belasheshe). He also shared later that this was for the first time after Ray’s Nayak that a whole train was used for shooting a movie, and he thanked eminent production designer Nitish Roy (also known as the husband of Nandita Roy) for this. Also as a first, the movie will have a same day-release in 40 centres across India (I guess West Bengal is excluded in it). Shiboprosad was joined by Nandita who is a lady of few words and prefers her work to do the talking.

After a quick round on stage with members of the cast and the musical team who were present (the lead actors were yet to come), the presenter of the film Atanu Raychaudhuri, producer Probhat Roy and co-producer Pranab Guha (of Ardor Entertainments) were called on stage. Shiboprosad, in his short speech earlier took pride in the fact that this was a film completely made by a group of Bengalis (from producers to directors). Atanu, a barrister by profession, talked about his satisfactory association of five films with Shiboprosad (starting with Muktodhara in 2012). The producer and the co-producer have either started off with this film or Belasheshe. It is nice to see Shiboprosad handholding various Bengali businessmen/ professionals into becoming first time producers as his success run continues. Bengali cinema needs more and more such backers. 

The director duo, the cast and the musical team

The directors with Atanu Raychaudhuri and Probhat Roy (Third and fourth from left)

Somak called the musical team on stage again- Anupam, Anindya, Imon Chakraborty (a new playback singer) and Surojit who have made five songs (including two versions of one song) between them. All the singers other than Imon have also acted in the film, playing themselves. Anindya put on record that his first playback and first work as a composer have both been in Shiboprosad-Nandita’s films (Ichchhe and Aleek Sukh respectively). Surojit talked about his work as a composer with the director duo in Ichchhe and Muktodhara. He also revealed that many songs had been rejected before he recorded Radharaman Dutta’s Bhromor as a singer after Shiboprosad had suggested it one night.

(Left to right) Upal, Anindya, Imon, Anupam and Surojit

It was the time for some live music. Anupam came back on stage and as a nice gesture, he called his musicians and introduced them. One of them said that unlike the current practice in the recording studio, they mostly played along live at the time of recording.

Anupam and his musicians including Ratul Shankar (third from left)

Next, Anupam enthralled the thick crowd with his ‘Kolkata’ song. Prosenjit and Rituparna arrived as the performance was on and they joined the singer. Rituparna hummed and moved her hands to the tune of the song to show how much it was close to her heart.

Anupam singing the 'Kolkata' song

 Rituparna, Anupam (singing the 'Kolkata' song) and Prosenjit

Song over, the actors who united after fifteen years for this film shared their take on the film and the characters they portrayed. Prosenjit said he wasn’t aware of a profession like the one he has in the film and it was indeed a good service to the city.

Iman Chakraborty impressed with her soulful rendition of Tumi jaake bhalobaso- a tragic romantic number written and composed by Anupam his inimitable style. This song was also released on social media before this event.

Iman Chakraborty snging Tumi jaake bhalobaso

Moner guptochawr- best described as a Chandrabindoo-style fun romantic number penned and composed by Anindya was belted out by him, preceded by the introduction of his musicians which included Upal. I saw Rishona, Rituparna’s daughter, enjoying herself dancing to the tune at the side of the stage.

Anindya in performance with Moner guptochawr (his musicians behind him)

Rishona (Rituparna's daughter) enjoying herself

Bhromor is a kirtan-style tragic song and Surajit did complete justice to it. Anupam wrapped up the performances with his version of Tumi jaake bhalobaso.

Surojit singing Bhromor

A contest was organized where the participants had to sing the ‘Kolkata’ song and send it by Whatsapp. As promised, the three winners were called on stage and they got to sing the song along with Anupam.

 Anupam with the contest winners 

The album was unveiled hereafter amid great cheer. It has been brought out by a start-up named Amara Muzik which started off earlier with Bastushaap (a January 2016 release). Prosenjit broke into an impromptu jig first with the child artist in the movie, then with Rishona.

Rituparna and Prosenjit unveiling the music album

Rishona has a dance partner in Prosenjit 

Goodricke, a partner to the film, interacted with the crowd through getting them to share their tea-related experiences and participate in fun activities like tong twister at their stall. They also sampled their Roasted Darjeeling Tea, which was a strong brew, unlike the familiar Darjeeling tea.

Looking forward to the release of the movie on 27th May.

#Praktan #PraktanMusic #KolkataSong #BengaliMusic #BengaliCinema

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