George Orwell, in one of his famous works Nineteen Eighty Four, said, "And when memory failed and written records were falsified—when that happened, the claim of the Party to have improved the conditions of human life had got to be accepted, because there did not exist, and never again could exist, any standard against which it could be tested."
Bengali Cinema—An Other Nation by author Sharmistha Gooptu is an attempt to understand Bengali cinema in the light of beginning and its journey so far. The book tries to capture a perspective view of time and events that dominated Bangla film industry.
The Bengali ‘Bhadralok’ as mentioned by Gooptu assumes greater significance in the book. This bhadralok is the same upper middle and middle class member of the Bengali society who arose during the colonial times. But the author precisely defines the bhadralok to be a movie lover, someone who went parallel with the Hindi cinema popularly known as the Bollywood.
Gooptu’s mention of New Theatres, one of Bengal’s most important studios between 1931 and 1941 has a significant link with new age movie makers. New Theatres’ films Dena Paona, Chandidas and Devdas are still widely sought after plots for directors across the nation. That is perhaps the reason why a movie like Devdas has been remade a number of times. Around seven versions of Devdas in different languages including Tamil and Telugu is reminder of the strong interlocking of movies across India.
In her endeavour to write the history of Bengali cinema, the writer has mentioned names of Uttam Suchitra and Satyajit Ray umpteen times. Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen have emerged as the strongest force during the beginning of the glorious decades of Bangla cinema. These were the stalwarts of the cinema who found profound space in the hearts of many Bangla movie lovers. They were the makers of the visual art and were being religiously followed decade after decade.
Gooptu has dedicated specific chapters for the all the stars of Bangla cinema. Another very vital chapter is dedicated to Bhanu Bandopadhyay who will always be remembered for his unparalled sense of humor and `Bangal accent’. She very specifically mentions the era of Bhanu Bandopadhyay when Bangla movies were stuffed with wholesome and genuine comedy. As the writer calls it, the chapter is an attempt to ‘examine the screen persona of Bhanu Bandopadhyay and the genre of film comedy which made him a star’.
The book is an interesting attempt to know the inside world of the Bangla cinema that was churned out once upon a time in Bengal. The ‘once upon a time’ has a specific relevance because the author feels that with the advent of modern era, that same novelty and sheen has somehow come to a state of depletion. While browsing through the chapters of the book one can easily visualise the then Bengali cinema which was replete with originality and novelty.
Bengali Cinema—An Other Nation is not the mental state of the author. It is rather the state of being of the cinema lovers who grew during that era. She defines Bengali culture and the very essence of Bengaliness in the perspective of the same folk who wore taanter shaari and dhuti to vent out emotional response in terms of the heyday’s rhetoric.
The intellectually stimulated reader would find the book to be a definitive elaboration of the passage of Bangla cinema.
The collection consists of seven thematic sections: The ‘idea’ of Bengali cinema, Bengal and national cinema: The new theatre limited, The transition into a regional cinema, Bengali love stories: Uttam suchitra and the golden era of Bengali cinema, Common man’s comedy: the Bhanu factor, Satyajit Ray and Bengali cinema, Changing context, new texts; Bengali cinema and another Bengaliness.