PORTRAIT OF A DIRECTOR
by Subhajit Ghosh
Gautam Ghosh was a strident political activist and a photo
journalist who toured the country to document images of life and times
in India. His encounter with reality, in stark close-up, inspired him to use cinema as an effective instrument of self-expression. One that makes
a powerful and lasting statement. HUNGRY AUTUMN was his debut, a prize winning documentary.
Goutam (born at Calcutta, 1950) graduated from the University of Calcutta and then
became involved in the theatre as entertainer and director. He acted in Grihajudda by
Buddahaeb Dasgupta in 1982. He is a professional photo-journalist and directed his
first short New Earth in 1973.
His first film MABHOOMI depicted the uprising of the workers against the Nizam of
Hyderabad. It was a moving account of the era of Independence struggle, from 1930 to 1948
and is a very well-made film. Made in Telugu, it was about the Telangana peasant's revolt of
1948 based on a short story by noted Hindi Writer Krishna Chander. It ran for a year in
Andhra Pradesh. The screenplay of the film was by Partho Bandopadhyay. A lot of
improvisations went into the making of this film. Here he tried to mix the fictional and the
documentary elements with some degree of success. In an interview, Ghosh has said that for MABHOOMI he had to work much more than his
subsequent films. His first feature, MABHOOMI, was made in a language unfamiliar to him.
Both he and Partho Bandopadhyay moved around in the villages, interacted with the
common people, and heard the version of the common people on the uprising. The original
script was altered to accommodate their views. Ghosh said he was completely stunned
when while filming the illiterate villagers pointed out to him how the costumes and the way it was being worn didn't reflected the way it was
actually worn by the peasant during the uprising. It was a great learning experience for Ghosh.
In his next film Dakhal in Bengali, Gautam got over his confusion and the film became a
telling portrayal of the life of a nomadic tribe and depicted the heroic attempts of a woman to
strike new roots. After DAKHAL, however, one can sense a slight decline in Gautam Ghosh's
standards. In subsequent films like ANTARJALI YATRA and PADMA NADIR MAJHI he seemed unable to
delve deeper into the psyche of the characters of his film. He seems to be overawed by style
and technique and is overlooking the thematic content. In ANTARJALI YATRA his
recreation of the period left much to be desired.
Gautam Ghosh's ANTARJALI YATRA dealt with the extremities of the caste system. In olden days, people were to be married in their caste. Since people from one's caste were very few,
often a young girl would have to be married to a very old man (from his own caste) as
inter-caste marriages were not allowed. An old man is on his death-bed in the film. His
relatives take him near the burning ghat, hoping that the end would dawn soon. The relatives
were interested in the property of the dying man. By a turn of fate, the old man suddenly
recovers. What happens next?....it would be criminal to divulge the whole plot in this writing.
Gautam displayed a firm command of the medium and deep social insight in his next film
Paar. Gautam Ghosh's PAAR was based on a story of Samaresh Bose. It had a talented
cast of performers compromising Naseeruddin Shah & Shabana Azmi. According to Ghosh,
the first part of PAAR was investigative, while the latter half was more narrative.
The synopsis : Darkness fall on a small village in Bihar. In the huts of the poor
harijan laborers, the hearths are being lit when the stillness of the night is
shattered by the noise
of advancing motorbikes and jeeps. The landlord's henchmen appear out of the dark,
carrying torches and guns. The huts are set on fire the people are pulled out of their hiding
places and gunned down. In the cover of darkness only a handful escape the holocaust:
among them, Naurangia and his pregnant wife, Rama. Naurangia and his wife become
fugitives from the law. Rama and Naurangia's odyssey takes them ultimately to Calcutta. By now Naurangia is fed up with being on the run. The government has announced
compensation for the victims of the massacre. Naurangia want to go back to the village. It is
rama who is determined not to go: "They'll kill you!" she says, "how can we go back?" On
the train to Calcutta they meet a stray traveler, a vagabond who persuaded them to spend a
little money they have then puts them on a train to a Calcutta suburb to find work in a jute
mill there. But the man Naurangia is to meet at the mill has left for his village. Naurangia
spends days futilely looking for employment. With starvation staring them in the face, even Rama is now willing to go back. But where is the money for the fare? At the end of one more
long and hopeless day, Naurangia is offered an absurd job. A herd of swine have to be
delivered to the other side of the river. The ferries refuse to take the animals on board. So
the herd must be manually driven across. Rama is at first scared of the wide river in front of
them. What if she loses the baby? But Naurangia is adamant. On this side of the river there
is hunger - on the other, money to take them home. They have no choice.
His next work PADMA NADIR MAJHI had a cast which
included Asaad, Champa, Utpal Dutt, Rupa Ganguly and Robi Ghosh. The story was based on a classical novel by Manik
Banerjee, and revolved around Kuber, a hardworking fisherman with a family. One day
meets a settler from a remote island of Moyna who tells a strange tale of danger and
hardship. The island is governed by Hossain Miyan, a rich merchant who owns a large boat
and populates the island with people from this village. Miyan defies the settler to name one
person who has been compelled to go to Moyna, and the settler backs down. In a violent
storm, many of the villagers lose their boats and huts. Miyan helps them make repairs and
hires Kuber and others who are impoverished. The visit to Moyna changes Kuber
completely. He changes in his attitude to his family and offends one of his neighbors, who
in revenge frames him for theft. Kuber runs away to Moyna to start afresh. A large portion of
this film was shot in Bangladesh and the film was completed on this side of the Border.
PATANG was evidence of a return to form. Set in a railroad shanty-town in Gaya, it was about the lives and times of the kite flying
protagonist who turns into a wagon breaker. Shafique as Somra, Azmi as his mother Jitni, Om Puri as the local don Mathura and
Shatrughan Sinha as a Railway Protection Force Chief Rabbani fit well in the shanty town
milieu and the Politician-Police-Criminal-Industrialist nexus was very realistic. PATANG shines because of its excellent cinematography as
is the hallmark in all Gautam Ghosh's film, notably in PADMA NADIR MAJHI. Collages
of beautiful shots were seen in Ghosh's previous film PADMA NADIR MAJHI also. The turn of events, at times, fails to build up the pace of the film which meanders into expected melodrama. The film operates on two levels. On the first level the lives of people in Manpur, a Station near Gaya, have been chronicled. Somra is a complex character who sees corruption growing all around him. He sees his drunkard father disinterested with life. He sees his mother having an illicit relationship with Mathura(played by Om Puri), a petty
dealer who takes advantage of the situation to make quick money. On another level the film says that even with rampant corruption all around everything is not lost. Shatrughan Sinha,essaying the role of an upright Officer impresses with his
performances. Asad, an actor from Bangladesh, playing a cameo role, acts delightfully, injecting the right nuances to the
characterizations. The film tries to explore the triangle of Jitni, Somra and Mathura in detail. However the director should have explored the political ramifications of the situation in greater details. The film ends on a hopeful note. The last scene shows Somra going back home after a close shave as dawn breaks in the sleepy Hamlet of Manpur. Those who have seen Ghosh's Telugu film MABHUMI will recall that it ended on a similar note of hope, with a strong early morning breeze blowing through the deep woods, as the few survivors of Telangana enter the forest. The screenplay by Gautam Ghosh and Ayan Rashid Khan, based on Sanjay Sahay's storyline, is crisp and pithy. Ashok Bose's art direction and Nilanjana Ghosh's costume design recreates the rustic
milieu of Gaya admirably. The director who also scored the music disappoints. In the final analysis, PATANG was a film that soars above the
mediocrity of run-of-the -mill Hindi films. It was a film about hope and reaffirmation and the efforts of individuals to explore the intricacies of a larger complex called life. Mohan Agashe & Robi Ghosh chipped in with fine cameos. The title attributes to the fact that the life of these petty
thieves of wagon breakers, and the ups and downs in their life like the flight of a kite.
Gautam Ghosh's GUDIA about the life of a ventriloquist was based on a story by the eminent Bengali novelist Mahasweta Devi ( JOHNNY O URVASHI ) and featured Mithun,
Nabaneeta Dev Sen, Subhendu Chatterjee, and Pran. It was based on a script by Ayn Rasheed Khan. This was the only Indian film selected for representation at the Cannes Film Festival in 1997.
Gautam Ghosh's FAKIR featured Pavan Malhotra and Indrani Halder.
His ninth feature film DEKHA became a smash hit in 2001.
The synopsis : In DEKHA, Soumitra Chaterji plays an ageing poet. His verses had once captivated the public. Too much
womanizing has been his bane. He doesn't write poetry anymore. His wife, Roopa Ganguly, has
deserted him because of his reckless lifestyle. Since then he became afflicted with glaucoma and is now nearly blind. Presently, he resides
in a mansion that is almost in ruins. His tenants, a divorcee Debasree
Roy and her young son provide him company. Debasree Roy is the daughter of Soumitra's friend ( Haradhan
Banerjee). Soumitra is dependent on Debasree who looks after his needs. Soumitra pines for the company of women, and often Debasree has to tackle a few of his amorous overtures tactfully. Debasree was once married to an artist ( Anjan Dutt ). Anjan's exhibitions were accompanied by wild partying. One day Debasree arrives at one such exhibition of his and gets molested by a gay
reveler. This was the last straw. Predictably, they separated. Years drift by. Anjan Dutt is now filled with remorse, and tries to
make amends. Debasree is adamant. She will not return to her husband. Debasree's son grows up under her care and spends most of his time in
the company of his jhetu ( Soumitra Chaterji ). Indrani Halder, in a cameo, plays a young smart girl who seeks
Soumitra Chatterjee's help to revive an ailing magazine and also persuade him to
start writing verses again. They become very friendly, and at times Soumitra lecherously touches her private parts.
Soumitra, Debasree and her son pay a visit to Haradhan Banerjee who lives in the rural countryside. They meet Gagan, a gifted village lad with
musical talents who can reproduce effortlessly the musical notes of a humming bird. Gagan's singing talent impresses everyone. Haradhan
requests Soumitra to take him along with him to the city. Soumitra
agrees. A passionate relationship develops between Debasree and Gagan. Anjan
Dutt also makes one last bid at reconciliation. Soumitra also can't survive without Debasree. Surrounded by this troika, what does Debasree
The film was based on a story by Sunil Gangopadhyay. It has been shot beautifully.
Photography has always been Gautam Ghosh's forte. Biplab Chaterji as an avaricious property dealer makes a brief appearance.
A few lilting songs including Rabindrasangeet adds to the charm.
This is also the first Bengali film to have used Dolby stereophonic sound.
Ghosh is currently directing ABAR ARANYA featuring Soumitra Chaterji, Sharmila Tagore, Jishu Sengupta, Tabu and others.
DOCUMENTARIES Gautam Ghosh has made a few documentaries. Gautam Ghosh's documentary MOHAR was based on the life of the
eminent Rabindrasangeet singer Konika Bandopadhay. It was a well-made documentary.
Gautam Ghosh has made a number of documentaries on varied personalities
viz. Utpal Dutta, Satyajit Ray, Bismillah Khan and Jyoti Basu.
BEYOND THE HIMALAYAS retraces the famous silk trade routes of Chinese Turkestan, Tibet and Mount Everest. Managing to persuade a rigid
Chinese Government to granting them permission, director Gautam Ghosh led his crew members on a long and historical
expedition. The film traverses the journey down those remote and little known regions, and captures the beauty, Culture and History of Central Asia and greater
Tibet. It was telecast in Discovery Channel as a five part series. BEYOND THE HIMALAYAS bagged the Best Documentary award at the 42ND
FILMFARE Awards Nite in 1997. BEYOND THE HIMALAYAS was based on a script by Ayn Rasheed Kahn.
Gautam Ghosh's Oriya-English "Kalahandi" won the best
investigative film award.
ACCOLADES: Gautam Ghosh has been conferred the prestigious DE SICA AWARD for highest
achievements in Films in 1997.This is a big recognition for Ghosh who is the first Indian
recipient of this award. The previous winners includes such names as Visconti,Fellini,Kurasawa and Bergman.
A Documentary THE VIEWFINDER on Gautam Ghose has been made by Amar Ray.The documentary traces the evolution of Ghose as a creative filmmaker. Interviews with renowned figures like Mrinal Sen, Buddhadeb Dasgupta, Aparna Sen, Rashid Khan, Naseerudin, Om Puri, Mithun Chakravorty, Rupa Ganguly and some others makes the documentary lively.
Gautam Ghosh is probably the youngest of Indian film directors to have a documentary
made on him. The person who convinced the initially-skeptical director to face the camera is a lanky 27-year -old with no former experience of filmmaking. Amar Roy, who took full two years to shoot THE VIEW FINDER, has tried to capture the socially committed filmmaker's dreams and aspirations on celluloid. Interesting anecdotes, interviews of people from the world of films and footage from Gautam's own films make the documentary a lively portrait. What determined the choice of the subject? "I feel he is the only filmmaker to have
highlighted the socio-economic problems in rural India," says Amar. "It left a deep impression on me."
Filmography:Maabhumi (1979, Telegu)
Dakhal (1981, Bengali)
Paar (1984, Hindi)
Antarjali Yatra (1987, Bengali)
Padma Nadir Maajhi (1992, Bengali)
Patang (1993, Hindi)
Gudia (1997, Hindi)
Dekha (2001, Bengali)
Abar Aranye (2003, Bengali)
Yatra (2006, Hindi)
About the Author: Subhajit has a passion for Bengali
cinema and has written many reviews of serious Bengali films and film
personalities. An engineering graduate from Jadavpur University, Subhajit
currently lives at Shillong and works at NE Hill University.