‘From Buddhadeb Dasgupta, I learnt not to emulate anyone, but to have my own voice’

It made me numb, comfortably numb. (Express archive photo)
Take a glance at the first frame of Tope (The Bait, 2016), and you’d know it’s a Buddhadeb Dasgupta film. While Dasgupta’s films are pathbreaking and disruptive, his editing was humbler. Not archetypal, but very relatable. His demise will leave a void which is very hard to fill. A still from Tope. He showed the world that Indian cinema can transcend the boundaries of realism and still remain purely Indian. He instilled a lot of hope in serious filmmakers who care for the medium and dare to swim against the tide. His aesthetic was deeply rooted in Indian folklore, yet he was postmodernist in the way that he excavated them out of the everyday and presented them to the world. The conflicts in his films would spell it out. © IE Online Media Services Pvt Ltd Sohini Dasgupta, his longtime associate director, narrated how the team would run around selecting great locations, and when the master finally had to finalise them, he wouldn’t like them. In Uttara (2000), for instance, the dwarf plays an alter-narrative at the climax, subtly taking the viewer from the cruel reality towards a world of imagination, dream and solace. As someone who wanted to make films but didn’t go to a film school, and was fascinated by his movies, I was eager to meet him. Earlier this year, the Arthouse Asia Film Festival in Kolkata organised a masterclass with Buddhadeb Dasgupta. Reflecting a certain kind of self-honesty, his characters would rarely be heroes or villains. He praised the imagery and use of music in my short film Boba Mukhosh (about a schizophrenic patient’s hallucination) but warned me “Kobi kintu chhobita noshto kore dichhe (the poet is ruining the visuals)”. He would walk alone and select a very simple location. It is difficult to find a single unmotivated camera movement in his films. Dasgupta would never resolve contextual conflicts but use them to open up new cinematic spaces, like in Swapner Din (2004), which is one of my favourite Indian films. Every film of his carries the inimitable signature of a poet who paints his feelings onto the celluloid canvas, without any sensationalism or gimmickry. He is revolutionary in the way he would revolutionise the viewer’s mind without making them feel the transition. From his National Award-winning films Bagh Bahadur (1989), Tahader Katha (1992) and Kaalpurush (2005) to his very last, Urojahaj (2019), the master’s subtlety was the most hard-hitting; he leaves us unsettled, with unresolved questions. (Amartya Bhattacharyya, director of the National Award-winning fantasy documentary Benaras: The Unexplored Attachments (2015), is based in Kolkata.)

📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. And while some of his films might be on YouTube, it is crucial that all his films are made available on OTT platforms so that consumers of popular cinema can, for a change, take a look and wonder: wasn’t this the Indian cinema that most of India missed? Silence was an instrument powerfully used by him. Also Read |Buddhadeb Dasgupta (1944-2021): A poet at heart whose cinema was a mix of realism, lyricism
A still from Tahader Katha. I went to Dasgupta’s Ballygunge residence in Kolkata in 2012. It would have been extremely difficult for the Bengali filmmaker, especially at the time he started, to not follow the likes of Satyajit Ray, Ritwik Ghatak or Mrinal Sen. He was an ardent admirer of Spanish filmmaker Luis Buñuel, but Dasgupta’s films never looked like Buñuel’s – the hallmark of a true auteur. Written by Amartya Bhattacharyya |

June 10, 2021 8:22:29 pm

Director Buddhadeb Dasgupta passed away on Thursday. Some poets have a habit of over-indulging in texts, but he was not of that kind. Also Read |Five Buddhadeb Dasgupta films that are essential viewing for Indian film lovers
One of the strongest pillars of Indian cinema over the last few decades – having won several National Awards and recognition at top global festivals – his films continue to stand tall over the prevalent mediocrity of our times. Luckily, I attended it. Each layer would reveal another film. The location will tell you that I’m your location.”
A still from Swapner Din. I met him through the veteran Odia filmmaker Manmohan Mahaptra, who passed away last year. He was a poet himself, but he would never indulge in textual poetry when it came to filmmaking. He had more cinema left in him, and plenty of genius for us to consume and feel inspired by. His class was in his simplicity. The landscapes in his films – be it Uttara (2000) or Swapner Din (2004) – harks back to his childhood days in Purulia. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines
For all the latest Entertainment News, download Indian Express App. While Dasgupta’s landscapes would always be imprinted in every viewer’s heart, he composed some extremely powerful close-ups in between. I remember the day I showed him my first film. You may not feel with them, but you’ll feel for them. From his films, I learnt not to emulate anyone else, but to have my own voice.https://images.indianexpress.com/2020/08/1×1.png
As a filmmaker, I find tremendous inspiration from his films, and his words. I was soaked into the film, intoxicated by the poetic visual-aesthetic, transported to another world. Once, in one of his interviews published in the Bengali daily Anandabazar Patrika, Dasgupta had said: “Ray er reality amar noye (Satyajit Ray’s reality isn’t mine)”. He would layer his films with subtexts and analogies. It opens with a lone wooden-door frame in the outdoors, with a gramophone and a dancing character. He created images like none of his predecessors, and took Indian cinema beyond the literal, to surreal and magic-realist territories. Those who segue the transition from the real to the unreal; at times, one can’t ascertain whether what they saw was realism or magic realism. He would always allow his images to speak. Sometimes the dancers, sometimes the flute player, sometimes the dwarfs – there will be characters in his films who act like bridges. He explained how in spite of very strong imagery, the spoken words of poetry would suppress the poetry of my images. His choice of shots is a tutorial for every young filmmaker. His images would open up new spaces and place the viewer right there. Even today, when I feel like indulging, his words ring a bell, and I resort to silence. From the lens and technical equipment to camera movements, he was measuredly simple. She recalled having asked him once: “How do you know this is the location you want?” He replied: “Just sit there quietly for a while. As a viewer, you don’t feel bombarded with information, you simply float on a soothing tide. A certain nostalgia – not an explicit remembrance of Bengal’s lost past – seeps through the screen and touches the viewer. The shots and cuts didn’t come as a jolt, but an easing out. He spoke about several aspects of filmmaking, from the use of the lens to the selection of locations. But Dasgupta created an art so distinct. He would choose subjects which are extremely simple, yet sensitive. He was a philosopher who would never philosophise. The Indian Express website has been rated GREEN for its credibility and trustworthiness by Newsguard, a global service that rates news sources for their journalistic standards.