As soon as Upon a Cinema: Past the Trinity

Rajen Tarafdar made simply seven movies in thirty years. And but, his work displays a maturity hardly ever seen in Bengali cinema. His cinema typically spoke of the marginalised and the downtrodden, and even seasoned filmmakers like Shyam Benegal had been dazzled by his work. At the moment, he’s all however forgotten.

On the subject of Bengali cinema, it’s as if the world can’t see past the all-consuming Trinity of Satyajit Ray, Ritwik Ghatak and Mrinal Sen. Even the Bengalis, all the time on the cusp of an id disaster, typically appear to recommend that each one they should boast of in cinema is the trio. “Past the Trinity” is a series-within-the-series the place Amborish throws mild on some staggering skills of Bengali cinema that the world must find out about, and have a good time.

There was this gifted director who was additionally a gifted graphic artist and was working at a number one international promoting agency earlier than he began making films. The truth that he was an illustrator helped him in making hand-drawn storyboards and sketches. He made his first movie on a shoestring finances, with a comparatively new manufacturing designer named Bansi Chandragupta. Their movie was launched within the mid-Nineteen Fifties and heralded the arrival of a recent new voice in filmmaking. His title was Rajen Tarafdar. The above description makes one consider one other Bengali filmmaker who was additionally a graphic artist at a international promoting company and made his first movie within the 50s.

There are numerous intersecting factors between Satyajit Ray’s and Rajen Tarafdar’s filmmaking careers. That is particularly placing when one seems at Tarafdar’s debut, Antariksha (1957). It’s a furiously unique piece of labor, and shot with specific sensitivity in direction of the landscapes, wildlife of rural Bengal. A number of the frames are strongly paying homage to Pather Panchali: kids in a rural setting, ponds, home animals, and dilapidated huts amid dense foliage. The similarity of appear and feel within the two movies may should do with the truth that two of the crew members had been widespread to each initiatives: manufacturing designer Bansi Chandragupta and cameraman Dinen Gupta (who assisted Subrata Mitra on Pather Panchali). However the parallels with Ray’s movie had been solely at a floor stage. Rajen Tarafdar’s movie is distinctly completely different in type, temperament and plot.

Antariksha was primarily based on a narrative written by playwright and actor Tulshi Lahiri. It had a convoluted plot about mistaken id and well-guarded household secrets and techniques. But it surely had a visible richness and maturity fairly in contrast to an everyday directorial debut. In his very first movie, Tarafdar had managed to rope in veterans like Chhabi Biswas and Padma Debi. Antariksha was such a nuanced piece of labor that one wonders, 65 years on, why it didn’t get the eye it deserved. Rajen Tarafdar got here to cinema by way of theatre. He had been deeply concerned in theatre since his faculty days. He did direct performs, however he additionally acted in them. Tarafdar’s experience and information of appearing held him in good stead throughout his filmmaking profession. His digital camera didn’t shrink back from just a little drama. Deftly staged, high-strung and fantastically shot emotional scenes had been hallmarks of his movies.

An excessive amount of indulgence in native performs (jatra) and theatre might not have been seen by his household as a productive utilization of a youth’s time. That’s how folks had been in these days. Tarafdar left his Rajshahi dwelling at an early age, and moved to Calcutta the place he was comparatively free to do as he happy. Theatre remained a continuing companion. In faculty days, he was solely appearing in performs, and course was one thing that captured his creativeness when he began working. Along with the stage, drawing and sketching had been abiding passions. Actually, it was from Calcutta’s Authorities School of Artwork & Craft that he graduated in 1940, and commenced working as a visualizer at J. Walter Thompson.

Once Upon a Cinema Beyond the Trinity  Who was Rajen Tarafdar

Rajen Tarafdar with Dhritiman Chatterjee in Akaler Shandhaney

The one movie that introduced Rajen Tarafdar on the map and remains to be thought-about one in every of his most interesting items of labor is Ganga (1960). Tailored from the eponymous novel by Samaresh Basu, it’s an evocative story about “creatures of the water”, as one of many characters describes the lot, the fisher-folk of Bengal who roam concerning the waves of Ganga and its tributaries looking for fish and redemption. One in all their very own was taken by the ocean way back, so the fishermen are cautious of the ocean. They imagine there’s a curse and that venturing into the ocean would imply sure dying. However it’s Bilash, the youngest amongst them, who’s hell-bent to enter the ocean and discover it. Love blooms alongside the way in which and dying rears its ugly head. With extraordinarily restricted means, Tarafdar constructed elaborate set items. In direction of the start of the movie, there’s a boat race which has dozens of actors and scores of extras. With a skeleton crew and rudimentary tools, Rajen Tarafdar managed to tug off scenes of extraordinary complexity involving lots of of extras and elaborate motion sequences. However regardless of all this chaos unfolding on display, Ganga finally is a delicate portrayal of life within the riverbeds. Gyanesh Mukherjee’s highly effective portrayal of the aged patriarch is unforgettable, and so is the searing efficiency of Niranjan Ray who performs the beefed-up Bilash (severely, he may give right this moment’s six-packers a run for his or her cash). In the identical yr, Niranjan had additionally performed the cold-hearted boyfriend Sanat in Ritwik Ghatak’s Meghe Dhaka Tara. There it was the heroine Supriya Choudhury all the way in which however in Ganga, he will get a chance to chunk into the function.

Ganga was the one movie by Rajen Tarafdar which was extensively seen, acclaimed and appreciated. The songs, composed by Salil Chowdhury, had been hits – particularly this one ditty by Manna Dey referred to as Amay bhashaili re/ Amay dubaili re. The tune was reused in Bimal Roy’s Kabuliwala (1961) within the tune Ganga aaye kahan re/ Ganga jaaye kahan re (this time sung by Hemant Kumar), which was additionally Gulzar’s first launch as a lyricist (Bandini was to come back two years later). The success of Ganga allowed Rajen to recruit stars like Basanta Choudhury, Pahari Sanyal, Bhanu Bannerjee, Anup Kumar, Chhaya Devi along with Chhabi Biswas in Agnishikha (1962). It was a revenge drama a couple of son avenging his mom, and bore a placing resemblance with Yash Chopra’s Trishul which was launched 16 years later. Tarafdar adopted this up with Jiban Kahini (1964), a black comedy a couple of failed insurance coverage agent (Bikash Ray) who’s about to kill himself, unable to bear the burden of debt. As he’s about to leap, he encounters a a lot youthful man (Anup Kumar) who’s additionally about to finish his life. This offers the outdated man an excellent thought. The movie accommodates an array of quirky characters (just like the agent’s daughter who recites a mugged-up line each time a mortgage shark knocks on her door to gather his debt) and makes you snort on the most inopportune moments.

Rajen had an unwavering dedication to his ardour. When he had his coronary heart set on selecting cinema as a vocation, he resigned from his place on the company. JWT didn’t settle for his resignation, insisting on sending a automotive dwelling to select him up. He would ship his son Gora to shout at them from the balcony that Rajen wasn’t dwelling.  At some point, the automotive stopped coming. Rajen was fortunately making movies and doing theatre. However in a profession spanning thirty years, he ended up directing a sum whole of seven movies. However these handful of movies stay to show his mastery over the craft of filmmaking. Even within the swaying boats on the river in Ganga, his digital camera remained stationary. His experience appeared to stem from his personal understanding of the widespread folks and the way their world features.

Shyam Benegal was deeply impressed by Rajen Tarafdar’s work. He has gone on report expressing his admiration for Rajen’s filmmaking. In 1983, he solid Rajen in a detrimental function for his movie Arohan. Rajen featured in three different movies, Mrinal Sen’s Khandhar (1984) and Aakaler Sandhaney (1980), and Shekhar Chatterjee’s Basundhara (1986). The final movie is a good instance of how skilful Tarafdar’s appearing was. He typically performed illiterate, exploitative moneylenders or farmers. He was so good at essaying these roles that it’s troublesome to fathom it is the identical man making these beautiful movies.

Apart from Ganga and Antariksha, the opposite movie that stands tall in Rajen Tarafdar’s physique of labor is Palanka (1975), a post-partition story about an outdated man holding on to a bit of furnishings – an ornate mattress – and his previous, and the way he learns to let go. The movie options some priceless moments shared between the 2 leads performed by Utpal Dutta and Bangladesh’s Anwar Hossain. Palanka gained Rajen Tarafdar his second Nationwide Award (he gained the primary for Ganga).

Rajen Tarafdar’s worldview and craftsmanship is clear in a narrative associated by his son Gora Tarafdar to journalist Atindra Daniyari. Rajen was capturing for his swansong, Naagpash (1987) within the Sunderbans, and Gora was helping him. They arrived at a makeshift clinic. The physician welcomed the filmmaker and his crew. Rajen requested, the place is Bhebo? In a minute, “Bhebo” stood in entrance of them with half his face coated with a gamcha (a towel cum handkerchief, used generally in Bengal). Rajen requested him to uncover himself, and as Bhebo reluctantly revealed the opposite half of his face, everybody gasped audibly. There was a gap the place his jaw ought to have been. It was the result of a battle with the dreaded Bengal tiger. Whereas returning, Rajen Tarafdar defined to his shocked son, “Cinema doesn’t imply presenting folks’s struggles in good fancy containers. It means showcasing actuality as starkly as potential. How are you going to shoot in these places and never depict their on a regular basis struggles?”

Rajen Tarafdar didn’t belong to any illustrious household, and nor did he hobnob with the international press at worldwide movie festivals. He was all the time on the bottom, always striving to indicate the on a regular basis struggles of widespread women and men, for whom each single day is a battle to outlive. He handed away in relative obscurity in 1987. A filmmaker of immense expertise, he didn’t stay lengthy in public reminiscence. Even his centenary in 2017 handed in silence. The silence was deafening.

(This piece attracts partially from an interview of Gora Tarafdar, Rajen’s son, by Cinemaazi. I additionally sought assist from journalist Atindra Daniyari, who pointed me to his article. I wish to thank each.)

Amborish is a Nationwide Movie Award successful author, biographer and movie historian.

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