Sunday, June 23, 2013

'Meghe Dhaka Tara 2013' (Cloud capped star) is a befitting tribute to the neo-realist Film-maker Ritwick Ghatak

Kamaleshwar Mukherjee's "Meghe Dhaka Tara 2013" is a touching tribute to the Bengali film maker, Ritwick Ghatak, who is remembered for his 'non-linear narrative' in Indian cinema.

The narrative starts with a scene in the year 1969 and revolves around the period that the legendary film maker had spent in a mental asylum in Alipore, Calcutta. The well known film maker, Nilkantha Bagchi, is taken to the mental asylum by his wife Durga and the doctor, S P Mukherjee, takes charge of him.. Bagchi's alcoholism and momentary aberrations drove him to a state of intellectual instability. He is critically attacked as a wasted drunkard and an intellectual fool by the so called poseurs of the time. His enormous creativity, that started in the fifties, got him inclined to poetry, prose, journalism, film scripting and finally to parallel cinema. A true communist, he never conformed with the norms of the contemporary times. Uncompromising and bitter, he always did what he felt right, what his heart told him to do. For him cinema was a medium to express his sociopolitical ideology. His insatiable urge to feel the pathos and pains of the common man is evident in a series of heart warming films that he narrated so empathetically. He believed in portraying the stark reality of the contemporary life and criticized the cliched 'dancing in the rain' genre . He also had put aside series of alluring offers from the Bombay Film Industry (Filmisthan studio). When his friends deviated to main stream cinema, compromising on their collective ideology of Communism, Nilkantha Bagchi stood firm in what he believed in. The partition of Bengal, the naxalite movement, the hunger cry of the distressed people never really left him. Throughout the film, Nilkantha's 'mental agony, struggles, inner contradictions, disappointments as well as financial troubles' are depicted with interludes of flash backs and the present times.

The voracious creative genius went on to dream to stage a play with the inmates of the mental asylum. The contradictions and the pathos are horrifically portrayed by the way he was taken to undergo the terrible shock therapy in between.  

Nilkantha Bagchi dies before the actual performance of his dream play. His wife Durga had been his conscience all through his life. She managed a job as a teacher and got separated from him hoping that the children would get a better future but was never out of touch.The film ends with the death of Nilkantha Bagchi. The director does it beautifully -  with the same signature continuity with which Ritwick Ghatak's films usually ended. The poignant rendition of how the dead man walking tall, along with a novice woman coming from East Bengal with a 'potla' clinged arms and anxious eyes, is a climax just perfect for a new beggining.

Cast and crew

Direction, story, screenplay: Kamaleswar Mukherjee
Music direction, background music: Debojyoti Mishra
Cinematography: Soumik Halder
Editing: Rabiranjan Maitra
Dance choreography: Tanusree Shankar
Saswata Chatterjee as Nilkantha Bagchi
Abir Chatterjee as Doctor S. P. Mukherjee
Joydeep Mukherjee as Hrishikesh Mukherjee
Abhijit Guha as Salil Choudhury
Padmanabha Dasgupta as Kali Banerjee
Anindya Bose as Mrinal Sen
Bidipta Chakrabarty as Shobha Sen
Biswajit Chakraborty as Charuprakash Ghosh

The film is touching and is beautifully done. It has poetry, drama, reality and sweet pathos that are typical of Ritwick Ghatak's films. The rendition of the transitions and the references of Ritwick Ghatak's works is finely tuned all through the movie. The audience may find it hard to get into the quintessential fervor of the movie if they are not acquainted with Ghatak's genre. It's a good idea to watch the films of Ghatak and then watch 'Meghe Dhaka Tara 2013' again to get the best of it.

The whole film is shot in black and white except  for the last scene where the protagonist walks out and diminishes to the colorful horizon. The sequential music and the dance interludes are aptly used. The song with the ganasangeet ethos "mode kono nasha nai....' is too poignant and touches your heart straightaway. Saswata Chatterjee as Nilkantha Bagchi has once again left a mark. He is one of the finest actors in Bengali cinema now - this film goes to prove that once again. Ananya Chatterjee, Abir Chatterjee and Subhasish Mukherjee did justice to their roles. Kamaleswar, who had been intrigued by Ghatak's views on life and society did a fantastic job with the treatment of the film as well. 

When asked about the title, Kamaleswar Mukherjee in an interview:

'The reason my film is called "MDT" is because Nilkantha, despite being a star, is covered in clouds. The title will also create a connection between Ghatak and my film's hero, Neelkantha'.

"Meghe Dhaka Tara 2013" has been criticized by Ghatak's family for not being able to depict the humorous side of Ritwick Ghatak. The happy side is being obscured by the desperation and the dejection and much talked about alcoholism.

I would like to watch the movie again just to understand the subtleties and the references more. Also, the death of Nilkantah Bagchi is shrouded in mystery. I kept wondering if that was how Ritwick Ghatak actually died or it was just the director's take. The film makes me want to watch the neo-realist film maker's works again. I would like to remember Ritwick Ghatak as the obscured star of the Bengali Movie fraternity and the film 'Meghe Dhaka Tara' is a befitting tribute to him. Kudos.

Images: Meghe Dhaka Tara 2013, IPTI
Cast and crew: Wikipedia

Friday, June 21, 2013

The day that was at ST Xavier's College, Calcutta

It had rained heavily yesterday and I thought of postponing my visit to St Xaviers College to visit the Fathers. I specially wanted to see Fr Mani who is not keeping well of late. Brother Chintamoni, a very special person in my life wanted to come down to my workplace to take me with him. It was thoughtful of him indeed since it was raining cats and dogs. I somehow convinced Brother not to come with the promise of visiting him if the rain had stopped. It did. Later in the evening, around 4 pm, the rain stopped leaving the city with water everywhere. e to take me with him. It was thoughtful of him indeed since it was raining cats and dogs.

My visit to St Xaviers was long pending. So, I did wish for the rain to stop. Happy and wet, I walked up to the next block to get a cab. It was very messy outside and a cab driver finally came to my rescue. The road was full of traffic, water and murkiness and the cab finally dropped me in front of one of the metro gates and charged some extra bucks which I agreed to pay. I was already running late and did not want to waste more time. Brother was waiting for me. His worried face soon transformed and he gave me his signature smile. He greeted me with lots of sweets, chocolates and warmth as always.

From there we went to see Fr Mani who was reclining in the library of the infirmary watching TV. I met Fr Neol, Fr Bruylants and 65 novice students in the corridor. Fr Noel was having his evening walk and was delighted to see me and we exchanged some old jokes. Finally, I arrived at the infirmary. Fr Mani and another Father were watching a movie in AXN. I smiled at Father Mani and  he smiled back. It was a smile full of apprehensions. 
Before I proceed further, I should tell you more about Father Mani. Father Mani is a beautiful person. The kind of person who always exudes love, happiness and a person who is funny in his own ways. 
Till the day before yesterday, I knew him to be always like that. He was also the minister in charge of the important portfolio of SJ. When I met him last, he was fit and fine. However, a few days ago, he had an emergency when he got dizzy, nearly fell and had a paralytic attack. Later, he was diagnosed with brain hemorrhage. It felt horrible to see him like that - down and depressed. I would always like to see him as the hale and hearty person that he was.

Feeling bad and helpless, I returned soon after with a heavy heart. Get well soon Fr Mani. You are in my prayers.Your true spirit is being missed and we all love you.

Also read:

My rendevous with ST Xavier's College, Calcutta

Image: (C) MouD

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Khichudi - the ultimate rain food for the Bengalis

It's 12 o' clock in the night here and I am witnessing the first rains of the season. The sky from my window is blanketed with blinding sheets of silver rains and as they kiss the austere road, I can see the water gushing in wild stream cleansing the city. I decide to shut the window as it gets translucent on my freshly splattered face.

This is the ideal weather to eat Khichudi/ khichuri/ khichdi - a very special Bengali comfort food with rice, lentils (dal), spices, clarified butter, seasonal vegetables and a whole lot of experimental culinary stuffs. Khichudi is be best relished with aachar (pickle), fried fish, fried papad (papar bhaja) and fish-aubergine-potato fritters (beguni, aloo bhaja).

Khichudi is simply rice and pulse porridge cooked in mustard oil (the ultimate Bengali seasoning base) together with turmeric powder and a generous amount of exquisite Bengali spices (cumin seeds, bay leaf, panch phoron, whole red chili etc.) and clarified butter (ghee).

Although there has been a gastronomical frenzy of complimenting Hilsa fish fry (ilish mach bhaja) with khichudi, I love it with egg omelets. My mother's special egg omelet (dim bhaja) is just lip smacking. Mom has her very special touch that goes into the preparation of omelet. She adds lots of chopped onion julienne and fresh green chilies and let me tell you, it can never go wrong! Padadam or papad ( papar bhaja) deep fried in oil is another fritter that goes well with khichudi. Even though I hardly take papad these days, today is one such days when I do not mind letting go of the regime.
Khichudi, for most Bengalis, goes best with ilish machh bhaja (Hilsa fish fry) and beguni (aubergine fritters). This is probably the simplest of recipes and a delectable combo meal that the Bengalis can die for on any rainy day.

Machh bhaja (fish fry) is fish blocks fried in mustard oil and beguni is aubergine dipped in a batter of besan (pulse flour) and fried deep in mustard oil.

I have always loved khichudi. It has been a hit with my family as well. Coming to my family, my brother-in-law has his way with khichudi and he is brilliant every time. He adds cauliflower, green peas, potatoes, carrots and many other seasonal vegetables that add to delectable variety to the khichudi clan.

We eat Khichudi with spoonfuls of ghee and fresh green chilies and fresh lemons and of course we eat it together sprinkled with lovely family chit chats. Khichudi is the ultimate comfort food and I do not need any occasion to eat it. It's healthy, sumptuous and a complete food that we Bengalis eat during festivals, on special occasions, during monsoons and on normal days. Besides, khichudi has special fervor for me since it brings back fond memories.

Image - youtube, fishncurry, journospeak and MouD


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Saturday, June 15, 2013

Sweet bengali pulao (polao) with cashews, raisins, nutmeg, garam masala

Bengali pulao (polao) is different from fried rice. It is not like biriyani or chinese fried rice, it is typically bengali with cardamom, cinnamon, clove (garam masala) flavor and a devotional fervour. This, I say, because polao is prepared mostly during festivals, pujas and special occasions.

Bengali pulao originally is brilliantly virgin colored. However, you can get tints of yellow orange by adding saffron in it. Preparation time is less and the method is one of the easiest. You will need, govinda bhog rice (small grained flavored Indian rice), ghee (clarified butter), garam masala (cardamon, cinnamon, clove, nutmeg etc), cashews, raisins, little milk (or kheer), sugar and saffron (optional).

Add few small green cardamons, cinnamon sticks and cloves to generous scoops of ghee in a non-stick container with a lid. Watch for golden brown color. Add cashews and fresh raisins to it. Add the washed and milk soaked rice grains and stir in light hands. Stirring continuously, add a little salt and sugar. Add warm water (double the quantity of the rice) and close the lid. Simmer in low fire till the water is gone and you get to smell a sweet cardamon flavor of the beautifully done pulao.

Bengali pulao is best enjoyed with aloo dam ( potato in Indian spices and gravy) or mutton kosha (spicy red meat gravy). The fact that it is sweetish and rich in calorie has reduced its popularity but that doesn't stop it from being one of the most delectable food among the Bengalis worldwide.

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Image: mix-curry


Thursday, June 13, 2013

In memoriam: Rituparno Ghosh

You are what you are.The demise of the director, actor, activist and one of the most creative people in recent times, Rituparno Ghosh, is not just another death. His death is the death of creativity, death of impeccable insightful peek into human psyche and death of poetry in prose.

Rituparno's life did not read like a poetry though. There was no rhetoric behind his conspicuous film and fashion statements. With all that pricks hard and deep, he finally got to live his life in his own terms. He may have critics that were more interested in his personal orientation than in his works, there may have been people who would look at him with aghast, there may have those who would demean him as manipulative, fame hungry, cross-dresser. But, at the same time, there also have been people who would continue to shed tears, stay still and stay speechless, with a dominating sense of deja vu and overwhelming awe after watching the new wave films. These are the same people who did not falter being critical every now and then.

"Chitrangada", the last film of Rituparno Ghosh, is essentially an befitting answer to all the askance. The other side? It has been an inspiration to many who share similar sexual orientation. He truly has lived his life like he has always wished to. However less a time, he has gotten to live his live in his own terms -  celebrating his sexuality with conviction, finally. This should be the only gratifying thing. How else, can we live without being part of his cinematic frames? One film per year - enough impetus for the whole year. Now, only shuffling through the ever new old films. Rituparno Ghosh we are never going to stop missing you.

RIP Rituparno Ghosh