ARCHIVES - INDIAN CINEMA
A Tale of a Naughty Girl: Work of rare depth
IT IS men like Buddhadeb Dasgupta who keep the flag of Indian cinema flying high. One is talking about the artistic, the aesthetic and the sensible kind, not the crass, loud and melodramatically exaggerated variety of which one sees aplenty.
It is in this context that one is saddened by the fact that the better of Indian cinema finds no place at Cannes this summer (May 2002). Arguably the most important film festival in the world, Cannes probably has its own problems: a serious inability to understand our country's multifaceted culture is one.
Directors like Dasgupta (and others of his ilk like Adoor Gopalakrishnan or Mrinal Sen) make movies that are very specific to their own cultural milieu. A great master like the late Satyajit Ray was never comfortable when he stepped outside his native Bengal with his camera. So too Dasgupta. His latest work, ``Mondo Meyer Upakhyan'' (A Tale of a Naughty Girl), is set in his favourite Purulia, a backward region in West Bengal, India.
Essentially based on a short story by the Bengali writer, Prafulla Roy, Dasgupta has also borrowed from his own poems (``The Cat'', ``Neil Armstrong Peeps In'' and ``The Other Planet'') to weave the magic of a young girl's escape from potential prostitution. Her mother is an attractive prostitute, who believes that salvation lies in what she is doing. Her daughter disagrees. She wants to go to school and learn about this world and the universe. Ultimately, she runs away from home in search of an educated, enlightened existence in Calcutta/Kolkata. In what turns out to be a remarkably poignant climax, the girl boards a train and joins her teacher, an ardent supporter of her dream.
Curiously, the day of her freedom coincides with the historic man's landing on moon (July 1969)! Dasgupta explains the significance: ``It may be a happenstance that the day Lati (the girl) makes her journey to Calcutta/Kolkata with her teacher, who gave her her first taste of wisdom, man first steps on the moon. Both journeys are vital, one for America and another for the daughter of a whorehouse.''
Beyond these main travails of Lati, Dasgupta presents a gripping account of village life. On Dasgupta's canvas, one witnesses life in all its splendour. ``A Tale of a Naughty Girl'' is undoubtedly a piece of celluloid that elevates cinema to another realm. It is extremely positive, and probably comes from a deep sense of peace and tranquillity that Dasgupta must have achieved from his poetic inclination.
He has written marvellous verses and also novels. His artistic disposition is reflected, for example, in the way he lights up his sets. Dasgupta's cinema has a rare depth, and Cannes has surely missed out on this.
(This story/review appeared in The Hindu dated May 10 2002)