In Buddhadeb Dasgupta’s passing, Indian cinema loses another great artist and poet-filmmaker. He leaves behind a formidable legacy and one that will be hard to emulate
By Manjula Shirodkar
From early influences of Satyajit Ray in his debut feature film Dooratwa (1978)for instance, to subsequent evolution as a filmmaker who created his distinct niche, Buddhadeb Dasgupta was a formidable voice of the voiceless right through his career in cinema. Born in February 1944 Dasgupta lost his battle with life on June 10, 2021 due to nephrological complications.
Having started out as an academic – a professor of Economics in a university in Burdwan and later in Calcutta (now Kolkata)in West Bengal, Buddhadeb Dasgupta turned to filmmaking only because it was his passion. Overcoming concerns of being overshadowed by masters such as Ray and Ritwik Ghatak in his initial days, Dasgupta created his own style of filmmaking in a career spanning 40 years and nearly as many feature films and featurettes apart from documentaries and shorts.
The 77-year-old Buddhada or Buddhadeb da as he was called fondly by friends and admirers, coupled lyricism with reality in his cinema. An author and poet too with several published works, Dasgupta carried over his poetic self into the world of cinema he envisioned. In an interview to RSTV in 2016, he mentions that “a filmmaker has to convey what he wants to his assistants and his crew members while shooting and how it should be achieved.” And Dasgupta was not only able to do so but he successfully translated his thoughts onto the silver screen ably supported by cinematographers like Asim Bose and Venu. But it wasn’t always so because he hadn’t been trained for filmmaking.
He began by creating shorts and documentaries which became his learning graph because they taught him technicalities of filmmaking. “They weren’t great films but they taught me a lot… And I am still learning,” he states at another point in the same interview. Social issues contrasted with poetic lyricism became Dasgupta’s signature. Be it a moving portrayal of a man competing for his livelihood with an animal in Bagh Bahadur to films like Charachar later or even allegorical works like Uttara and Lal Darja.
Dasgupta juxtaposed the peace, quietude and shots of natural beauty in country life with violence, aggression and duplicity of human nature. For him a man’s dreams were critical for survival even though he would appear a misfit or a ‘mad man’ to the world – as portrayed by Mithun Chakraborty in Tahader Katha. In a reply to a question by the interviewer for The Telegraph in 2019, Dasgupta had reiterated that, “Any person who is dreaming for something better is questioned.” Dasgupta remained mindful of the fact that whatever a filmmaker creates should be “reciprocated not only by your time but also by the time ahead.”
Dasgupta’s understanding of sound design as well as music was another hallmark. He not only captured the nuances of the scene through silences but used music just as powerfully. This learning was possibly imbibed from his mother who was a pianist. She inculcated in the young Buddhadeb love for poetry and music – which he later exquisitely expressed through his cinema.
For his collaborators, particularly his actors, the longing to do just ‘one more film’ will remain. He was an exacting filmmaker but one that his actors grew to love because they evolved not just as the characters in his films but as human beings too. Admits Chandan Roy Sanyal who worked with Dasgupta in Tope and Urojahaj – the filmmaker’s last work. “I grew up watching his films in Delhi when I was a kid at various film festivals and on Doordarshan. These films included Bagh Bahadur, Uttara, Tahader Katha and many others. Mithun Chakraborty in Tahader Katha is beyond extraordinary….
“Before I became an actor I was the filmmaker’s fan. For a regular Bengali Buddhadeb was the God of cinema and he leaves behind a great legacy of films. He was in a league of his own. Not in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that at some point in my career I would actually get to work with him and fortunately or unfortunately I would star in his last works. And he wanted to make another one with me.
“Dasgupta first called me for Tope when I was in Venice Film Festival. He asked me just one thing. ‘Will you be comfortable working with monkeys?’ That was genius to me. When I did Urojahaj he directed the film on a wheelchair(sic). His kidneys were failing and he was on dialysis. Yet he made it to the shoot everyday and completed the film. … I think he shaped me as an artist and deflected me to another orbit. I will miss you Buddhada. In debt for the art you taught me…Farewell Sir.”
Farewell indeed but the world of cinema is poorer today – poorer for having lost a self-made artist, a prolific filmmaker and a teacher who taught through his vocation. Buddhadeb Dasgupta leaves behind a powerful legacy in his films and one that will be hard to live upto.
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Manjulaa Shirodkar (nee Negi) is an established film critic and author, having worked in leading national publications. She is also a Film Selection Committee member for various film festivals.