ⓘ Cinema of West Bengal


ⓘ Cinema of West Bengal

The cinema of West Bengal, also known as Tollywood, refers to the Indian Bengali language film industry based in the Tollygunge region of Kolkata, West Bengal, India. The origins of the nickname Tollywood, a portmanteau of the words Tollygunge and Hollywood, dates back to 1932. It was a historically important film industry, at one time the centre of Indian film production. The Bengali film industry is known for producing many of Indian cinemas most critically acclaimed global Parallel Cinema and art films, with several of its filmmakers gaining prominence at the Indian National Film Awards as well as international acclaim. Since the late 20th century, the Bengali film industry has become smaller, overtaken by other regional industries such as Bollywood and South Indian cinema.

Ever since Satyajit Rays Pather Panchali 1955 was awarded Best Human Document at the 1956 Cannes Film Festival, Bengali films frequently appeared in international fora and film festivals for the next several decades. This allowed Bengali filmmakers to reach a global audience. The most influential among them was Satyajit Ray, whose films became successful among European, American and Asian audiences. His work subsequently had a worldwide impact, with filmmakers such as Martin Scorsese, James Ivory, Abbas Kiarostami, Elia Kazan, François Truffaut, Carlos Saura, Isao Takahata, Wes Anderson and Danny Boyle being influenced by his cinematic style, and many others such as Akira Kurosawa praising his work.

The "youthful coming-of-age dramas that have flooded art houses since the mid-fifties owe a tremendous debt to the Apu trilogy". Kanchenjungha 1962 introduced a narrative structure that resembles later hyperlink cinema. Rays 1967 script for a film to be called The Alien, which was eventually cancelled, is widely believed to have been the inspiration for Steven Spielbergs E.T. 1982. Ira Sachs Forty Shades of Blue 2005 was a loose remake of Charulata, and in Gregory Navas My Family 1995, the final scene is duplicated from the final scene of The World of Apu. Similar references to Ray films are found in recent works such as Sacred Evil 2006, the Elements trilogy of Deepa Mehta, and in films of Jean-Luc Godard.

Another prominent Bengali filmmaker is Mrinal Sen, whose films have been well known for their Marxist views. During his career, Mrinal Sens films have received awards from major film festivals, including Cannes, Berlin, Venice, Moscow, Karlovy Vary, Montreal, Chicago, and Cairo. Retrospectives of his films have been shown in major cities of the world. Another Bengali filmmaker, Ritwik Ghatak, began reaching a global audience long after his death; beginning in the 1990s, a project to restore Ghataks films was undertaken, and international exhibitions and subsequent DVD releases have belatedly generated an increasingly global audience. Some of his films have strong similarities to later famous international films, such as Ajantrik 1958 resembling the Herbie films 1967–2005 and Bari Theke Paliye 1958 resembling François Truffauts The 400 Blows 1959.

The cinematographer Subrata Mitra, who made his debut with Rays The Apu Trilogy, also had an important influence on cinematography across the world. One of his most important techniques was bounce lighting, to recreate the effect of daylight on sets. He pioneered the technique while filming Aparajito 1956, the second part of The Apu Trilogy. Some of the experimental techniques which Satyajit Ray pioneered include photo-negative flashbacks and X-ray digressions while filming Pratidwandi 1972.


1. Etymology

Tollywood was the very first Hollywood-inspired name, dating back to a 1932 article in the American Cinematographer by Wilford E. Deming, an American engineer who was involved in the production of the first Indian sound film. He gave the industry the name Tollywood because the Tollygunge district in which it was based rhymed with "Hollywood", and because Tollygunge was the center of the cinema of India as a whole at the time much like Hollywood was in the cinema of the United States.

In that same March 1932 article, Deming was also considering the name "Hollygunge" but decided to go with "Tollywood" as the nickname for the Tollygunge area due to "Tolly being a proper name and Gunge meaning locality" in the Bengali language. It was this "chance juxtaposition of two pairs of rhyming syllables," Holly and Tolly, that led to the name "Tollywood" being coined. The name "Tollywood" went on to be used as a nickname for the Bengali film industry by the popular Kolkata-based Junior Statesman youth magazine, establishing a precedent for other film industries to use similar-sounding names. Tollywood later went on to inspire the name "Bollywood" as the Bombay-based industry overtook the one in Tollygunge, which in turn inspired many other similar names.


2. History

The history of cinema in Bengal dates to the 1920s, when the first "bioscopes" were shown in theatres in Calcutta. Within a decade, the first seeds of the industry were sown by Hiralal Sen, considered a stalwart of Victorian era cinema when he set up the Royal Bioscope Company, producing scenes from the stage productions of a number of popular shows at the Star Theatre, Minerva Theatre, Classic Theatre. Following a long gap after Sens works, Dhirendra Nath Ganguly known as D.G. established the Indo British Film Co, the first Bengali-owned production company, in 1918. However, the first Bengali feature film, Billwamangal, was produced in 1919, under the banner of Madan Theatre. Bilat Ferat was the IBFCs first production in 1921. The Madan Theatre production of Jamai Shashthi was the first Bengali talkie. A long history has been traversed since then, with stalwarts such as Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen and Ritwik Ghatak and others earning international acclaim and securing their place in the movie history.


2.1. History Silent era: 1919-1930

Hiralal Sen, India is credited as one of Bengals, and Indias first directors. These were all silent films. Hiralal Sen is also credited as one of the pioneers of advertisement films in India. The first Bengali-language movie was the silent feature Billwamangal, produced by the Madan Theatre Company of Calcutta and released on 8 November 1919, only six years after the first full-length Indian feature film, Raja Harish Chandra, was released.

The early beginnings of the "talking film" industry go back to the early 1930s, when it came to British India, and to Calcutta. The movies were originally made in Urdu or Persian to accommodate a specific elite market. One of the earliest known studios was the East India Film Company. The first Bengali film to be made as a talkie was Jamai Shashthi, released in 1931. At this time the early heroes of the Bengali film industry like Pramathesh Barua and Debaki Bose were at the peak of their popularity. Barua also directed movies, exploring new dimension in Indian cinema. Debaki Bose directed Chandidas in 1932; this film is noted for its breakthrough in recording sound. Sound recordist Mukul Bose found a solution to the problem of spacing out dialogue and frequency modulation.


2.2. History Rise of the talkie: 1931-1947

The contribution of Bengali film industry to Indian film is quite significant. First Bengali talkies Jamai Shashthi as short film was released 11 April 1931 at Crown Cinema Hall in Calcutta and first Bengali talkies as full-length feature film Dena Paona was released 30 December 1931 at Chitra Cinema Hall in Calcutta. The industry was based in Tollygunge, an area of South Kolkata, West Bengal that is more elite and artistically inclined than the usual musical cinema fare in India.


2.3. History Golden era: 1952-1975

During this period, Bengali cinema enjoyed a large, even disproportionate, representation in Indian cinema. They produced directors like Satyajit Ray, who was an Academy Honorary Award winner, and the recipient of Indias and Frances greatest civilian honours, the Bharat Ratna and Legion of Honor respectively, and Mrinal Sen, who is the recipient of the French distinction of Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters and the Russian Order of Friendship.

Other prominent film makers in the Bengali film industry at the time included Satyajit Ray and Ritwik Ghatak. The Bengali film industry has produced classics such as Nagarik 1952, The Apu Trilogy 1955–1959, Jalsaghar 1958, Ajantrik 1958, Neel Akasher Neechey 1959, Devdas, Devi 1960, Meghe Dhaka Tara 1960, the Calcutta trilogies 1971–1976, etc. In particular, The Apu Trilogy is frequently listed among the greatest films of all time.

The most well known Bengali actor to date has been Uttam Kumar while Suchitra Sen is regarded as the most beautiful and influential actress of Bengali cinema. Kumar and Sen were known as "The Eternal Pair" in the late 1950s. Apart from Sen, Sabitri Chatterjee and Sumitra Devi were very popular actress of the 1950s. Soumitra Chatterjee is a notable actor, having acted in several Satyajit Ray films, and considered as a rival to Uttam Kumar in the 1960s. He is famous for the characterisation of Feluda in Sonar Kella 1974 and Joi Baba Felunath 1978, written and directed by Ray. He also played the adult version of Apu in The World of Apu 1959, directed by Ray.

In the 1960s, Bengal saw a host of talented actresses like Aparna Sen, Sharmila Tagore, Madhabi Mukherjee, Sandhya Roy and Supriya Devi. Aparna Sen was one of the most successful actresses of the Golden Era. She became the leading heroine of the 1970s and since 1981 she has been directing films. One of the most well known Bengali actresses was Sharmila Tagore, who debuted in Rays The World of Apu, and became a major actress in Bengali cinema as well as Bollywood. Despite Suchitra Sen being the greatest actress, Sharmila was the most commercial successful actress in history with films like The World of Apu 1959, Devi 1960, Nayak 1966, Simabaddha 1967 and Aranyer Dinratri 1970.

Utpal Dutt is internationally known for his acting in movies and plays, especially Shakespearean plays. Bhanu Bandopadhyay, Rabi Ghosh and Anup Kumar were best known for their comic timing and with their versatile acting talent they stunned the audience and critics.

The pioneers in Bengali film music include Raichand Boral, Pankaj Mullick and K. C. Dey, all associated with New Theatres Calcutta. The greatest composers of the golden era included Robin Chatterjee, Sudhin Dasgupta, Nachiketa Ghosh, Hemant Kumar etc.


2.4. History Modern revival: 1990s to present

The revival in Bengali cinema dates from the rise of directors such as Rituparno Ghosh, Aparna Sen and Gautam Ghose. Rituparno made his first film Hirer Angti in 1992 and dominated Bengali cinema until his death in 2013, winning numerous national awards for films like Unishe April, Dahan and Utsab. Aparna Sen made her directorial debut in 1981 with the internationally lauded 36 Chowringhee Lane, which looked at the lives of Anglo-Indians living in Calcutta. Her later films have also been celebrated: Paromitar Ek Din, Mr and Mrs Iyer, 15 Park Avenue, The Japanese Wife, Goynar Baksho, etc. Gautam Ghose is best known for award-winning films like Dakhal, Paar, Padma Nadir Majhi, Abar Aranye and Moner Manush.

In recent years, a younger generation of Bengali directors have come to the fore. Many work in the domestic film industry, but others have gone on to Bollywood where they have met with notable success. In turn, they have also turned the cinematic spotlight on Kolkata, acquainting the city with a much wider national and global audience. Successful Bengali films are getting their Hindi remakes in Bollywood. Some of the directors who have gained success in recent years are Anik Dutta, Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury, Anjan Dutt, Arindam Sil, Aditya Vikram Sengupta, Indranil Roychowdhury, Kaushik Ganguly, Kamaleswar Mukherjee, Mainak Bhoumik, Srijit Mukherji, and Nandita Roy and Shiboprosad Mukherjee who have made several films as a duo.

Bengali directors who have found artistic and commercial success in contemporary Hindi films are: Anurag Basu, Ayan Mukerji, Dibakar Banerjee, Pradeep Sarkar, Shoojit Sircar and Sujoy Ghosh.


3. Budgets

100-160 Bengali movies are released every year and are produced with a budget of Rs. 50.00.000 to Rs. 55 million per movie on average. Home Entertainment, Shree Venkatesh Films released some high budgeted movies like Amazon Obhijaan with budget of 20 crore and was also successful in Box office by earning about 50 crore in Box office making it highest earning movie in history of Bengali movie ever, apart from Amazon Obhijaan other costly movies were Chander Pahar made in the budget of Rs 15 crore and Yoddha: The Warrior with Rs 15 crore were some costly movies.

Many of the most critically acclaimed Bengali films were low-budget films, including Satyajit Rays famous The Apu Trilogy 1955–1959. The first film in the trilogy, Pather Panchali 1955, was produced on a shoestring budget of Rs. 150.000 $32000 using an amateur cast and crew. All his other films that followed also had low budgets, with his most expensive films since the 60s being The Adventures of Goopy And Bagha 1968 at Rs. 600.000 $80.000 and Shatranj Ke Khilari 1977 at Rs. 6 million $230.000.

The Bengali film industry, which had been a beacon for the countrys film industry until the 1980s, is in a turnaround mode. At a time when Bollywood continues its roller-coaster ride, there are cheers in the Bengali film industry with several commercial successes. The dark period of the 1990s when Bengali tinsel town was on a steep decline seems like a nightmare thats best forgotten. And, with the money pouring in, producers from other States are now knocking on the doors of Bengali directors. Industry sources say that the best proof of the comeback is seen in the increasing number of cinema houses showing Bengali films. Even a few years ago, of the 800 cinemas in the State, no more than 350 were showing just Bengali films. The remaining had spread their risk showing a mix of either Hindi and English or Hindi and Bengali films.2008, nearly 700 theatres are showing Bengali films.

Bombaiyer Bombete, produced by Ramoji Films at a cost of Rs 8 million, recovered its costs within three weeks and earned 20 million in all. The movie has brought back the concept of family entertainment with Sandip Rays gambit of contemporising the plot paying him rich dividend. Admitting that he did not expect this success, he told Life that he was now lining up another such film for release next year. Earlier, a film by award-winning director Buddhadeb Dasguptas Mondo Meyer Upakhyan The Tale of a Fallen Girl produced by Arjoe Entertainments netted nearly Rs 7 million through sale of overseas rights against a cost of Rs 0.6 million.Haranath Chakraborty His film Sathi Companion created a record by recouping over five times its production cost, although the film Chokher Bali, with big names like Aishwariya Rai, Rituparno Ghosh and Tagore, failed to yield expected results. The movie, billed at Rs 16.5 million the highest among Bengali films. Total number of cinema theatre is approx 400.But there are films like Kaler rakhal2008by Sekhar Das which created huge controversy for its strong political comments on contemporary Bengal, despite its formal brilliance too, was not successful in the box office as the film was unceremoniously withdrawn from the theatres.

Loose and unorganised production activities, dominated and dictated by providers of capital led to proliferation of sub-standard films, which were most often commercial failures. The recent successes have come through some concerted effort by Parallel Cinema which has tapped the domestic market, even while scouting the overseas ones, hitting the festival circuit somewhere in between. As such, celluloid creations of award-winning directors like Gautam Ghosh, Rituparno Ghosh and Aparna Sen started bringing money for their producers. However, at around the same time, movies in the commercial circuit directors like to call them mainstream cinema also started doing well, supported strongly by the response from the semi-urban areas. The big Bollywood banners such as Mukta Arts and Rajshri films are now showing interest in funding Bengali films.

Hollywood houses like Columbia TriStar have made their debut in distributing Bengali movies. According to industry experts, several issues need to be addressed to build on this resurgence and consolidate it. These include inadequate infrastructure, which often compels moviemakers to go outside the State for facilities pushing up costs, poor marketing and distribution and increasing competition from Bangladeshi films.


4. Rankings

A number of Satyajit Ray films appeared in the Sight & Sound Critics Poll of all-time greatest films, including The Apu Trilogy ranked No. 4 in 1992 if votes are combined, The Music Room ranked No. 27 in 1992, Charulata ranked No. 41 in 1992 and Days and Nights in the Forest ranked No. 81 in 1982. The 2002 Sight & Sound critics and directors poll also included the Ritwik Ghatak films Meghe Dhaka Tara ranked #231 and Komal Gandhar ranked #346.

In 1998, the critics poll conducted by the Asian film magazine Cinemaya included The Apu Trilogy ranked No. 1 if votes are combined, Rays Charulata and The Music Room both tied at #11, and Ghataks Subarnarekha also tied at #11. In 1999, The Village Voice top 250 "Best Film of the Century" critics poll also included The Apu Trilogy ranked No. 5 if votes are combined. In 2005, The Apu Trilogy was also included in Time magazines "All-TIME" 100 best movies list. In 1992, the Sight & Sound Critics Poll ranked Ray at No. 7 in its list of "Top 10 Directors" of all time, and Days and Nights in the Forest ranked No. 81 in 1982.


4.1. Rankings National Board of Review USA

  • National Board of Review Award for Best Foreign Language Film: Satyajit Ray 1958- Pather Panchali & 1960- The World of Apu

5. National Award

The National Film Award for Best Feature Film in Bengali is one of the National Film Awards presented annually by the Directorate of Film Festivals, the organisation set up by Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, India. It is one of several awards presented for feature films and awarded with Rajat Kamal Silver Lotus.

The National Film Awards, established in 1954, are the most prominent film awards in India that merit the best of the Indian cinema. The ceremony also presents awards for films in various regional languages.


6. Regional awards

  • Zee Bangla Gourab Somman Awards -These awards are designed for the people by the people. Zee Bangla would be honouring the rich culture and tradition of the land and felicitating the evergreen personalities from the field of theatre, film, music and our own television shows.
  • Kalakar Awards -Ceremony is recognised as one of the topmost awards ceremonies of eastern region of India.
  • Filmfare Awards East
  • Tellysamman Awards -Sangbad Pratidin, a Kolkata-based Bengali daily organised this Award Ceremony.
  • Anandalok Awards -Ceremony is one of the most prominent film events given for Bengali cinema in India
  • Bengal Film Journalists Association Awards -The oldest Association of Film critics in India, founded in 1937, by the inspiration and determination of the handful of pioneers amongst the then thin section of scribes that were drawn to film journalism with a lofty mission to serve the developing film journalism and film industry.