On May 16, DUFS brought back Anjan Dutt to lead a conversation on cinema via Facebook Live
Back in February, Anjan Dutt paid a visit to the TSC premises of Dhaka University on the occasion of the five-day festival Amar Bhashar Cholochitro 1426, organized by Dhaka University Film Society (DUFS). Anjan’s arrival added a lustre to the already bustling February TSC, decorated in festive colours and embellished with banners of timeless Bangla cinema.
He came to attend the screening of his film Finally, Bhalobasha on the fourth day of the festival. As he laughed and waved to his fans, who flocked to the TSC premises from early morning of that pleasant, cool day, and patiently waited in long queues to breathe the same air as their idol Anjan was breathing, there was indeed life in every corner of the University campus – a joy so tangible that it gently brushed past your skin and touched others. And why not? There was a whole year ahead of us, teeming with possibilities.
Anjan would say the most mundane things as eloquently as he so often does, and a wave of reverent silence would sweep over the TSC Auditorium, swarming with youngsters, misfits, cynics and film enthusiasts.
Only three months have passed. Yet, in retrospect, it feels as though a lifetime has gone by without anyone’s consent or knowledge, and we have been ever since roaming through the myriad uncertainties of our lives by a strange train that never returns to our home station or reaches its destination.
On May 16, DUFS brought back Anjan Dutt to lead a conversation on cinema via Facebook Live. With the same vigor as ever, he talked from his home and we listened intently too from ours. Yet one could not help but wonder as to what was and will perhaps never be again.
Hosted by the Study Circle Secretary of DUFS Tanjina Shejuti, the conversation lasted for nearly three hours covering a wide array of topics ranging from Anjan’s craft and that of his contemporaries to his firm reluctance to make music any longer. As he lit one cigarette after another and talked at length about the past, present and future of Bangla cinema from his dimly-lit room, the viewers were instructed from early on not to ask any questions about his music. Considering how long the conversation lasted, there was a remarkable display of order thanks to the host’s clearly defined questions and Anjan’s ability to extract sense even from his most long-winded answers and occasional ramblings.
“I never wanted to be a film-maker,” Anjan nonchalantly announced at the beginning of the conversation. Since he was a 12-year old boy, he desperately wanted to become an actor. Yet there was a divide in his mind between the sheltered life he had led up until that age in Darjeeling and the Kolkata life that he eventually returned to. He had mediocre understanding of Bangla and zero knowledge of Bangla cinema. As his wealthy family was newly grappling with various financial woes, he witnessed with clear eyes for the first time a city marked by strife. And that early sense of disarray stayed with him for years to come. He decided, this was the story he would tell one day.
In the 80’s, Anjan’s first acting break came from Mrinal Sen as the latter cast him in Chalachirto and Anjan won the Best Newcomer Actor award at the Venice Film Festival. “I thought, my name was going to resound through the industry from then on. I made it! I really thought, I was going to make it big,” Anjan said wistfully during the first hour, fully knowing his plans would not materialize and he would have to launch a music career to provide for his family. He would emphasize this point saying, “Look, I only did it to sustain myself. There was no way I could work in a few good films and bring enough money to the table. I had to do something else.”
Anjan gladly gives himself credit for picking up the mantle after Mrinal Sen and breaking conventions in Bangla cinema. He takes pride in his erratic camera movements, fondness for tackling taboo matters and films that could neither be described as having lyrical nor classic elements. Yes he is the first to call his debut directorial venture Badadin ‘a disaster’ or his popular film Byomkesh Bakshi ‘simply awful.’
“In Finally Bhalobasha, one of my main characters is homosexual. What I wanted to do was to provoke my audience and show them the idiocy in their discomfort. But homosexuality was never the entirety of the story. That’s not how I believe you change anyone’s mind. Rather than making it the central theme of my story, I made it only a part so that the person in question, the whole person does not get buried under the story of his sexual orientation,” Anjan explained.
As Anjan reminisced about the Bangla films that shaped him as an artist, he frequently cited the auteur Satyajit Ray as a major influence whose 99th birthday we have celebrated earlier this month. Each time Anjan came back to Satyajit through recollections, mere references or tributes, he would exclaim, “Here I go again!” Fond references were also made to the late film-maker Rituparno Ghosh.
“Rituparno hated my films. And I hated his. He would rebuke me for the mess that he often detected in my films, the lack of order in my stories. And I would chuckle and say, ‘My own house is a mess. What do you expect?’
Despite how critical we were of each other, we were friends till the end. You don’t see that kind of friendship anymore, do you?” he lamented.
From time to time, the host read some of the questions from the comment section. One of them that stood out most had to do with the theme of conflict that has been prevalent in Anjan’s films.
In response, the film-maker said, “You throw a stone into a pond and see the ripple that it creates. The ripple that gracefully spreads through the entire surface of the water. Otherwise a layer of algae would grow and float over the surface. For a ripple of change, you need to throw that stone first.
“You see, it all goes back to the Kolkata I returned to all those years ago. The strife, the agony, the chaos in our streets. Conflict is all there is. My characters inevitably fail and there is a reason for that too. Without failure, there is no incentive to bounce back. I witnessed the glory that was inherent to all our struggles and I learned that first hand from my poor, magical city streets. As everything crumbles down to ruins, everything slowly but certainly rises again. There is an order to the mess if you really want to see it.”
Three months apart, as we find our own surroundings in utter disarray due to a turn of events that remain as unpredictable and volatile as ever before, Anjan Dutt’s message rings particularly true today. Perhaps if we look hard enough too, we will be granted an occasional glimpse or two of the glory inherent to our struggles.
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