The history of cinema in Bengal dates back to the 1890s, when the first bioscopes were shown in theatres in Kolkata. Within a decade, the first seeds of the industry were sown by Hiralal Sen, a stalwart of Victorian-era cinema, when he set up Royal Bioscope Company. He produced scenes from the stage productions of a number of popular shows at Star Theatre, Minerva Theatre and Classic Theatre. Dhirendra Nath Ganguly established Indo-British Film Company, 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.
From then, lakhs of films have been produced in the Bengali film industry, or Tollywood. Many are some of the best to have been produced in India. Many deserve to be seen time and again, brilliant as they are. Here we present a list of films which we think need to be re-released, fit to be seen and appreciated time and again (in chronological order of release). However, this is only a small part of a long list. Why don’t you write in to us about the films which you would like to see if they were to be re-released?
Hanabari: Hanabari is a 1951 film directed by Premendra Mitra. It stars Dhiraj Bhattacharya, Goutam Mukhopadhyay, Nabadwip Haldar, Bipin Mukhopadhyay, Pranati Ghosh, Namita Chattopadhyay and others. ‘Hanabari’ means ‘haunted house’, and the film deals with a ghost which supposedly lives in a house. Actually the murderer, a painter by profession, dresses up in a gorilla skin to scares off visitors in a dilapidated house. The tunnel that runs underneath holds the key to the mystery. Relevant and admired till this day, Hanabari has Dhiraj Bhattacharjee as the ace detective. Complete with humour and chart-topping songs, Hanabari is a treat for film-lovers in Bengal. It mesmerized Bengali audiences at one time. It was one of several films of the period, like Kalochhaya, Kankal and Maroner Porey where crime was complicated by gothic elements such as ghosts and haunted houses, and by romantic beliefs in such paranormal phenomena as reincarnation and clairvoyance. The supernatural elements, however, turn out to be hoaxes, reinstating the validity of logic.
A scene from Hanabari
Sharey Chuattar: Sharey Chuattar is an all-time great Bengali comedy film. It was released in 1953 and was the first released film of Suchitra Sen (though she had shot for a film the year before, it was never released). It was also the film which brought the legendary Uttam Kumar-Suchitra Sen duo on to the silver screen for the first time. The film is a treat for all fans of the Uttam-Suchitra duo, but the lead player is Tulsi Chakrabarty. This movie truly depicts the great comic capacities of Tulsi Chakrabarty in every moment. Molina Debi put in a wonderful performance too. In the film, Suchitra Sen won both critics’ praises and audiences’ hearts.
Suchitra Sen in Sharey Chuattor
Ganga: Ganga is a 1960 film directed by Rajen Tarafdar. It narrates the life of fishermen. The music of this film was composed by Salil Chowdhury. It concerns a young fisherman whose village is in the hands of moneylenders as well as knee-deep in superstition. Panchu is a fisherman. His young nephew, Bilash, who is very short-tempered, joins the profession. He wants to go to sea and catch fish there. But superstition makes Panchu scared and he does not want to allow Bilash to do so. He arranges the marriage of Bilash with Gardi, a fisherwoman on the Ichamati river. However, the young Bilash takes the lead in fighting superstition and finally leads his troupe from the village to the better fishing grounds in the sea. He leaves his wife behind in the village, waiting for the time when rain will again come and fish will be plentiful in the Ganga. The film stars Jnanesh Mukhopadhyay, Sandhya Roy, Moni Srimani, Ruma Guhathakurta, Niranjan Ray and others. The film has magnificent picturisation. Rajen Tarafder gave a new image in the film, which was mostly shot on the Ganga.
Sandhya Roy in Ganga
Komal Gandhar: This 1961 film was written and directed by the noted film-maker Ritwik Ghatak. The title refers to the Hindustani music equivalent of E-flat. It was part of the second part of a trilogy, the other two being Meghe Dhaka Tara and Subarnarekha. All three dealt with the aftermath of the partition of India in 1947 and the refugees coping with it, though Komal Gandhar was the most optimistic film of his oeuvre. The film explores three themes juxtaposed in the narrative – the dilemma of Anusuya, the lead character, the divided leadership of Indian Peoples’ Theatre Association (IPTA) and the fallout of the partition of India. Through the microcosmic perspectivising of a group of devoted and uncompromising IPTA workers, Ghatak, with his signature style, touches on varied issues like partition, idealism, corruption, the interdependence of art and life, the scope of art, and class struggle. Unlike his other films, this one runs along an upbeat mood with the lead pair of lovers being reunited.
Jhinder Bandi: One of the master creations of Tapan Sinha, Jhinder Bandi, released in 1961, is a historical romance starring Uttam Kumar, Soumitra Chatterjee, Arundhati Devi, Radhamohan Bhattacharya, Dilip Roy and others. Human emotions like hate, love, jealousy and betrayal are all very well dealt with in the film. For the first time in this film, Soumitra Chatterjee was seen in a villainous role, and he played it to perfection. It was also the first film where two of the greatest actors of Indian cinema, Uttam Kumar and Soumitra Chatterjee, appeared together. The story is set in the princely state of Jhind in Rajasthan. Uttam Kumar portrays an innocent king who probably happens to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. Soumitra Chatterjee plays his swashbuckling commander-in-chief. Tarun Kumar plays the evil scheming younger prince. The acting is superb throughout. Soul-touching music by Ali Akbar Khan further adds a facet to the film. The camerawork is superb; there are exquisite scenes of Rajasthan, be it the rugged hills or the sandy desert or the brilliant lakes. The film was adapted from the novel, Jhinder Bandi by Saradindu Bandyopadhyay, which in turn was inspired by The Prisoner of Zenda (1937).
The commander-in-chief of Jhind, enacted by Soumitra in Jhinder Bandi
Uttar Falguni: Uttar Falguni is a 1963 film directed by Asit Sen, starring Suchitra Sen in a double role, Bikash Roy and Dilip Mukherjee, among others. At the 11th National Film Awards, the film was awarded the Best Feature Film in Bengali. The film was remade by director Asit Sen himself in Hindi, as Mamta (1966), again with Suchitra Sen in the lead. Playing the role of a mother, a prostitute and a lawyer’s daughter, Suchitra alone carried the film on her shoulders. The film has one of Suchitra Sen’s best performances. It is based on the novel of the same name by Nihar Ranjan Roy. Debjani’s father gives her in marriage to a person to whom he is indebted as a borrower. The unscrupulous man tries to force her into prostitution. A helpless and pregnant Debjani is picked up by a madam, and she becomes a prostitute. The money she earns is used to raise her child, who grows up in the care of Manish, her first love from whom she had become separated. The bulk of the film deals with the mother’s love and sacrifice for her daughter as the latter grows up away from the former’s ‘contaminating’ influence. The final episode is a courtroom drama which brings the two women together (Suchitra’s double role). Panna Bai (the name adopted by Debjani when she became a prostitute) has shot her husband in her final attempt to protect her daughter, Suparna from her biological father. She dies in court, her love vindicated, her daughter having achieved both societal respectability and a moral victory in acknowledging her so-called lowly parentage.
Suchitra (here as Panna Bai) in one of her best performances in Uttar Falguni
Thana Theke Aschi: Thana Theke Aschi is a 1965 film starring the evergreen Uttam Kumar as Sub-Inspector Tinkari Haldar, Dilip Mukherjee, Kamal Mitra, Chhaya Devi, Anjana Bhowmick, Madhabi Mukherjee, Jahar Roy and others. The film was adapted from English dramatist JB Priestly’s play, An Inspector Calls. Sub-Inspector Tinkari Haldar comes to the house of the industrialist Chandra Madhab Sen to inquire about a suicide, and the mystery starts to unfold from that point onwards. During his entire career, which spanned more than three decades, Uttam Kumar played an inspector in only one film, and it turned out to be one of his stellar performances. This was something of an experimental film within the bounds of mainstream cinema, and Uttam Kumar’s character was a psychoanalyst-like detective.
A brilliant Uttam Kumar in Thana Theke Aschi
Teen Bhubaner Paare: Teen Bhubaner Paare is inspired by Sameresh Basu's novel. The film was released in 1969. The song ‘Ke Tumi Nandini’ sung by Manna De is an all-time youth anthem. The film was directed by Ashutosh Bandyopadhyay. It is about the journey of a couple, Montu (Soumitra) and Swarashi (Tanuja), and brilliantly depicts the emotions, the egoisms, the loneliness and the love, which can affect any relationship and ultimately society as a whole. The bohemian, unemployed Montu falls in love with Swarashi, who works in a reputed educational institute. However, he is rebuffed every time he tries to express his feelings. Ultimately, however, she likes him and they marry. She inspires him to study, which he does, and gets the job of a professor at Jadavpur University. There, however, Hena (Sumita Sanyal) falls in love with him. Learning this, Swarashi becomes despondent. In the end, though, true love wins – Montu realises that the selfless effort that Swarashi had made for him has no replacement, and that it is she who with her love, care and sacrifice has made him what he is today. The couple reunites ending of all misunderstanding. The music by Sudhin Das Gupta deserves special mention.
A scene from Teen Bhubaner Paare
Kuheli: Kuheli is one of the best suspense thrillers ever in Bengali cinema. This 1971 film was helmed by Tarun Majumdar, who deviated from his usual fare of feel-good family dramas to direct this masterpiece. This is a rare thriller where the crime-solver is a woman. Sumita Sanyal's beautiful acting has embellished the film like nothing else. This is easily one of her best roles. Biswajit also, as the bearded tormented husband, delivers probably his best performance ever. Sandhya Roy and Satya Banerjee also show high-calibre acting. Equal credit must be given to the script as well, which has all the elements of a superb thriller. From the very beginning to the end, the film maintains the ambience of mystery and thrill which never gets diluted with any needless romantic tracks or any side stories. The film gradually spins a complex web of mystery, and moves on to a brilliant climax. Hemanta Mukherjee, the music director, recreates the Bees Saal Baad magic with the haunting melody 'Asche se asche' (enhanced by its awesome picturisation).
The brilliant Sumita Sanyal in Kuheli
Podi Pishir Bormi Baksha: This 1972 film was based on a book by Leela Majumdar. Satyajit Ray had thought about filming it but ultimately Arundhati Devi got to make it. Chhaya Devi played the role of Podi Pishi, the aunt of the young hero, Khoka. Her exploits, shown in flashback, were shot in colour while the rest of the film was shot in black-and-white. Among the others who star in the film are Jahar Roy, Nripati Chattyopadhyay, Robi Ghosh, Ajitesh Bandyopadhyay, Chinmoy Ray, Mrinal Mukherjee, Nirmal Kumar and Sambhu Bhattacharya. Podi Pishir Bormi Baksha, like its namesake novel, remains a touchstone of children's imagination.
Leela Majumder, whose story was adapted into Podi Pishir Bormi Baksha