Kolkata film society puts spotlight on world cinema
As long as there will be films, there will be the need for film societies. Cine Central in Calcutta (now Kolkata) was formed 44 autumns back in September 1965 with filmmaker Madhu Bose as its honourable president and Satyajit Ray as its vice-president. Riding on its legacy as a cultural organisation with a rich repertoire of movies, this non-commercial, non-governmental film society is devoted to film appreciation through screenings of contemporary and classic films, besides printing, organising exhibitions, seminars and discussions. Four decades after its inception, the society stands at the helm of steering a movement for cinema with social relevance.
Cine Central’s latest presentation was the landmark programme, titled "International Forum of New Cinema". Held at the Basusree cinemaghar in Kolkata from November 13-19 under the broad framework of the just concluded 15th Kolkata Film Festival, the fest showcased about 60 films from 25 countries across the globe. On the inaugural day, octogenarian filmmaker Mrinal Sen graced the occasion as the chief guest and national award-winning Tollywood actor and chairman, Kolkata Film Festival, Soumitra Chatterjee, was the guest of honour.
As usual, the "International Forum of New Cinema" was divided into different segments. The main section — Panorama of World Cinema — featured about 25 modern films from the nations, the "hotbeds" of film production. The opening film was the Swedish Everlasting Moments, made in 2008 and directed by Jan Troell. In the retrospective section, five films of renowned Japanese director Mikio Naruse was screened.
Nilanjan Chattopadhyay, director, Kolkata Film Festival said: "This is for the first time that Naruse’s retrospective is being held in the city. Another interesting section was the Panorama Of Czech Comedy. In the Focus category, both Hungarian cinema as well as Chinese flicks were screened. Another highlight of the festival was a package of new Turkish cinema and in the spotlight bracket, the light was shed on a collection of seven eclectic French films."
Almost 15 years ago, the state administration took over the Cine Central film festival, but the taste of such rare enlightening entertainment never lost its original gloss. It still retains its typical character, essence and flavours of individual entity. "The government is only lending an infrastructural support and funds from its coffers to host the festival on a this scale. The spotlight this year was on the new Turkey cinema and the reputed revolutionary Turkish filmmaker Sinasi Günes’ films were screened.
There were other good names, beyond Wong Kar-wai or Ang Lee. Noticeably, there’s a deep Hollywood impact on Chinese flicks, both in terms of technique and style. A formidable line-up of Indian cinema was juxtaposed with a slew of critically acclaimed foreign films," says Chattopadhyay.
The only cons sticking out as a sore thumb was the date of the festival which got postponed, prompting a delayed takeoff for the grand affair. The reason cited for this fiasco was the unavailability of a proper venue with reasonable rentals in the central part of the city. "Financially, our hands are tied. The government has only promised a grant of 25 per cent out of the total cost. So, we could not book a decent cinema hall to host the festival for seven continuous days. This happened last year too. With rapid changes in the cultural vistas of urban sectors, the cityscape is also changing. The cinema halls are being razed to ground only to erect swanky malls, behemoth high-rises and plush multiplexes. Unless we have a hall of our own, it would be very difficult to organise such fests in the near future. The real-estate bosses are busy filling in their pockets with the money-minting business of constructing one-stop destinations under one canopy. And sadly enough, we can’t hire the multiplexes for its exorbitant rates and secondly, we need a huge spacious hall that can house a strength of 1,000 seats per show. Hence, we are left with no choices but to settle for something that is affordable," says Sanjib Dutta, spokesperson, Cine Central.
Actor Soumitra Chatterjee says: "I feel privileged to have established close links with this premier film society of India. I have a high regard for their penchant for choosing high-class films to upgrade this film festival of international excellence and grow from strength to strength. I may implore the cineastes and organisers of this festival to keep their traditions of holding debates and discussions alive forever."
Commenting on the heavy turnout at the ticket-counters during the film fests, Mrinal Sen said: "This is surely an eye-popping confluence of many people hailing from different walks of life across ages and the diverse social strata. Undoubtedly, the government has a pivotal role and responsibility to play as an arranger, procurer and disseminator to the audiences at large. But at the end of the day, it is the true love and undying passion for cinema that sustains one’s urge and inclination to see and appreciate a jewel of films. It is not feasible to put the stress on quantity and not quality, while plucking movies for a festive package, because otherwise, the catalogue of films easily gets crammed with too many options. The selection procedure should thus be crucial enough."
The first show of the society was held at the Tiger Cinema on October 31, 1965 and by the end of the opening year itself, it got to screen around 45 films and the membership increased every month. Soon, it was identified as the largest film society in India and ever since, it has been trying to maintain the benchmark that it set. It has accorded equal attention to the cause of Indian cinema.
In 1966, it organised the first ever "Festival of Indian Cinema" in Kolkata where regional movies were shown. The society regularly screens films of Indian directors, mostly award-winning ventures by both well-known and upcoming filmmakers.
Sudhir Nandgaonkar, general secretary, Federation Of Film Societies Of India, says: "The film society movement had an extremely strong foundation in Kolkata since the 1950s and ’60s. Thanks to the great auteurs like Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen, Ritwik Ghatak and Tapan Sinha, the model of Bengali cinema rose to prominence on the national cultural map. This archetypal pattern of arthouse genre or parallel cinema, which mirrored the defining socio-political upheavals and economic crisis in India and elsewhere, was difficult on the part of Mumbai matinees to imbibe since the Mayanagari was still being reigned by pot-boilers. Hence, in the industrial capital, this culturally vibrant movement was visibly weak."
He adds: "It was only after Mrinal Sen’s 1969 Hindi film Bhuvan Shome, starring Utpal Dutt and Suhasini Mulay and narrated by Amitabh Bachchan, that the film movement gained momentum and found a new wave, voice and expression of cinema. This was a revelation for the film school graduates, a lease of life in terms of filmmaking as a craft."