Chinnamul (1950)

 ●  Bengali ● 1 hr 57 mins

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This seminal film in the evolution of Bengali cinematic realism tells of a large group of farmers from East Bengal who, on Partition, have to migrate to Calcutta. Made with IPTA support, the film used several people from refugee camps to represent their fictional equivalents. Its two legendary highlights are the scene of the old woman clinging to the doorpost of her ancestral house, refusing to leave, and the arrival of the peasants at Sealdah station amid thousands of real refugees living on the pavement. Other remarkable scenes include the long train journey, cut to the rocking movement of the passengers as they try to sleep or stand in the crowd. Despite its strong documentary overtones with people enacting their actual experiences (including the old woman), it is the folk-derived IPTA acting style that sets the tone, punctuated by tight close-ups, usually of the hero (Roy), the only politically aware member of the group, who looks for his community on Calcutta’s streets. The film came to exemplify realism as consisting, in Ghosh’s words, six different principles: no professional actors, no make-up (except whiskers), no out- takes, no songs, concealed camera on all occasions, and dialogue with a strongly regional dialect. Early commentators (including Mrinal Sen, writing in Parichay) criticised the film for its narrative and stylistic incoherence, although it is much closer to the spirit of IPTA’s famed stage production of Nabanna than IPTA’s own film version of that play, Dharti Ke Lal (1946). Gangapada Basu, who plays the leader of the group, had acted in the original play, and went on to do notable roles in Jalsaghar (1958) and Kanchan Ranga (1964). The film was made under trying conditions, including police harassment (e.g. the script was seized following a court order). Post- production censorship imposed some compromises and the film was released only following the intervention of New Theatres’ B.N. Sircar. It was a commercial failure but recovered its costs when the USSR bought it on Pudovkin’s recommendation (cf. his long essay in Pravda, 6.12.1951), where it was dubbed and retitled Obejdolni. This was Ghatak’s first extended encounter with cinema, functioning as actor and assistant director. According to Ghosh, Satyajit Ray, then an art director with an advertising agency, informally contributed to the initial screenplay.
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