Review: PADATIK – A DOCUMENTARY ON TAPAN SINHA
A documentary on Tapan Sinha was long overdue. One documentary was already made by filmmaker Raja Sen many years ago when the filmmaker was alive. This was being made during his last days of illness and was screened to an invited audience on the occasion of the great doyen’s first death anniversary. Directed by Bapi Banerjee and produced by Eastern India Cinematographers’ Association, Padatik is a well-conceived film that is imaginatively structured with chosen clippings from his massive oeuvre, interviews with people he worked with over the years, his personal take on his approach towards filmmaking and so on.
Padatik (Striker) is placed against the historical backdrop of world cinema that first inspired Tapan Babu to choose films as a committed vocation. The film points out how in 1948, the film form and content of cinema was redefined by Vittorio De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves, laying the foundations of Neo-Realism. The movement influenced Indian filmmakers like Satyajit Ray, K.A. Abbas and Bimal Roy. These films used nonprofessional actors and were shot without sound and the dialogue to be synchronized back in the studio. This gave the filmmaker greater fluidity and freedom to capture spontaneous actions within the lens of the camera. Few are aware that Tapan Sinha also was influenced by this school of cinema. Ankush, his first film, released in 1954 faded almost into cinematic and historic oblivion because Ray’s Pather Panchali released the following year made international history.
Padatik often cuts into the golden archive of his films. Archival clips from Raja, Atithi, Safed Haathi, Atanka, Jhinder Bondi, Wheelchair, Louha Kapat, Apon Jon, Jotugriha, Khoniker Atithi, Sagina Mahato, Adalat O Ekti Meye, Banchcharamer Bagan, Nirjon Saikatey, Haatey Bazarey, Kshudita Pashan, have found their way into the documentary explaining his versatility and his range at the same time. The film shows how Tapan Sinha’s oeuvre reveals a cross-section of personal struggles, individual pain and social change. He fore grounded his films with issues directly linked to Bengal but with universal significance. Kabuliwallah for instance, though based on a Tagore story, will appeal to everyone across the world even today because the story of the close bonding between a simple kabuliwallah and a little girl who do not understand each other’s language and have no ties of blood or family, is universal in its emotional, musical and social appeal. Louha Kapat, based on Jarasandha’s novel around prisoners, is equally moving and cuts across geographical, cultural, humane and linguistic barriers.
Says Soumitra Chatterjee, “Imagine the guts he had to cast the Apu of Satyajit Ray’s films as Mayurbahon, the villain, in the historical period piece Jhinder Bondi! Few directors would have had the courage to pick an actor who portrayed a positive classic character in a Ray film to cast him in an outright negative role in another literary classic made into a film” Padatik is filled with interviews of people very close to him, his cinematographer Soumyendu Roy, his actors Soumitra Chatterjee, Satabdi Roy, Manoj Mitra and Nirmal Kumar. Singers like Arati Mukherjee and Anup Ghoshal shower accolades on his feel for music.
The film underscores, through interviews and clips, how his creative imagination could spontaneously spring from anything – contemporary and classical literature, crime, politics, human relationships, comic capers, newspaper stories, social satire, black comedy, children’s films and music-oriented scripts. His Banchharamer Bagan is one of the biggest box office hits in Bengali cinema. Tapan Sinha made 44 feature films on the widest range of genres not done by any Bengali and probably, even Indian filmmaker till this day. His personal life is kept completely out of the scenario, perhaps at the filmmaker’s own request.
The film opens with strains of the Tagore song amaar mukti aloye aloye ei aakashey, a song Sinha used in his film Atithi many years ago. The lines of the song are a fitting tribute as they are a metaphor for Sinha’s life. The closing frame is again, a black screen with the strains of the same song, amar mukti aloye aloye ei akaashe filling the soundtrack as a fitting tribute to the man who will remain alive forever and transcend the finiteness of death.
By Shoma A. Chatterji