Avant garde neo realist movie by Mrinal Sen “Chaalchitra” (1981).
Young Dipu (Anjan Dutt) is a bright impressionable wannabe writer with stars in his eyes. He meets the leading editor of that time Utpal Dutt who offers him a chance to become a writer if he is able to bring in a story in two days’ time, the only condition being that the story should sell.
Dipu lives in a dilapidated chawl with his family and he sees every experience as a potential story. His mother uses coal for cooking which emits lot of smoke and is bad for the eyes and health. He then encounters the women who exchange new utensils for old clothes through extensive bargaining. He then meets a road side astrologer and interviews him to write a story.
But Dipu is not able to connect any of these stories and he is not able to put pen to paper. Two days are over and he meets the editor who is upset that he is not able to bring in a story. Dipu then narrates few themes to the editor who then becomes excited and urges him to build a story. But Dipu’s story has lots of ifs and buts upon which the editor comments that he is probably a communist.
In the end he gets a job in a newspaper not as a writer but as a technician in the press. He then finally manages to buy the much required for LPG gas for his mother. Most of the shots are closer to reality including the street shots of Calcutta. Mrinal Sen’s movie is a commentary on the state of affairs in Calcutta those times, when communism and its ideals don’t get you a job and money.
Its a film within a film in the sense that a film unit goes into a village to shoot a movie about the great Bengal famine of 1943 killing more than 5 million people. The Director Dhritiman is a thinking sort of person ready to listen to the others point of view. They settle into an old decrepit run down mansion in which the owner is staying in one room tendering to her bed ridden husband.
Smita Patil plays the role of a housewife in the famine movie with sons and husband to take care of. The husband and his father do not want to part with their piece of land for Rs.50 (believe it or not) because they have pride in the land. Smita has to resort to other means by visiting a local contractor to get rice for the family. Ultimately all the villagers leave the village with their belongings on their head but at one point Smita turns around, looks at the village she is leaving by and breaks down and cries uncontrollably.
Meanwhile the film unit has an usual star problem with one lady star deciding to cut her hair, do her eyebrows which is not suited for a famine stricken women she is playing at. After some tantrums she leaves the unit in a huff, which renders them critically short of one actor. There is one lady Durga (Sreela Majumdar) who works in the film unit, sweeping floors and making tea and earning Rs.7 per day and one time meal. While she is watching the scene being enacted by Smita in which her husband is threatening to pick up the kid and throw it down, Durga suddenly reacts with alarm. Her husband has no job having lost his arm in a factory accident and she has a baby to take care of. Both these women, Durga and the other lady caring for her bed stricken husband are survivors of the great Bengal famine.
While scouting for a replacement actor in the vital part, Rajen Tarafdar suggests one village damsel who is apparently quite smart and suitable for the role. But when the girl’s father listens to the plot and the part that his daughter has to play that of a prostitute, he suddenly backs off, blaming the film unit for disgracing their lives. The villagers, thereafter, are up in arms against the film unit and they ultimately have to leave the village without completing the full shooting. The headmaster of the local village school reminds all the villagers of how they have profited from the famine.
In the last scene, the headmaster of the local village school tells the director that the fault is with both the parties. The villagers with their selfishness, greed, ignorance and the film makers with their inability to understand the sensitivities of the rural people. The dice is brilliantly thrown both sides by Mrinal Sen. For eg. there is one scene in which the film unit goes to the local village market and buys off all the vegetables and fruits for which a local villager accuses them of creating a mini famine. There is another scene in which the film unit people play games with photos of the dead people from famines or tragedies from different eras. So its like a brutally self critical film brilliantly made by Mrinal Sen.
Of the cast, Smita Patil, Dhritiman Chatterjee, Rajen Tarafdar and Sreela Majumdar have acted quite brilliantly.
A brilliant surrealist film by Mrinal Sen made in 1974 for which it won the National award for best feature film, besides two other awards. Made in black & white it works on few parallels. A factory advertises for 100 jobs for which it receives 30,000 applications. There is a huge snaking queue for just obtaining the application forms but when things go out of control the company decides not to give out any forms, which results in revolt among the applicants. From those applicants, Mrinal Sen has told stories of a few of them. One guy is a relative of village headman, whose family is upon hard times, and he has to sell his land cheap to the headman. The headman is cheating all villagers. Another story is that of a young girl who is looking for a job to support her mother who is working as a cook in another house. She is struggling to get jobs anywhere. The third story is that of a mill worker Banerjee (brilliantly played by Shekhar Chatterjee) who has lost his job to strikes, gets to drinking and is hounded by his co workers and the mill owners. There is one photo journalist who keeps taking photos and decides to create a sensation around the mystery number 30,000, the owners are terrified, call the police, who investigate few applicants, but find nothing. Mrinal creates a metaphor out of the 30,000 by showing a chorus arising from the proletariat against the business owners for lack of jobs and other atrocities being faced by them.
Brilliant movie to watch for those interested in quality cinema.
The image used is only for representational purpose and not with an intention to violating copyright.