Cinema of West Bengal
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The Cinema of West Bengal (Bengali: টলিউড), Tollywood refers to the Tollygunge-based Bengali film industry in the city of Kolkata, West Bengal, India. The origins of the nickname Tollywood, a portmanteau of the words Tollygunge and Hollywood, dates back to 1932. The industry is known for producing many of Indian cinema's most critically acclaimed Parallel Cinema art films, with several of its filmmakers gaining international acclaim, most notably Satyajit Ray, Ritwik Ghatak, Mrinal Sen, Tapan Sinha and Buddhadeb Dasgupta.
- 1 Etymology
- 2 History
- 3 Budgets
- 4 International recognition of Bengali cinema
- 5 Cast and crew
- 6 Awards
- 7 Organisations
- 8 Archive
- 9 Industry
- 10 See also
- 11 Notes
- 12 References
- 13 External links
The film industry based in Kolkata, West Bengal, is sometimes referred as "Tollywood", a portmanteau of the words Tollygunge, a neighbourhood of Calcutta where most of the Bengali film studios are located, and Hollywood. Tollywood was the very first Hollywood-inspired name, dating back to a 1932 article in the American Cinematographer by Wilford E. Deming, an American engineer who was involved in the production of the first Indian sound film. He gave the industry the name Tollywood because the Tollygunge district in which it was based rhymed with "Hollywood", and because Tollygunge was the center of the cinema of India as a whole at the time much like Hollywood was in the cinema of the United States.
In that same March 1932 article, Deming was also considering the name "Hollygunge" but decided to go with "Tollywood" as the nickname for the Tollygunge area due to "Tolly being a proper name and Gunge meaning locality" in the Bengali language. It was this "chance juxtaposition of two pairs of rhyming syllables," Holly and Tolly, that led to the name "Tollywood" being coined. The name "Tollywood" went on to be used as a nickname for the Bengali film industry by the popular Kolkata-based Junior Statesman youth magazine, establishing a precedent for other film industries to use similar-sounding names. Tollywood later went on to inspire the name "Bollywood" (as the Bombay-based industry overtook the one in Tollygunge), which in turn inspired many other similar names.
The history of cinema in Bengal dates back to the 1890s, when the first "bioscopes" were shown in theatres in Calcutta. Within a decade, the first seeds of the industry was sown by Hiralal Sen, considered a stalwart of Victorian era cinema when he set up the Royal Bioscope Company, producing scenes from the stage productions of a number of popular shows at the Star Theatre, Minerva Theatre, Classic Theatre. Following a long gap after Sen's works, Dhirendra Nath Ganguly (Known as D.G) established Indo British Film Co, 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. Bilat Ferat was the IBFC's first production in 1921. The Madan Theatre production of Jamai Shashthi was the first Bengali talkie. A long history has been traversed since then, with stalwarts such as Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen and Ritwik Ghatak and others having earned international acclaim and securing their place in the movie history.
Silent era: 1919-1930
Hiralal Sen India is credited as one of Bengal's, and India's first directors. However, these were all silent films. Hiralal Sen is also credited as one of the pioneers of advertisement films in India. The first Bengali-language movie was the silent feature Billwamangal, produced by the Madan Theatre Company of Calcutta and released on 8 November 1919, only six years after the first full-length Indian feature film, Raja Harish Chandra, was released.
The early beginnings of the "talking film" industry go back to the early 1930s, when it came to British India, and to Calcutta. The movies were originally made in Urdu or Persian as to accommodate a specific elite market. One of the earliest known studios was the East India Film Company. The first Bengali film to be made as a talkie was Jamai Shashthi, released in 1931. It was at this time that the early heroes of the Bengali film industry like Pramathesh Barua and Debaki Bose were at the peak of their popularity. Barua also directed a number of movies, exploring new dimension in Indian cinema. Debaki Bose directed Chandidas in 1932; this film is noted for its breakthrough in recording sound. Sound recordist Mukul Bose found out solution to the problem of spacing out dialogue and frequency modulation.
Rise of the talkie: 1931-1947
The contribution of Bengali film industry to Indian film is quite significant. First Bengali talkies Jamai Shashthi (as short film) was released 11 April 1931 at Crown Cinema Hall in Calcutta and First Bengali talkies as full-length feature film Dena Paona was released 30 December 1931 at Chitra Cinema Hall in Calcutta Based in Tollygunge, an area of South Kolkata, West Bengal and is more elite and artistically inclined than the usual musical cinema fare in India.
Golden era: 1952-1975
During this period, Bengali cinema enjoyed a large, even disproportionate, representation in Indian cinema, and produced film directors like Satyajit Ray, who was an Academy Honorary Award winner, and the recipient of India's and France's greatest civilian honours, the Bharat Ratna and Legion of Honor respectively, and Mrinal Sen, who is the recipient of the French distinction of Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters and the Russian Order of Friendship.
Other prominent film makers in the Bengali film industry at the time included Bimal Roy and Ritwik Ghatak. The Bengali film industry has produced classics such as Nagarik (1952), The Apu Trilogy (1955–1959), Jalsaghar (1958), Ajantrik (1958), Neel Akasher Neechey (1959), Devdas, Devi (1960), Meghe Dhaka Tara (1960), the Calcutta trilogies (1971–1976), etc. In particular, The Apu Trilogy is now frequently listed among the greatest films of all time.
The most well known Bengali actor to date has been Uttam Kumar; he and co-star Suchitra Sen were known as The Eternal Pair in the early 1950s. Soumitra Chatterjee is a notable actor, having acted in several Satyajit Ray films, and considered as a rival to Uttam Kumar in the 1960s. He is famous for the characterization of Feluda in Sonar Kella (1974) and Joy Baba Felunath (1978), written and directed by Ray. He also played the adult version of Apu in The World of Apu (1959), also directed by Ray. One of the most well known Bengali actresses was Sharmila Tagore, who debuted in Ray's The World of Apu, and became a major actress in Bengali cinema as well as Bollywood. Despite Suchitra Sen being the greatest actress, Sharmila was the most commercial successful actress in history with films like The World of Apu (1959), Devi (1960), Nayak (1966), Simabaddha (1967) and Aranyer Dinratri (1970). Utpal Dutt is internationally known for his acting in movies and plays, especially Shakespearean plays.
The pioneers in Bengali film music include Raichand Boral, Pankaj Mullick and K. C. Dey, all associated with New Theatres Calcutta. The greatest composers of the golden era included Robin Chatterjee, Sudhin Dasgupta, Nachiketa Ghosh, Hemant Kumar etc.  Other famous playback singers in Bengali film music were Hemanta Mukherjee, Shyamal Mitra, Manna Dey, Sandhya Mukhopadhyay, Asha Bhosle, Lata Mangeshkar, Utpala Sen, Satinath Mukherjee, Anup Ghoshal, Haimanti Shukla, Arundhati Holme Chowdhury, Geeta Dutt, Alka Yagnik, Kumar Sanu, Udit Narayan, Kavita Krishnamurthy, Sadhna Sargam, Abhijeet Bhattacharya, Shreya Ghoshal, Shaan, Babul Supriyo, Sonu Nigam and Kishore Kumar.
Ever since Satyajit Ray's Pather Panchali (1955) was awarded Best Human Document at the 1956 Cannes Film Festival, Bengali films frequently appeared in international fora and film festivals for the next several decades. This allowed Bengali filmmakers to reach a global audience. The most influential among them was Satyajit Ray, whose films became successful among European, American and Asian audiences. His work subsequently had a worldwide impact, with filmmakers such as Martin Scorsese, James Ivory, Abbas Kiarostami, Elia Kazan, François Truffaut, Carlos Saura, Isao Takahata, Wes Anderson and Danny Boyle being influenced by his cinematic style, and many others such as Akira Kurosawa praising his work. The "youthful coming-of-age dramas that have flooded art houses since the mid-fifties owe a tremendous debt to the Apu trilogy". Kanchenjungha (1962) introduced a narrative structure that resembles later hyperlink cinema. Ray's 1967 script for a film to be called The Alien, which was eventually cancelled, is widely believed to have been the inspiration for Steven Spielberg's E.T. (1982). Ira Sachs' Forty Shades of Blue (2005) was a loose remake of Charulata, and in Gregory Navas My Family (1995), the final scene is duplicated from the final scene of The World of Apu. Similar references to Ray films are found in recent works such as Sacred Evil (2006), the Elements trilogy of Deepa Mehta, and in films of Jean-Luc Godard.
Another prominent Bengali filmmaker is Mrinal Sen, whose films have been well known for their Marxist views. During his career, Mrinal Sen's film have received awards from almost all major film festivals, including Cannes, Berlin, Venice, Moscow, Karlovy Vary, Montreal, Chicago, and Cairo. Retrospectives of his films have been shown in almost all major cities of the world.
Another Bengali filmmaker, Ritwik Ghatak, began reaching a global audience long after his death; beginning in the 1990s, a project to restore Ghatak's films was undertaken, and international exhibitions (and subsequent DVD releases) have belatedly generated an increasingly global audience. Some of his films have strong similarities to later famous international films, such as Ajantrik (1958) resembling the Herbie films (1967–2005) and Bari Theke Paliye (1958) resembling François Truffaut's The 400 Blows (1959).
A number of Satyajit Ray films appeared in the Sight & Sound Critics' Poll of all-time greatest films, including The Apu Trilogy (ranked No. 4 in 1992 if votes are combined), The Music Room (ranked No. 27 in 1992), Charulata (ranked No. 41 in 1992) and Days and Nights in the Forest (ranked No. 81 in 1982). The 2002 Sight & Sound critics' and directors' poll also included the Ritwik Ghatak films Meghe Dhaka Tara (ranked #231) and Komal Gandhar (ranked #346). In 1998, the critics' poll conducted by the Asian film magazine Cinemaya included The Apu Trilogy (ranked No. 1 if votes are combined), Ray's Charulata and The Music Room (both tied at #11), and Ghatak's Subarnarekha (also tied at #11). In 1999, The Village Voice top 250 "Best Film of the Century" critics' poll also included The Apu Trilogy (ranked No. 5 if votes are combined). In 2005, The Apu Trilogy was also included in Time magazine's "All-TIME" 100 best movies list. In 1992, the Sight & Sound Critics' Poll ranked Ray at No. 7 in its list of "Top 10 Directors" of all time,
The cinematographer Subrata Mitra, who made his debut with Ray's The Apu Trilogy, also had an importance influence on cinematography across the world. One of his most important techniques was bounce lighting, to recreate the effect of daylight on sets. He pioneered the technique while filming Aparajito (1956), the second part of The Apu Trilogy. Some of the experimental techniques which Satyajit Ray pioneered include photo-negative flashbacks and X-ray digressions while filming Pratidwandi (1972).
In the 1980s, however, the Bengal film industry went through a period of turmoil, with a shift from its traditional artistic and emotional inclinations to an approach more imitating the increasingly more popular Hindi films, along with a decline in the audience and critical appreciation, with notable exceptions of the works of directors like Nripen Saha, Gautam Ghose. However, even at this time, a lot of actors and actresses enjoyed popularity, including Tapas Paul, Prosenjit, Chiranjit, Rituparna Sengupta, Debasree Roy, Anju Ghosh, Satabdi Roy and others. Moushumi Chatterjee came to Tollywood after a successful career in Bollywood. She delivered one to another hit films.
This decade witnessed some of the seminal works of Mrinal Sen like Kharij which won the Jury Prize at 1983 Cannes Film Festival and In Search of Famine which won Silver Bear - Special Jury Prize at 31st Berlin International Film Festival -.
Satyajit Ray's Ghare Baire, which was entered into 1984 Cannes Film Festival competing for the Palme d'Or and Ganashatru which was screened Out of Competition at 1989 Cannes Film Festival were also released during this period
Toward the end of the 90s, with the a number of directors coming increasingly into prominence, including Rituparno Ghosh, Gautam Ghose, Aparna Sen, Sandip Ray among others, a number of popular and critically acclaimed movies have come out of the Bengali film industry in recent years. These include Unishe April, Titli, Mr. and Mrs. Iyer, Iti Mrinalini, Patalghar, Bombaiyer Bombete, Shatru Pakakkha, and Jeeban Jodhha, and signal a resurgence of the Bengali film industry. Actors like Rachana Bannerjee, Jisshu Sengupta, and couple of other also came into prominence.
The market for Bengali films has expanded to a 340-million-strong Bengali audience in Bangladesh, West Bengal, Tripura and Assam. The industry could truly flourish if films from this state have a proper distribution network. While around 50 films are produced in West Bengal every year, only 30 make it to the theatres.
The decade 2010s saw emergence of sleekly-made commercial films in West Bengal, although many were copies of popular South Indian films. Technical development were notable in such films, as was the reflection of increasing budget, exemplified by shooting in foreign locales. Some hit films of this decade were Sathi (2002), Chirodini Tumi Je Amaar (2008), Chirosathi (2008), Bhalobasha Bhalobasha, Premer Kahini. 2000s also saw the emergence of popular actors such as Jeet, and Dev, and music directors such as Jeet Ganguly.
At the same time, West Bengal continued to produce many critically acclaimed art-house films. New directors such as Sekhar Das,Anjan Dutta, Atanu Ghosh, Bappaditya Bandopadhyay, Srijit Mukherji, Koushik Ganguly and Kamaleshwar Mukherjee were well received.
70-100 Bengali movies are released every year and are produced with a budget of Rs. 200,000 to Rs. 150 million per movie. India's big house Reliance Big Entertainment and Home Entertainment, Shree Venkatesh Films, Viacom Pictures are the producers of the most expensive Bengali movies. While other regional movies like the ones in Tamil and Telugu have a budget of Rs 400 million, budgets of Bengali movies are still restricted within certain limits. For reference: a crore rupee = 10 million rupees (roughly 160,000 euros), and a lakh = 100,000 rupees.
Many of the most critically acclaimed Bengali films were low-budget films, including Satyajit Ray's famous The Apu Trilogy (1955–1959). The first film in the trilogy, Pather Panchali (1955), was produced on a shoestring budget of Rs. 150,000 ($32000) using an amateur cast and crew. All his other films that followed also had low budgets, with his most expensive films being The Adventures of Goopy And Bagha (1968) at Rs. 600,000 ($80,000) and Shatranj Ke Khilari (1977) at Rs. 6 million ($230,000).
The Bengali film industry, which had been a beacon for the country's film industry until the 1980s, is in a turnaround mode. At a time when Bollywood continues its roller-coaster ride, there are cheers in the Bengali film industry with several commercial successes. The dark period of the 1990s when Bengali tinsel town was on a steep decline seems like a nightmare that's best forgotten. And, with the money pouring in, producers from other States are now knocking on the doors of Bengali directors. Industry sources say that the best proof of the comeback is seen in the increasing number of cinema houses showing Bengali films. Even a few years ago, of the 800 movie theatres in the State, no more than 350 were showing just Bengali films. The remaining had spread their risk showing a mix of either Hindi and English or Hindi and Bengali films.2008, nearly 700 theatres are showing Bengali films.
Bombaiyer Bombete, produced by Ramoji Films at a cost of Rs 80 million, recovered its costs within three weeks and earned 200 million in all . The movie has brought back the concept of family entertainment with Sandip Ray's gambit of contemporising the plot paying him rich dividend. Admitting that he did not expect this success, he told Life that he was now lining up another such film for release next year. Earlier, a film by award-winning director Buddhadeb Dasgupta's Mondo Meyer Upakhyan (The Tale of a Fallen Girl) produced by Arjoe Entertainments netted nearly Rs 70 million through sale of overseas rights against a cost of Rs 6 million.Haranath Chakraborty His film Sathi (Companion) created a record by recouping over five times its production cost, although the film Chokher Bali, with big names like Aishwariya Rai, Rituparno Ghosh and Tagore, failed to yield expected results. The movie, billed at Rs 16.5 million (the highest among Bengali films). Total number of cinema theatre is approx 460.But there are films like 'Kaler rakhal'by Sekhar Das which created huge controversy for its strong political comments on contemporary Bengal,despite its brilliance was not successful in the box office as the film was unceremoiniusly withdrawn from the theatres.
Loose and unorganised production activities, dominated and dictated by providers of capital led to proliferation of sub-standard films, which were most often commercial failures. The recent successes have come through some concerted effort by Parallel Cinema which has tapped the domestic market, even while scouting the overseas ones, hitting the festival circuit somewhere in between. As such, celluloid creations of award-winning directors like Gautam Ghosh, Rituparno Ghosh and Aparna Sen started bringing money for their producers. However, at around the same time, movies in the commercial circuit (directors like to call them mainstream cinema) also started doing well, supported strongly by the response from the semi-urban areas. The big Bollywood banners such as Mukta Arts and Rajshri films are now showing interest in funding Bengali films.
Hollywood houses like Columbia Tristar have made their debut in distributing Bengali movies. According to industry experts, several issues need to be addressed to build on this resurgence and consolidate it. These include inadequate infrastructure, which often compels moviemakers to go outside the State for facilities pushing up costs, poor marketing and distribution and increasing competition from Bangladeshi films.
International recognition of Bengali cinema
Here is a list of Grand prizes awarded to Bengali cinema by the most prestigious film festivals:
- Golden Lion: Satyajit Ray (1957- Aparajito)
- Golden Lion – Honorary Award: Satyajit Ray (1982)
- Best Director: Budhhadeb Dasgupta (2000- The Wrestlers)
- Golden Bear: Satyajit Ray (1973- Distant Thunder)
- Jury Grand Prix: Mrinal Sen (1981- In Search of Famine)
- Silver Bear:Satyajit Ray (1964- The Big City & 1965- Charulata),
National Board of Review (USA)
- National Board of Review Award for Best Foreign Language Film: Satyajit Ray (1958- Pather Panchali & 1960- The World of Apu)
The Annual Academy Awards (Oscar)
- Academy Honorary Award: Satyajit Ray (1992- "In recognition of his rare mastery of the art of motion pictures, and of his profound humanitarian outlook, which has had an indelible influence on filmmakers and audiences throughout the world.")
Cast and crew
Well-known film personalities of Bengali film industry include,
- Bengal Film Journalists' Association Awards-The oldest Association of Film critics in India, founded in 1937, by the inspiration and determination of the handful of pioneers amongst the then thin section of scribes that were drawn to film journalism with a lofty mission to serve the developing film journalism and film industry.
- Anandalok Awards-Ceremony is one of the most prominent film events given for Bengali cinema in India
- Kalakar Awards-Ceremony is recognized as one of the topmost awards ceremonies of eastern region of India.
- Tellysamman Awards-Sangbad Pratidin, a Kolkata based Bengali daily organized this Award Ceremony.
- Zee Bangla Gourab Somman Awards-These awards are designed for the people by the people. Zee Bangla would be honoring the rich culture and tradition of the land and felicitating the evergreen personalities from the field of theatre, film, music and our own television shows.
- Filmfare Awards East
The best archive of Bengali film is Bengali film directory (in English Language), Published in 1999, Nandan, West Bengal Film Centre (Calcutta). This directory book was edited by Ansu Sur and was compiled by Abhijit Goswami. It covers almost all released Bengali feature films from 1917 to 1998 with short descriptions including detailed cast and crew, director name, released date and released theater name.
Today, the film industry in West Bengal is one of the most significant film industry centres in India with new film cities being planned in Uttarpara. The industry is centering around ' Tollygunge, in Kolkata, West Bengal is sometimes called Tollywood a portmanteau of the words Tollygunge and Hollywood.
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