Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Goddess on Silver Screen: Durga Pujo in Cinema

Two Bengali associations of the USA reached me through different contacts and asked me to write a piece for their Durga Puja souvenirs. I wrote the following piece for the Bengali Association of St Louis, scheduled to appear in their souvenir - Punascha. 

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This is a somewhat quirky and definitely incomplete list of the Goddess’ appearance in Hindi and Bengali cinema. As would be evident, my personal biases are very clear. The idea is to stir the readers’ memories and get them to think of their own favourites. And smile a bit.  

Durga Puja was probably most central to the plot of Joy Baba Felunath where our favourite crime-solving trio landed up in Benaras for a holiday during Pujo. As they went about finding a priceless Ganesh idol, well-loved vignettes of the probashi Pujo came alive. Display of body-building in a variety programme. The community play at Bengali Club. The idol makers who put their life into the pran of the protima. And of course, the King of Africa who took the Ganesh to Atlantis. The mystery unfolded and was solved in the few days of the festival as each element of the celebrations – from the construction of the idol to its immersion – played an important part in the plot, supplying vital clues to our favourite detective.
The community play during Pujo was a favourite motif of Ray’s. In Nayak, Arindam Mukherjee was acting in the lead of one such play under his mentor’s direction when he received a film offer. The turmoil that the offer brought about was resolved in a rather gruesome manner when his mentor collapsed while trying to lift the Durga idol for bisarjan. Arindam’s rise to stardom was kicked off by the Goddess herself.  

Rituparno Ghosh’s Utsab traced the different branches of a dysfunctional family who had assembled at the family home to celebrate – rather unwillingly – Durga Pujo. Old affairs, financial messes and strained relationships were revealed in the six days of their stay. The ensemble cast delivered a stellar performance battling their inner demons as Maa Durga battled the more obvious one.
Rituparno also paid a tribute to two stalwarts of Bengali cinema when he referenced two iconic images of the Goddess. In one scene, it was mentioned that the traditional Puja vessels of the family had been requisitioned by Satyajit Ray for Debi. And in another, an aspiring filmmaker in the family reminded us that Aparna Sen’s Parama opened with the image of Durga’s face caught in a Nikon’s viewfinder.

The Goddess made two guest appearances in Shakti Samanta’s films – each with a different superstar.
Amar Prem closed with Vinod Mehra coming back to pick up his ‘mother’ (Sharmila Tagore) as Rajesh Khanna looked on with tears of joy. This homecoming of his mother coincided with Durga Puja and the film ended with the auspicious images of the Mother Goddess.
The other superstar paid a song length tribute to the Goddess in Barsaat Ki Ek Raat (also made in Bengali as Anusandhan) when he challenged villain Amjad Khan to a dhaak-playing competition. Amitabh Bachchan not only played the dhaak, he also did the arati and finally requested Maa Durga to polish off this villain too!

Bollywood’s best ode to Durga Puja happened in Kahaani.
A pregnant South Indian woman came to Calcutta looking for her Bengali husband as the city was preparing to welcome Maa Durga. The familiar sights and sounds of the festival formed a rich backdrop to the thriller as authentic locations and brilliant actors from the Bengali film industry made a lovely tapestry. The familiar lal-paar shari – traditionally worn by married women – became a symbol of the quest for Vidya Bagchi’s husband. The unexpected and thrilling climax played out in the crowded Dashami celebrations of Triangular Park. And the mystery of the missing husband as well as the horror of a terrorist attack just dissolved in the sea of lal-paar sharis, sindoor and blessings of the departing Goddess.

As a final aside, it would be interesting to mention an advertisement.
If we get past the culture shock of Soumitra Chatterjee holding a cola bottle, Thums Up paid an affectionate tribute to the slowly vanishing banedi barir pujo of Calcutta. A bunch of well-meaning, Thums Up-swigging youngsters revived their dadur pujo, putting lots of cola bottles and cans to good use. The story was far-fetched. The sentiment was not: Ebar jombe mawja!


Kakali said...

Nice list.
The puja prep in Dadar Kirti with Mahua's Chitrangada act & the Chhanda Bani club's 'mohora' is probably another one all Bengali's can recollect...

Abhishek Mukherjee said...

Caco Mukho said...

Anonymous said...

The best pujo ad ever :

Shoptomi-te prothom dekha,
Oshtomi-te haasi,
Nobomi-te bolte chaoa "Tomay Bhalobasi"
Doshomi-te hotat keno akul holo pran,
"Pran protima, tumi ebar, jaabe ki bhashan?"

The copywriter clearly excelled himself / herself.