Eminent Bengali poet and filmmaker Buddhadeb Dasgupta has been one of the major names of the Indian art cinema. The poet and filmmaker in him have been simultaneously influenced by other, the influence of the poet becoming especially manifest in the later films. After several years of making short films and documentaries he directed his first feature film Duratwa in 1978, the first of the so-called trilogy of Grihayuddha (1982) and Andhi Gali (1984). However, there isn’t any thematic connection in neither the three films nor a sequential order though all of them are related to the naxalite movement and therefore the identifiable association.
Born on 11 February 1944 in Anara village near Puruliya, West Bengal to Tarkanta Dasgupta, he spent his early childhood travelling to various cities owing to his father’s job as a doctor in the Indian Railways. He completed his education at Shibpur SSPS Vidyalaya and later at Dinabandhu School, Howrah. Highly interested in poetry and writing at an early age he wrote his first volume of verse while still in his teens in 1963. The next two volumes were published before he made his feature film debut in 1978. Duratwa carried a notable element of originality and presaged much of the mature, internationally known Dasgupta from his 1988 Phera film Phera onwards.
Since his first feature film Dasgupta utilized his talent to exploit the visual image to suggest rather than describe the ideas and meanings to his audiences. The work also employs a remarkably creative use of time in its interweaving of the past with the present as well as in its use if the more conventional device of flashback defies the neatness and simple logic of chronology and linear development. In its fundamental concern for the abstract, the film clearly foreshadows the more poetic later works. His next film Nim Annapurna (1979) set in the slums of Kolkata depicted the advanced stages of the fall into utter destitution of a once reputed family. Dasgupta’s characteristic use of internal framing, using a doorway or window, to concentrate or confine attention to a particular detail, frequently enhances a stifling feeling of entrapment, cruelly underlined by an occasional mocking glimpse of a patch of sky through gaps in an urban jungle. Grihayuddha (1982) was his first feature film in color and marked the departure as well as a nod to convention, with a linear narrative. While Andhi Gali had somewhat of a tedious and rambling narrative development, the detective story element of Grihayuddha endowed it with a taut economy.
Grihayuddha was followed by a film for television in which he articulated aspects of an idea he would later explore in two other films and Andhi Gali. He then turned back to more conventional cinema to work on a style of filmmaking that was eminently more visual, depending much more on camera than on dialogue and was guided by the disposition of the poet in Dasgupta. With Phera (1988) he developed his originality into a new, regenerated creativity. The thematics of Phera evolved out of the idea of artistic integrity that Dasgupta had previously explored in his other films. The notion of poetic cinema, notably incipient in Dasgupta’s first two films, burgeons in Phera. He then went onto direct films like Bagh Bahadur (1989), Tahader Katha (1992), Charachar (1993), Lal Darja (1997), Uttara (2000), Mondo Meyer Upakhyan (2002), Swapner Din (2004), Ami Yasin Ar Amar Madhubala (2007), Kaalpurush (2008), Janala (2009), and Tope (2017). He also made a Hindi film Anwar Ka Ajab Kissa (2013) which was released on streaming platforms in 2020, seven years after its completion.
Dasgupta won 12 National Awards and was nominated twice for the prestigious Golden Bear Award at the Berlin International Film Festival for Phera (1988) and Charachar (1994). In 2007 he was awarded the Golden Athena Award at Athens International Films Festival. The consecutive year Spain International Film Festival conferred him with Lifetime Achievement Award for his impeccable contributions to cinema. In an interview Dasgupta considered he belonged to the generation of filmmakers like Govindan Aravindan, Adoor Gopalakrishnan and Shyam Benegal instead of being compared to Satyajit Ray and Mrinal Sen. He also emphasised that the most important aspect of a film for him was not the story but the “image.”
Dasgupta had two daughters, music composer Aloknanda Dasgupta and lyricist Rajeshwari Dasgupta. He passed away at the age of 77 on 10 June, 2021.
The Essential Mystery: Major Filmmakers of Indian Art Cinema by John W Hood