For Charulata and The Broken Home: A Roseate Sonnet

Note: A roseate sonnet, dedicated to the beautiful, lonely, vulnerable and literary soul of Charulata, the heroine of Rabindranath Tagore’s magnum opus novella ‘Nastanirh’ (which had been filmed by Satyajit Ray, the Oscar-winning filmmaker as ‘Charulata’), the lovelorn soul who seeks love, acceptance and validation from both her husband Bhupati, and realizes the irony of her twisted fate towards the end, when both she and her husband seek a closure.

Every time I have let loose, I went flopping, I drifted ashore,

My pain, lopsided anguish charring me with the embers of my torn poetry.

The silver swirl of my words, my unquenched thirst you had never known, my husband,

Voices floating inside my lovelorn being, in your brother’s bonhomie, had found delightful symmetry.

For you, beneath your spectacles and uninviting cool, had never known how

While I chewed on betel leaves, I scraped inside like crimson paint, pummeling my raw pages like dough.

Did even Amal know, when we wove our silken dreams of our clandestine garden, our little lake, idyllic ducks,

How I craved to be princess of yore for you both, slithering in your mediocre love, every then and now?

A damned, accursed princess, seated unaware, beneath the shady canopy of the hog plum tree,

Burning my untainted silence of moments, dreaming of rampant, inconsequential poesy that was never to be.

Running away, surreptitious, from my frayed edges, Amal, didn’t you trip over our shadowed world, for once?

Only if I had known before, our twilight hill would be crushed, trampled, our rhythmic melody broken down, thus.

Silent, ebbing and swelling inside, my domesticated footsteps censured me, “Charu, be the cloudburst, but never the rain.

Enter my wet, plundered earth, my husband, let us take each other in our lost catharsis, let me be your loving wife, the adulteress.

All Rights Reserved. Lopa Banerjee. March 27, 2017.

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Charulata (Filmed by Satyajit Ray, India 1964)

P.S. The novella in Bengali has been translated by me as ‘The Broken Home’ (available in Amazon Kindle) and fetched me the International Reuel Prize for translation in 2016, instituted by The Significant League, a literary group in Facebook and The Autism Village Project Trust.

Durga: The Light That Flickered and Blazed

 

Note: My poetic tribute to the relentless, unblemished spirit of the teenager Durga, a poetic celebration of her short, unceremonious, yet unforgettable life and the haunting reality of her untimely death in Satyajit Ray’s ‘Pather Panchali’ (Song Of The Road), the award-winning cinematic adaptation of the master storyteller of Bengal, Bibhutibhushan Banyopadhyay’s magnum opus novel  of the same name.

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The light that had flickered and blazed had found its humble moorings

In the moonbeams of a brother’s quiet smile.

The light, naked, unabashed, glaring, rose and fell

between the crests and rims of an untamed want of ripe mangoes

and guavas picked up from neighbor’s orchards, her kith and kin

for whom Durga was the other name of a censuring reality.

The light, an all-pervading truth, had shone, wandering in those wistful eyes

Loosening in their shores like sea water, and she clutched the brother’s shoulders

And took in the delight of trains whizzing past the silhouetted fields, whistling,

While the kaash flowers swayed in those eyes in their ivory nakedness.

The moon of her newborn puberty ached in the dark edges of her kohl,

A dark ink that had craved for a morsel of pampering from a troubled mother,

Splotches and shades of a promise peeping by, whistling in her ears the provocation

Of a scrumptious feast of a wedding, the provocation of a sweetmeat

Of a fancy doll, a string of false pearls, which she could cling to, as her own.

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The light that had cradled her lap which hid sweet nothings for her ancient, dying aunt

A strand of forbidden silver which had carved her destiny, in a dilapidated hut

Where hope was but a shallow inhale, trading her brother Apu’s porridge

with her grim, corrosive punishments, a plate of squashed rice

and a mother’s wordless tears waiting for her, in an eager dusk of her return. durga-and-apu

The light, which had died out, in spurts, stumbling upon the dead aunt

In the lingering quiet of her way back home, chewing on rural titbits.

The light had taken in the world in the diamond drops of a torrential rain

Squandering in the open fields when she too hungered to live life

In bite-sized chunks of enduring moments, swirling, dancing around her.

The ashen sky of Nishchindipur, the nonchalant village

Where she anchored her tomfoolery, had flashed that one final grin

As she hung, loose, papery-thin in its sunless folds, taking in

Her wild breaths, hissing against the wind for one last time.

Death, her truthful, final kin had put his arm around her

While the brother listened to her last wish to storm out in the open fields

To see a stray train whizzing by….

The brother, the stoned mother, the bereaved father,

The starched cotton sari which she would never ever wear,

Waited and moved on in the bare-bone life, trudging on uncertain miles

Where her dim light, the dying vapors of her last breaths waved at them,

In a choking, molten surrender.

All Rights Reserved. Lopa Banerjee. February 28, 2017

 

Also, sharing a detailed, in-depth essay about the grinding reality of death and the philosophy of life as depicted in the Apu trilogy that I had published in 2014 in Cafe Dissensus e-mag. It is also archived in this blog (January 2014).

Satyajit Ray’s Apu Trilogy: Celebrating Life Through the Vision of Death

 

An Ode to ‘Ijaazat’: The Final Approval

Note: My poetic tribute to the haunting, melancholic, yet the beautifully touching saga of love gone awry in the hands of destiny, the irresistibly deep and unforgettable chemistry between Mahinder, Maaya and Sudha in Gulzar’s timeless love saga ‘Ijaazat’, based on the Bengali story ‘Jatugriha’, by Subodh Ghosh.  The film, unforgettable till today for the tenderly crafted lyrics of Gulzar Saab composed with finesse by the phenomenal R.D. Burman,  followed the story of couple who are separated and who accidentally meet in a small waiting room of a railway station and discover some truths about their lives without each other.

ijaazat_movie

 

Like weary travelers, lost in the waxy orbit of time

We lose our shores, and then, keep coming back

To where our stories began, the Ground Zero

Where you slouched against my caramel skin,

Lost in the deep, blinding maze of a past, passionate, drunk

With the lyrics and heartbeats of Maaya, the wandering girl,

Her eyelashes, soaked with the salt and oil

of the forbidden randomness of your wants.

“Ek akeli chhatri mein jab aandhe aandhe bheeg rahe they

Aadhey sookhey aandhey gile, sookha to main le aayee thi…”

The raindrops pelting on the window where she stood,

Forlorn, dreamy still, asking you to return the cloudbursts

Of your memories in spurts, were mine too, the clouds which I stared at

Like forbidden turrets of your leftover dreams overlooking

Our half-baked love songs, yawning with an emptiness

As I had rinsed off their remnants from our rooms, our plates,

Our cups and dishes, our breaths, entwined, yet not whole.

I did look for you and long to hear the syrupy strains

Of those lovelorn lyrics, which you had once hummed to me.

I did look in the hand-delivered letters of the postman

For the silhouettes of those sullied memories and burnt out poems

Which never reached me, as I settled down, colder, less rippling

And more permissive, in a new mooring.

Forgive me, today, as I dried off your wet hairs, drenched in

Our once-familiar raindrops in an unfamiliar station,

Waking up to dig in the dust of our forgotten, forsaken days

Waking up to your frostbitten face, bursting wide, crooning

In the smoked mirror of this tiny, clumsy waiting room.

Forgive me, like Maaya, the sad, wandering girl who gagged herself

And was washed away in the crossroads of your tyrannical trails,

The sky, drunk, sunken, taking in both our salty waters, and crackling.

Forgive me, today, as I seek your approval, for one last time

To drive off to my moorings now, as you will drive off to your own,

The smudged lines of our story, hanging loose, askance,

In this Ground Zero where we had stumbled upon, and burnt.

 

All Rights Reserved. Lopa Banerjee. February 17, 2017

 

Watch the full movie here:

An Ode to Silsila: The Star-Crossed Lovers’ Tale

Note: My poetic tribute to the passionate, all-consuming love between the two star-crossed lovers in Yash Chopra’s blockbuster romance Silsila, which had put the silver screen on fire in the early 1980’s.

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The poster of ‘Silsila’, released by Yash Raj Films in 1981.

Betwixt the twists and turns of life’s uncertain miles

The pastures of love had tempted with a painterly vision.

‘Love’, the oft-committed, dazzling sin testifying in its fullness,

‘Love’, the beguiling light, irresistible, blinding,

One that soon engulfs in its maddening darkness.

 

The scent of their silken touch, the frantic movements of pleasure

In their entwined bodies, unraveling, squirting, unabashed,

Out of their neatly packed matrimonial boxes, to whisper

The esoteric lyrics of a seductive, silken reunion that lingers,

Tears to shreds, burns to ashes the salt and pepper of domestic bliss.

A pair of star-crossed lovers, seeking a pound of solace in

The lyrical ferocity of their swan songs.

 

The mad refrain of the desperate artist lover,

Sucking the moonbeam of her jingling bangles,

Nibbling on the wafting fragrance of his paramour’s body,

A scorching story of the boundless seduction of old flames

While estranging domestic ties, and the sad, silent tears

Of a demure, resilient bride, waiting to reclaim him,

Sowing his seed of a once vowed proximity.

 

And she, on her turn, carrying those lovelorn songs still

In her bone and sinew and blood, pan-seared in the surging lust

And love, melting, like the old, familiar salt in his luscious wants.

Her other man, bonded in vows of a holy matrimony waited,

For he too knew, the smell of her lover would wane away

From her chiffon drape, in the inevitable downhill climb,

The destiny of this perfume-soaked, transient saga of love.

 

‘Love’, the salt that perhaps had stung in their lips still

Would strive to settle in its familiar homely mooring,

From where there would be no leading astray, after all.

 

Lopa Banerjee.  February 8, 2017

 

 

‘The Hummingbird, Lingering, Living’

My poetic rambling and humble tribute to my favorite singer, Geeta Dutt on the auspicious occasion of her birthday, November 23. Also sharing a very amateur sketch I had made in her memory, long back, probably in 2002.

So delighted to have it published in Learningandcreativity.com, a beautiful online resource on literature, film and fine arts, in ‘101 years of Indian Cinema’.

http://learningandcreativity.com/geeta-dutt-tribute-in-poetry/

 

The poem has also been shared on Geeta Dutt’s fan page in Facebook, ‘The Magical Voice of Geeta Dutt’. Thank you Antara Nanda Mondal, editor of L&C, for everything!

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Image credit: Lopa Banerjee

 

Iridescent, calm, those eyes shone with so much love
As you hummed along, the world seeped in your bird songs.
The cascade rippled, gushed, flowed along
Harmonious rhymes, tailor-made for us
Caught between the crossfire of love and pining.

That hummingbird, caged within your fragile body
So full of dreams, clutching the transient luster
Of a tinsel town, harsh, cold, camouflaging your desires.

Your songs, a cult trudging the serene paths of love
While the world relinquished in their balmy presence,
There was no remedy to the abysmal core
Where you kept drowning, worn out, famished
Tangled in the maze of Bollywood, a whirlpool
That had sucked all bounty you had to give,
All passion, all ecstasy, as you lay still, one day
Lingering, watching over, in wreaths of silence.

Dark is the night as I listen to your refrains of love
They swirl around the room, bleeding
In the crescendo of life, exploding,
As you have bled, and died in love,
Drifted away, lingering, living.

Copyright: Lopa Banerjee. November 23, 2014

A glimpse into her life, her  and her musical persona:

‘Teen Kanya: Samapti’: Tale of the Rebel

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The young Aparna as Mrinalini. Image Source: http://www.banglatorrents.com

 

Remembering the beautiful Aparna Sen in her teenage years as Mrinalini or ‘Pagli’ (the crazy girl) in the movie adaption of Rabindranath Tagore’s ‘Samapti’ (The Ending)–the girl with tattered sari and unruly hair, with dreamy, lustrous eyes, full of rebellion and angst that in the end turns to sweet surrender. Remembering the portrayal of endearing love that evolves and gains momentum with time, while the tomboyish girl gradually settles into docile domesticity. However, I am totally in love with the rebel with an independent mind who fearlessly sat in her nuptial bed and demanded: “Amake jor korbe keno? Ami ki khuki? (Why did they force me into this marriage? Am I a child?)” The rebel who stealthily crept to the terrace, climbed a tree, slept in a swing the entire night, nurtured a neglected animal, was one with the dirt, mud and soil of the quaint, uneventful village, who learnt to love the man, pine for him, who had once imposed himself upon her.

A full write-up on the trilogy of ‘Teen Kanya’ directed by Satyajit Ray is hovering in my mind now, let’s see how soon I am able to lay it down on paper. For the moment, sharing with you the untamed sweetness, the rural simplicity and the saga of unusual love:

 

The Myriad Magical Hues of Love: Onscreen Romances and Hollywood

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I’m scared of walking out of this room and never feeling the rest of my whole life the way I feel  when I’m with you.” — Dirty Dancing

Choose me. Marry me. Let me make you happy. Oh, that sounds like three favors, doesn’t it?”–Julia Roberts, My Best Friend’s Wedding

It seems right now that all I’ve ever done in my life is making my way here to you.“–Clint Eastwood, The Bridges of Madison County

What comes to your mind when you think of these incredibly romantic lines? The antidote to anything seemingly mundane and ordinary, the intangible chemistry between the classic couples and the films they breathed life into, the throbbing, pulsating rhythm of your heart as you were quite unconsciously a part of the spring and mirth of this carnival called ‘love? As an ardent admirer of Hollywood’s most memorable romance classics spanning decades, I unmistakably feel my pulses rising with the sheer aura of the onscreen romances portrayed so very lovingly in the silver screen of the yesteryears. From the saga of star-crossed lovers meeting during wartime under the Moorish arches of Rick’s Café American in “Casablanca”, to the exquisite epic story of love, “Gone With The Wind”– based on Margaret Mitchell’s bestselling Civil War epic (which defined the term “Hollywood blockbuster”), I have an insatiable appetite for each of them.

How can I ever forget the sweeping emotions of the magic of a shipboard romance which charms a Frenchman and American woman (Charles Boyer and Irene Dunne, respectively) into each other’s arms in “Love Affair”? Or the phenomenal romance between Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr in “An Affair To Remember”, where a man and a woman meet on a ship crossing an ocean and fall in love, only to part ways, promising to meet dramatically on the top of Empire State Building, New York, which unfortunately, doesn’t happen later? Equally unforgettable is the timeless love saga, “Roman Holiday”, which happens to be the most priceless transient romance between a disguised princess and a handsome American reporter (Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck, respectively).”

Excerpts from my article, ‘The Myriad Magical Hues of Love: Onscreen Romances and Hollywood’, featured at B’Khush.com, a monthly online magazine by women, of women, and for women, and not to forget their better halves 🙂

To read the full article at B’Khush, do visit:

http://www.bkhush.com/dev/content/scattered-pearls-myriad-magical-hues-love

 

‘Born into Brothels’: Looking Back at a Gem in Documentary Filmmaking

‘Born into Brothels’ happens to be the first documentary that I had seen together with my husband, a documentary movie buff. I remember how deeply moved and emotional I had been while watching filmmaker Zana Brisky’s exceptional journey into the forsaken alleys of Kolkata’s red light area, and her discovery of the children born into those brothels. Today, after I had watched the film again, those emotions rushed back to me, and I instantly reconnected with those mighty moments of exploration, depicted with so much of honesty and ingenuity. This essay is a personal journey of remembering and honoring the film, eight years after I had first seen it. The review was initially published at Associatedcontent.com, and later, was republished at ‘Yahoo Voices’. 

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The poster of the film ‘Born into Brothels’. Pic courtesy: Amazon.com

 

“Born into Brothels”: A Re-review

In a world of abject poverty, abuse and despair; the resilience of childhood and the restorative power of art go hand-in-hand to transport children born in filth to a new world, a world which they are taught to discover with new eyes. Those who have seen the seething documentary written and directed by Zana Brisky and Ross Kauffman named “Born Into Brothels” based in the red light districts of Calcutta, will surely be able to identify this image as a central element of the much acclaimed film of 2004.

Looking back at this immensely inspiring and uplifting documentary that puts other narrative documentaries to shame even after 3 years of it’s release, it is amazing to discover that even today, many of us still want to talk about the film, about the several unforgettable children born in the red light area portrayed so sensitively in the film, and also want to analyze the filmmakers’ vision in making the film. The principal reason behind this eagerness is not merely the fact that this widely acclaimed documentary had won the Sundance Film Festival Audience Award and the Academy Award back in 2005, but the intensity and honesty with which the filmmakers Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman chronicle the amazing transformation of the children they come to know in the red light district. Precisely, this was something which had not been commonly touched upon by filmmakers. Take a close look at the theme of the film and you will easily see that the filmmakers actually wanted to tear the façade of the apparently growing prosperity of India and unravel the dark underbelly of poverty, depravation and human exploitation that keeps growing in the other side of the nation.

The film will be also be remembered for many days for the daring attitude of the directors who went a long way to convince a special group of children of the prostitutes of the area to photograph the most reluctant subjects dwelling inside the entire institution of skin-trading. Briski, a professional photographer from New York, spends years of her life in with these kids, exploring the hopeless lives of the sons and daughters of prostitutes through photography and film. On one hand, while she relentlessly portrays the world of sex workers and their hopeless, depraved life, on the other hand, she exhibits sheer determination to use the art of photography to provide the children with the opportunity for higher education, hope and a better life. The children, enthused with their “Zana Aunty” and their newly found cameras, came up with photographs that in a word, ignited latent sparks of artistic genius residing within them. Their work being exhibited and acknowledged, one boy named Abhijit was even sent to a photography conference in Amsterdam. Briski also recorded her efforts to place the children in boarding schools.

The portrayal of artistry and talent of the children in the film, as reflected in their works of photography, critics have said, have not only served as examples of remarkable observation and talent; but have also reflected something much larger: the role of art in all humanity as an immensely liberating and empowering force. Given the cameras, the children go on a clicking spree, creating fragments of moments of their life which become prisms into their souls, bearing true testimony of the power of their indelible creative spirit. Here, the filmmakers use a poetic, metaphorical narrative, using mostly pictures taken by the children and the expressions of the children. However, reality soon surfaces as they navigate through unbelievable levels of bureaucratic quicksand in an attempt to get the children out of the slums and into boarding schools.

In cinematic terms, there is a debate as to why after an absolutely engrossing first reel, the directors follow a slightly frustrating route, with the focus shifting to a more conventional individual vs. the system story. But one has to understand that the film comes out of an impulse of the filmmakers not only to document the lives of poor, neglected and oppressed, but also to chronicle the world of resistance and chaotic bureaucracy that surrounds it. Seen from this perspective, it can be said that the film tempers its optimism with realism in a way that is both uplifting and heartbreaking. There is a surrealistic delight in the pluck and intelligence that blossom in middle childhood. At the same time, there is the cruelty of social arrangements that allow those qualities to be squandered, which justifies the second half of the film. 

The debate which ensued as an aftermath of “Born Into Brothels”, was on whether the documentary has truly improved the lives of the children featured in it. While the film-makers claim that the lives of children appearing in “Born into Brothels” have been transformed by money earned through the sale of photos and a book on them, some volunteers and organizations disputed the claim that the children’s lives have been improved, arguing that Briski should be criticized for using hidden cameras, misrepresenting the children’s parents and ignoring the prostitutes’ substantial efforts to unite. As a filmmaker, Briski knew that the circumstances of these children were too complex to be revolutionized by educating one family member in photography, or even by sending them to boarding school. For the records, the film itself depicted scenes in the end where many of those put into boarding school ended up leaving the school and returning to their previous life of squalor before long. Coupled with it, there was the challenge to counter hundreds of years of narrow mindedness and the proverbial Indian bureaucracy. As a filmmaker, Brisky deals with all this not as a social worker, but as a sensitive human being with her own vulnerabilities. This is precisely what brings a sense of truth into the entire exercise of creating the film, for which the film deserves a special mention in the world of narrative documentary film-making.

For those interested to see the essay online at ‘Yahoo Voices’, here is the link:

http://voices.yahoo.com/born-into-brothels-re-review-1278761.html

To those interested to know more about filmmakers Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman and their groundbreaking work, this is an excellent resource:

http://www.kids-with-cameras.org/aboutus/

 

You can view the full documentary here and let me know what you felt about it:

 

Black women in filmmaking

 

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The Cover page of ‘Women Filmmakers from the African and Asian Diaspora’ by Gwendolyn Audrey Foster

 

Women of color are everywhere today. Be it the stupendous creative world of poetry or provocative fiction and nonfiction literature that is breaking the boundaries, be it the world of innovative filmmaking in respect of world cinema, they have been there, done that, and conquered hearts.

 Looking into the history of world cinema, it is imperative that we take into account the immense contribution of talented women filmmakers of Africa and the African Diaspora who have made a mark with their innovative filmmaking. Not only are they challenging old cinematic prescriptions, they are also using their superior art of cinema to create and establish new visions of their people and the world.

The journey of black women filmmakers began as early as 1922 when Tressie Saunders, a black woman director made the exemplary film ‘A Woman’s Error’. It was the first attempt of its kind in that era to “decolonize the gaze and to ground the film in the black female subjectivity”, as the author Gwendolyn Audrey Foster has pointed out in her book ‘WOMEN FILMMAKERS OF THE AFRICAN AND ASIAN DIASPORA: DECOLONIZING THE GAZE, LOCATING SUBJECTIVITY’. However, today even after a long history of evocative work, black women directors have had a long, slow path to the director’s chair, where only a handful of black woman filmmakers have been able to break through the racial barriers in Hollywood.   

However, let’s not talk about Hollywood here, but look into how these women have been received in respect of world cinema. In fact, filmmaker  Julie Dash (originally from New York City) had long ago won the Best Cinematography Award with her much acclaimed film “Daughters of the Dust” at the 1991 Sundance Film Festival. On the other hand, Cheryl Denye from Liberia had received worldwide fame and accolade with her film The ‘Watermelon Woman’ (1996), which happened to be the first African American lesbian feature film in the history of world cinema. Another Black woman Safi Faye  has to her credit several ethnographic films that brought her international acclaim and earned her several awards at the Berlin International Film Festivals in 1976 and 1979. Besides, there are independent black women filmmakers like Salem Mekuria producing documentary films focusing on native women from Ethiopia and on African American women in general.

In 1989, Euzhan Palcy became the first black woman to direct a mainstream Hollywood film, ‘A Dry White Season’. In spite of all this success, it is still true that the state of things isn’t all that rosy for African American women filmmakers. A documentary named “Sisters in Cinema’ by Yvonne Welbon has tried to explore why and how the history of black women behind the camera has been made strangely obscure in all of Hollywood.

“Sisters in Cinema’ happens to be the first and a one-of-its-kind documentary in the history of world cinema that attempts to explore the lives and films of inspirational black women filmmakers. In fact, the 62-min documentary by Yvonne Welbon, “Sisters in Cinema” came up in 2003 to commemorate the success and the colossal achievement of black women filmmakers throughout the ages. The film attempted to trace the careers of inspiring African American women filmmakers from the early part of the 20th century till today. As the first documentary of its kind, ‘Sisters in Cinema’ has been regarded by critics as a strong visual history of the contributions of African American women to the film industry. “Sisters in Cinema”, they say, has been a seminal work that pays homage to African American women who made history against all racial, social barriers and odds.

While being interviewed, the filmmaker Yvonne Welbon admitted that when she set out to make this documentary, she had barely knew there were any black women filmmakers apart from the African-American director Julie Dash. However, in pursuit of seeking those inspirational directors, she set out to explore the fringes of Hollywood where she discovered a phenomenal film directed by an African American woman Darnell Martin. Apart from that film ‘I Like It Like That’, she discovered only a handful of films being produced and distributed by African Americans. Thus saying, the monopoly ofHollywood by white filmmakers, producers and distributors inspired her in a way to travel the path of independent filmmaking. Surprisingly, here she uncovers a wide range of really remarkable films directed by an African American woman outside of the Hollywood studio system and thus she found out her sisters in cinema.

Within the 62-hour documentary, the careers, lives and films of inspirational women filmmakers, like Euzhan Palcy, Julie Dash, Darnell Martin, Dianne Houston, Neema Barnette, Cheryl Dunye, Kasi Lemmons and Maya Angelou are showcased, along with rare, in-depth interviews interwoven with film clips, rare archival footage and photographs and production video of the filmmakers at work. Together these images give voice to African American women directors and serve to illuminate a history of the phenomenal success of black women filmmakers in world cinema that has remained hidden for too long.

A few years back,in October 2005, there has been the ‘Eighth Annual African American Women In Cinema Film Festival’ in New York City. It was another remarkable event that showcased exceptional feature and documentary films as well as short films made by African American women filmmakers like Aurora Sarabia, a fourth generation Chicana (Mexican-American) from Stockton, CA, Vera J. Brooks, a Chicago-based producer, Teri Burnette, a socialistic filmmaker, Stephannia F. Cleaton, an award-winning New York City newspaper journalist and the business editor at the Staten Island Advance, Adetoro Makinde, a first generation Nigerian-American director, screenwriter, producer, actress, among others. Also, from February 5 to March 5, 2007, there has been the celebration of the Black History Month by the Film Society of Lincoln Center & Separate Cinema Archive, in which the center presented “Black Women Behind the Lens”.

A seething documentary, “Black Women Behind the Lens” celebrates the uncompromising cinematic labors of love created by a group of brave African-American women. Gifted with rare determination and undaunted spirits, these black women filmmakers were committed to speaking truth to power while offering alternatives to the stereotypical images of black women found in mainstream media. They resorted to Guerilla filmmaking, an artistic rebellion in the face of the long established network of Hollywood and have challenged old cinematic perceptions, using their art to erect new visions of their people, their heritage and their world. Noted theoreticians, sociologists, women writers, directors are saying that it is good to know that women filmmakers of Africa and the African Diaspora are challenging old cinematic prescriptions and creating their own visions in the cinema they love to make.

However, while a significant number of women in Africa and here in the have been able to carve out successful careers in filmmaking, the hurdles are particularly daunting. The problem, says Elizabeth Hadley, the chair of Women Studies at Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y., is not particularly about black women making films, but the issues of marketing, distribution and funding. As a result, the majority of these women are finding money independently and working on shoestring budgets. However, all said and done, it is enough encouraging to know that at least some of these women are daring to decolonize the gaze of Hollywood and to ground their films in black female subjectivity. Any attention or recognition that comes when these women desire to communicate their ideas about black people’s history, heritage, with an emphasis on women’s experience, must be welcome!

P.S. This article was originally published at Yahoo Voices, titled ‘Black Women in Filmmaking: The History and Success of Black Women Filmmakers of Africa and the African Diaspora’.

http://voices.yahoo.com/black-women-filmmaking-346287.html

Satyajit Ray’s Apu Trilogy: the Quintessential Celebration of Life Through the Vision of Death

Author’s note: An analogy drawn between the famous trilogy film of internationally acclaimed Indian filmmaker Satyajit Ray and the cycle of life and death–which lies at the heart of Indian philosophy.

This essay was originally published in ‘Cafe Dissensus Everyday’ dated July 26, 2014:

http://cafedissensusblog.com/2014/07/26/satyajit-rays-apu-trilogy-celebrating-life-through-the-vision-of-death/

 

‘Na jaayate’ mriyate’ vaa kadaachin naayam bhuthva bhavithaa na bhooyah:

ajo nithyah saasvato’yam puraano na hanyate’ hanyamaane’ sareere’ 

“Never is he (Soul) born, nor does he die at any time, he has never been brought into being, nor shall come hereafter; unborn, eternal, permanent and ancient (primeval). When the body is slain, he is not slain.” (The Holy Bhagavat Gita)

Since times immemorial, our ancient sages, spiritual thinkers and philosophers of Vedic Hinduism have contemplated upon the inevitable end of life–death. From their contemplation as well as from the numerous ancient scriptures, have evolved perceptions regarding death—not as an end to all, but as a pivotal step towards the existence of the human soul, or in other words, a temporary cessation of physical activity. When talking about the vision of death and dying in our philosophy, on one hand we are reminded of the teachings and the quintessence of the philosophy of Sankara, who had preached: “Brahma Satyam Jagan Mithya Jivo Brahmaiva Na Aparah”: which can be translated as: “Brahman (the Absolute) is alone real; this world is unreal; and the Jiva or the individual soul is another form of the Brahman. On the other hand, there are several lucid articulations of our religious belief in the Atman and the Brahman identified by several other spiritual thinkers. They have emphasized on the intensification and expansion of the religious and moral connotations of life, death and human action—in other words–Dharma, Moksha and rebirth, through the classical Indian spiritual teachings.

Years later, the greatest of all poets, the intense spiritual thinker Rabindranath Tagore, who was himself a Brahma by descent, had remarked that death is not an extinguishing of the light. It is rather an act of putting out the lamp to welcome a new dawn. This perception of Tagore the philosopher and the thinker, which perfectly embodies the quintessential celebration of life through the vision of death, has yet again been reflected through the lens of yet another great thinker, visualizer and filmmaker of all times, Satyajit Ray. And the very first film that comes to our mind when discussing the concept of death and how it celebrates the force of life, would undoubtedly be the Apu trilogy comprising “Pather Panchali” (Song of the little road—released in 1955), “Aparajita” (The Unvanquished—released in 1957) and “Apur Sansar” (The World of Apu—released in 1959). Exuding a raw energy and supreme power of art, the entire trilogy, on the surface level, traces the epic journey of the sole protagonist Apu from his impoverished rural boyhood to his years in Baranasi and Calcutta to his marriage and fatherhood. On a more metaphysical plane, the three films depict the unique life of the protagonist in various stages where he is time and again faced with the exploration of the range and depth of spiritual inquiry, centered round the vision of death.

In the first film of the trilogy, “Pather Panchali”, which was shot entirely in the rural outskirts of West Bengal, India, Ray’s camera went on to explore universal themes of life, uniquely portraying the unforgettable sweep of life in the protagonist Apu’s life in his idyllic childhood with his sister Durga and their old aunt, Indir Thakrun. Critics have later remarked that through the most truthful, unobtrusive and modern photographic style that Ray used in all the three films of the Trilogy, he has actually tried to embody the essence of the Italian neo-classical cinema he was so much in love with. It was his vision of human life which has time and again been used as a raw material of the kind of cinema he stood for. Based on this singular vision, his camera has followed the daily lives of the protagonists, resulting in a simple universality of the themes of his films, and the effectiveness of their treatment. This is as true in case of his “Apu Trilogy” as it is in his later works.

The main theme of “Pather Panchali”, played on a bamboo flute and taken from a song the old women ‘Indir Thakrun’ sings to herself in her long and persistent wait for death, tugs at the heartstrings with the openness and freshness quite unmatched in the history of cinema. The song, “hari din to gelo shondhya holo/paar koro amare”—refers to the crossing of the river at the end of the day by a helpless voyager of death—in a pretty obvious evocation of the crossing over from life to death. In the entire film, little unforgettable images of idyllic childhood and humane sequences—including that ofApu and Durga and the ducks of the village parading after the local candy-man in Felliniesque fashion, Durga supplying her old, frail Aunt with stolen guavas from the neighbor’s orchard that inspire huge toothless smiles to the old woman, the excitement and pristine pleasure of the siblings induced with the sight of a running train amidst the rural railway tracks—together contribute in giving an elemental quality of human life to the film. On the other hand, there is a subtle but clear juxtaposition of birth and death, affection and anguish, pettiness of everyday life and the joy of it that leave indelible images in the mind. What is more unique, the death sequences in the three films of the trilogy are each marked by brilliant innovation, calculated to give them a new intensity of a personal experience in the mind of the protagonist Apu.

Pather Panchali my drawing

A portrait attempted by yours’ truly, based on a still of the film ‘Pather Panchali’

The juxtaposition of life and death, or the journey of life and it’s end with death as the inevitable revolves around the film with the intrinsically woven sequences. The frantic search for the train by Durga and Apu in the vast, open field of white Kash flowers is one of the most lyrically filmed, evocative scenes in the film, symbolizing the children’s quest for the world beyond their reach. There is the onset of the monsoon bringing hope, joy and new life. Ray’s lenses follow the first rain drops of the season, falling on the bald plate of an angler, on the water hyacinths in the pond, and over the trees in the field. The momentum slowly builds, drawing Durga to her dance in the rain (one beautiful, evocative work of cinematography). Gradually, the storm rises in ferocity, destructively threatening the foundations of their dilapidated house and ultimately claiming Durga’s life. On the other hand, Apu’s Aunt Indir Thakrun’s death scene contains a vital emotional and visual sweep of the film, as the scene shows the child Apu’s first tryst with the concept of death. At the end of the film, when Durga dies, Apu is seen to perform his daily tasks of combing his hair, brushing his teeth alone. Here, Ray’s lenses seem to suggest that he will now be destined to travel his own path.

In the following film “Aparajito” (The Unvanquished), when the ten-year old Apu is shown to cope with his father’s sickness and his mother’s over-protectiveness amidst the backdrop of Benaras, the boy is shown to struggle to achieveindependence, demonstrate his academic gifts and ultimately journey towards a decent university life in Calcutta. The most evocative death sequence of this film comes at the moment of Apu’s father Harihar’s death, where Ray’s lenses follow with precision the glimpse in Harihar’s eye as he takes his last swallow of holy water from the Ganges, the pigeons in the roof of the building abruptly fleeing, noisily flapping skyward. As a seventeen-year old Apu, the boy is seen to lead a new life with each death in his family. The mother dies in a sequence that begins with visuals of her son’s sun dial; the scene continues through the fireflies of the evening and ends with Apu’s encounter with the empty house in the village, with the suggestion that the boy will be led to a new life again, with this death.

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The adolescent Apu in search of his self-identity. Image source: ‘Indian cinema@100: 100 great films – NDTV’. Ndtv.com

In all the three films, there is a strange recurrence of death which is placed as the opposite side of the coin of life, and Ray presents it with a sheer classic touch that evokes humanistic response. A romantic youth Apu in the last film of the Trilogy, “Apur Sansar” (The World of Apu), who earns a living out of tutoring, spends most of his time vaguely fantasizing about his future, playing his flute, and writing his novel, quite accidentally starts his family life by marrying Aparna. Apu’s detachment from Nature in his adulthood starts with the first reel of the film showing his dingy one-room near the train lines—-the same train, which symbolizes the advent of the outside world for the child Apu. On the surface level, this detachment shows Apu as a lonely recluse. On a metaphysical level, it suggests the onset of a new phase of his life, which begins with his learning to reconcile happiness with the ties of a family.

The relationship with Apu’s wife that begins with trepidation and poverty gradually matures to an enduring and adorable one. However, it is the sheer twist of fate that the young bride leaves to be with her family for childbirth and never returns. Her death in childbirth provides the final blow of life to Apu from the thematic level, as he buries all his dreams and disbands his unfinished novel to seek “peace” through routine work in a remote mine. However, in a symbolic level, the recurrence of death brings home the overall theme of the trilogy, that death and rebirth must make their mark in human life. This symbol of death and rebirth recurs throughout the journey of Apu’s life, and culminates when years later, the father Apu is re-united with his five-year old son, Kajol. The last scene of “Apur Sansar” which shows Apu carrying Kajol on his shoulder, very evocatively depicts the fact that after traversing a long and weary road, Apu has found salvation at last. This salvation is the very essence of the concept of “moksha”, which is the very nucleus of the philosophical teachings based on “Vedanta” and “Vedanga”.

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The adult Apu and his wife Aparna in ‘Apur Sansar’, the last film of the trilogy. Image source: martinteller.wordpress.com

There is a strange co-existence of life and death as the obvious counterpart of life, working as the nucleus of the Apu trilogy, and the cinematography of Ray is instrumental in depicting this co-existence with its brilliant style of neo-realism. This is true in case of “Pather Panchali” where the child Apu, living on the edge of poverty with his sister and his family, struggle to understand the greater truths of the world–the nature of man and his ability to face the future through two deaths in the family.  In “Aparajito”, there is the same poignant lyrical quality of life battered by death, depicted in some scenes with the adolescent Apu and his surroundings. The ‘ghats’ (shores) of Benaras, the village of Mansapota where he moves with his mother after his father’s death, reflect a sublime, deeply affecting struggle between death, life and personal experiences in the mental world of Apu. The celebration of life through the mystic vision of death follows till the culmination of Apu’s journey in “Apur Sansar”, where the world of the ever-ravaged Apu is shown with subtle symbolism. All the while, Ray’s lenses follow the mental world of the child Apu who gains maturity and salvation in the end of the Trilogy, after a weary journey of his vulnerability, despondency, pessimism, escapism and hard-hardheartedness, all of which have been a cumulative result of the deaths and personal losses he had encountered in his journey of life. The choice of the riverside as the location in the final scene of “Apur Sansar”, with Apu carrying his son Kajal on his shoulders, is charged philosophically, conveying the endless ebb and flow of life, which must go on, no matter what.

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Apu and his son Kajal…the final scene of ‘Apur Sansar’. Image source: http://www.srfeliu.es

In the realm of our philosophy, where both birth and death are perceived as two distinct illusory scenes in the human journey of this world, it is the self-realization of the human mind regarding the birthless and deathless “Atman”, the Infinite, and freeing oneself from birth and death that is emphasized on, time and again. Likewise, throughout the Apu Trilogy, Ray has emphasized on the elemental beauty and the ultimate reality of human life that underlies the death sequences, the scenes of disconsolate grief and excruciating struggles of Apu’s mental world. Thus, through his documentation of the soulful and poignant journey of the life of Apu, the central protagonist, he accomplishes the metaphysical task of depicting life as a cycle of creation, preservation and destruction—which lies at the heart of the six Vedangas and the six systems of Hindu philosophy.