Daybook Opened

April 28, 2009 at 4:03 pm (Dominic Alapat, Poetry)


No space sparrow,

we are nobrowns

to his Lordship



We will meet

outside the canvas

in song so we snatch

ourselves to yellow.


Sunswim beyond

the day, beyond

God’s beard,

our lovesong.


Your homeleaf,

my daystone,

treeword, loverhyme

our lifetimes.


– Dominic Alapat


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Tapan Sinha (October 2, 1924 – January 15, 2009) : A Grossly Underrated Auteur

April 20, 2009 at 3:40 pm (Amitava Nag, Cinema)


There are a few childhood memories which remain vivid even when you grow up; more or less this happens to everyone I guess. Like the first circus experience or the glimpse of the tiger in the zoo, it was Airabat, the giant white elephant for me when it comes to cinema.

It was a time when we didn’t have TV at home and our cinema viewing programmes were heavily censored by my parents – they ensured that me and my sister didn’t watch anything ‘adult’ at that time. So this is one of my first few films that I can recollect and I do remember I loved the climax of the film, which otherwise kept me and my sister sobbing almost the entire reel time. It was Safed Hathiand back in school we all were excited about it – enacting the different roles of the film. We never bothered over who directed the film; it was good and that’s what mattered.  Over a period of time as I grew up under the over-encompassing virtual tutelage of Ritwik Ghatak’s films, I had almost forgotten one name – Tapan Sinha. Or maybe we chose to. Satyajit Ray was always dear and we probably couldn’t ignore Mrinal Sen for many a masterpiece of his, but definitely there was none apart from the trio in our radar.

This is the fate of Tapan Sinha, like Uttam Kumar, the central character of his second film Upahar (1955)– neither of them got their due from the serious film audience (read the film critics). But as life does such a balancing act, Tapan Sinha is loved by the educated, middle-class Bengali more than anyone else, probably second only to the towering Ray. Looking back, as Sinha passed away on the morning of January 15, I was rather reflective – what does his cinema mean to me? And I was not very sure. On the one hand, his staggering range and diversity would definitely have made Ray proud as well, and on the other hand, there is his debatable, yet unfailing belief in film being a 100% linear narrative medium. His range is so diverse that in the 40+ films that he made over more than 50 years, it is hard to find any one film a sequel of a predecessor, leave alone a trilogy! From classics like Kabuliwala, Kshudita Pashan, Hnasuli Bnaker Upakatha to the more urbane Jotugriho, Apanjan (remade in Hindi as Mere Apne by Gulzar), Ekhone and social awareness in Adalat O Ekti Meye, Ek Doctor ki Maut, Atanka, Antardhan he had ventured into almost every genre. And his rich repertoire of satirical offerings in Galpa Holeo Satti (whose sub-standard Hindi remake is Bawarchi), Ek Je Chhilo Desh, Bancharamer Bagan side-by-side with his eye for children’s films is worth appreciating.

The five Sinha films which are etched in my mind more than the others are – Kabuliwala, Jhinder Bandi, Jotugriho, Sagina Mahato and Ek Doctor ki Maut. The Bengali version of Kabuliwala (1957)played by none other than the inimitable Chhabi Biswas had been a delight to watch. Sinha was faithful to the original Tagore masterpiece though he inserted a number of subplots that carried along the main narrative.

An extremely goofed up makeup of Biswas along with a number of technical glitches couldn’t peg back this film which remains vivid in my heart for its sensitive rendition of the basic human emotions of love and longing. It remains a masterpiece of Indian cinema and justifies Sinha’s position as a natural story-teller who relied heavily on simplicity and the intrinsic goodness of individuals.

Jhinder Bandi (1961),based on a Bengali novel with the same name by Saradindu Bandyopadhyay is a successful ‘Indianized’ adaptation of Anthony Hope’s The Prisoner of Zenda. This film is one of the oldest Bengali films that showcased drama and suspense in a way very few films of the time portrayed. Yet again, the length of the film induced by an inordinate expense of reel time to setup a love relationship between the two central characters along with some very naïve sword fight sequences might have held it back from being a classic. However, one important point to note is that this was the first time the two legendary Bengali actors appeared on-screen together. Uttam Kumar and Soumitra Chatterjee probably never looked so good together in any other film and this is the first time that Soumitra was cast as a villain. This is quite an event because with Soumitra’s marked aristocratic looks and refined personality he looked more at home with the Tagorean characters. Sinha brought out this rare aspect of the versatile actor, which remains one of Chatterjee’s finest characterisations as well.

Whereas Jhinder Bandi dealt with a near fantasy where kin-rivalry unfolded into a bitter drama of betrayal and killing, Jotugriho (1964)brings up the subject of marital discord with impeccable finesse at a time when the subject itself would have been perceived as daring by most Indian film-makers. Again adapted from a poignant short story Sinha deviated little but added interesting insights into the main narrative that made it look interesting. As always, in most of Tapan Sinha’s films (another trait that he shares with Satyajit Ray), this film is also studded with fine performances – this time Uttam Kumar coming out with a sterling exposition of an introvert engineer stung by life. What makes this film so unforgettable is the sense of void that is inflicted on the audience in the empty cul-de-sac called ‘life’. What went wrong, what was the problem? There were no villains, it’s just the way things turn out that puts the two endearing souls far apart, forever. This sense of helplessness is so prominent that we empathize with the characters – the one big difference from its Hindi remake Ijazatby Gulzar where we can feel that the marriage might have been saved in spite of the love triangle

Sagina Mahato (1970)and its remake in Hindi by Sinha himself is one of his overt political statements. Sagina was a coolie who fought against injustices meted towards them by the tea estate owners and soon rises to be their leader. And as he becomes too hot to handle, the management takes advantage of his innocence and ignorance, turning him into their puppet against the same men who chose him to be their leader. Dilip Kumar as Sagina was fantastic, quite different from his otherwise romantic roles, and this film raised questions about the success of the trade union movements at a time when Bengalwas burning over the Naxal issue. In most of Tapan Sinha’s films it was mostly the story of the struggles of the common man and how he triumphs over his situation. Sinha once said –

I have always believed in individual courage and effort. I think, collective system or life hardly allows an individual to discover the infinite strength within him. I like the individual who has the courage to face any untoward situation, which is why I have shown an individual as a relentless fighter against all hazards in Aadmi aur Aurat (1982), Atanka (1986) andEk Doctor ki Maut (1991). My protagonists in these films have practically done miracles by their own strength and self-confidence.

This belief in the individual made him sharply different in his philosophy from many of his colleagues who had strong Marxist leanings. And in this regard he probably is closer to Dr. Stockmann (of Henik Ibsen’s The Enemy of the People) who said, ‘…the strongest man in the world is the man who stands most alone.’ Notably, even Satyajit Ray turned the end of his film Ganashatru (1989) based on the Ibsen play to include the ‘mass’ in an individual’s struggle for existence. This Ibsenian touch is found in Ek Doctor ki Maut where a doctor who invented a drug to cure leprosy is constantly harassed by his colleagues out of jealousy. In a claustrophobic society talent loses its battle against middle-class sense of animosity arising out of uncertainty and incompetence to acknowledge excellence. The doctor is devastated by his hostile environment that forces him to give up his research, but he finds a way to love his life.

But where did Tapan Sinha falter then? To me, Sinha’s greatest drawback is probably his simplistic solution to situations when he dealt with social or contemporary issues. His penchant for human victory at the end also exposes his weakness – the director coming out as too prophetic at times. In the earlier films where he played with classical stories, his narrative strength was probably more than many. But then again, his place in post-Renaissance Bengali culture alongside Ray ensured that his craft was always compared only with Ray (and never with Ghatak or Sen) – an unfortunate situation, which probably was difficult for him to shrug off. And it was probably unfair too. If Sinha would have happened now, probably he would have got more space than he got. Surely he deserved more. But then again, probably he wouldn’t have taken up films which made him an icon among his niche viewers who took pride in sporting a ‘Bangali-aana’ (the cultured Bengali persona) which is so rapidly disappearing these days. Sinha chose to remain humble, always reclusive and impeccably restrained, another trait of a bygone era. He chose to be a small man in this world. But his films ensured that he had always been big. It was us who never could give him his rightful place.

– Amitava Nag

( Another version of this article was  first published by  on 18th January 2009)

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Woodsmoke Turns One!

April 14, 2009 at 11:41 am (Uncategorized)


Just a quick note to say that we had started this blog exactly twelve months ago.

It hasn’t been always easy to find time and motivation to keep it going. But the more we do it, the more we start believing in it.

If we have just about started acquiring a voice, it is only because, you, dear readers, have decided to lend it your ears.

Thank you!

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Moon Dance

April 9, 2009 at 3:19 pm (Dominic Alapat, Poetry)


I felt a film of water

take my body.

Why does the light

do this, I wondered.

Who wrote my poem

this wild Thursday.

Help would be a freeing,

an endless rhythm

felt in the heart’s

dead hole, I thought.

And art, whose praises the

world sings, the heart’s gift

astir. So the film of water

is a prayer, I told myself,

and the world

the enchanted paradise

in tears. And light,

dark and light,

bearers of the rhythm.

Then the evening began,

collecting stars in

my pockets, and the city

sang like a bird,

and the moon

took me by my hand,

through the streets,

through the ghostly

grey buildings deep

in slumber and dream,

light and love,

and danced the night away.


– Dominic Alapat

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Sudden Showers

April 3, 2009 at 4:50 pm (Biswarup Sarangi, Poetry)



The baked red playground simmers

With dust-devils dodging

The forsaken urchins

Who hop around on bare feet

More out of necessity

Than in the pursuit

Of any mid afternoon hullabaloo


And then it rains

It rains and it rains and it rains

It rains sheets of gray slate

That bury themselves 

At purposeful angles into the parched earth

And turns the grounds into

A parade of blithe explosions


A fresh army bursts forth

As the clouds recede in a rumble

Children poke at the collected dead grass trails

Push paper boats on haunches

And stamp their feet in glee

In the gathered pools of water

Till darkness falls

And the beckoning voices from the front porches

Start losing their composure

And turn into familiar threats



Dew descends from the clear skies

And the few patches of grass on the field

Turn into happy hunting grounds for crickets, toads

And fistfuls of fireflies that fly low

While their lesser endowed cousins

Get fatally enamored to

The tall lady with outstretched arms.


– Biswarup Sarangi

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