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Buddhadeb Dasgupta – Master lyricist’s films will have place in Indian cinema (obituary)

Buddhadeb Dasgupta – Master lyricist’s films will have place in Indian cinema (obituary)

One of India’s most brilliant and idiosyncratic cinematic voices and winner of many awards both in India and abroad leaves a very rich legacy of work as actors, and others salute his films…

HANDSOME tributes have been paid to filmmaker and poet Buddhadeb Dasgupta who died aged 77 in Kolkata, India yesterday (June 10).

The filmmaker suffered from kidney ailments and had been on dialysis in recent years.

Many would say the renowned filmmaker was a poet of the silver screen – his work was often, profound, lyrical, questioning and he had a very keen eye for humanity, beauty, tragedy and humour.

From India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Mamata Banerjee, Bengal’s chief minister, to now well-known Bollywood actors, Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Pankaj Tripathi, there were warm and fulsome – and in the cases of the two actors, very personal – tributes recognising the loss to Indian cinema – and indeed world cinema.

Siddiqui who appeared in ‘Anwar Ka Ajab Kissa’ (‘Sniffer’ -which is the colloquial term for private detective in India) released in 2013, called the director, “Super Human” and “one who rooted for all the characters of the story…exposed the inner space of the character via actors.”

Tripathi who had a smaller role in the same film told the Times of India that Dasgupta’s name will be spoken about with all the doyens and that an illuminating light of Indian cinema had gone.

Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Pankaj Tripathi in ‘Sniffer

“It’s a huge loss for all of us,” he lamented.

Chief Minister Banerjee tweeted: “Through his works, he infused lyricism into the language of cinema.”

Some put Dasgupta in the pantheon of Bengali filmmakers who kept the lens of the world on Indian cinema as Satyajit Ray’s lustre grew following his screening of ‘Pather Panchali’ at Cannes in 1956.

Buddhadeb Dasgupta in London (©BigTalentMedia)

The modest Dasgupta demurred when critics bracketed him with Ray (1921-1992), Mrinal Sen (1923-2018) and Ritwik Ghatak (1925-1976) – but he was a recognised auteur and his films featured at myriad film festivals around the world and he collected many awards, both at home and abroad.

Sniffer’, starring Siddiqui and Tripathi showed at BFI London Film Festival (LFF) that year and what was to be his last film, ‘Urojahaj’ (’The Flight’) screened at the London Indian Film Festival in 2019.

The son of a doctor who looked after railway workers, Dasgupta was born in a village in the south of West Bengal, and spent the early part of his life moving around the region with his family.

He studied Economics at the prestigious Scottish Church College at the University of Calcutta and become a university lecturer in the subject – but disillusioned by the gap between theory and practice, and increasingly enchanted by films he saw as a member of Calcutta Film Society, he transitioned to filmmaking and released his first feature, ‘Dooratwa’ (‘Distance’) in 1978. He had already started to write poetry and was recognised in Bengali intellectual circles.

Buddhadeb Dasgupta (centre) ‘The Flight’ Q & A at the Bagri Foundation London Indian Film Festival 2019 with Cary Rajinder Sawhney, founder and director LIFF and Sohini Dasgupta Pic: Darren Bade Photography (

Cary Rajinder Sawhney, founder and director of the Bagri Foundation London Indian Film Festival (LIFF) was an admirer of Dasgupta’s lyrical and often philosophical work.

A curator for London Film Festival, he brought many of Dasgupta’s later works to LFF and then to LIFF*.

He told “He had a very unique style of cinematography and his films passed political comment but always within a poetic narrative and were subtle.

“There was also a tremendous pastoral quality and a great concern for village life and there were often poets and musicians in his films and evocative of his early life in rural Bengal. There was always a great humanity to his films.”

Sawhney told acv that some unreleased films remain within the vaults of the National Film Development Corporation in India.

“I’ve seen them but there are issues over rights.

“There were always people ready to fund his films – he was regarded as a great artist and belonged to a venerable tradition of Bengali filmmakers.”

London-based filmmaker Sangeeta Datta also paid warm tribute to an artist she knew well and spent many an hour chatting to about films, poetry, art and music.

She posted on her Facebook page: “A poet who brought lyricism on screen, who broke reality codes, who created magic realism much before the term gained common parlance…Like his magical realism, Buddha da has just stepped through a door to another world of colour where the Birds from ‘Charachar’ (see below for the film description) are chirping and silence as leaves fall silent from trees.” (See the link below for her post in full).

Ahmed Kaysher, co-founder and director of Saudha, Society of Poetry and Indian Music, would also chat to Dasgupta about films and philosophy.

“His films are a form of visual poetry,” he told acv. “We used to talk about other filmmakers such as Andrei Tarkovsky (1932-1986), Akira Kurosawa (1910-1988) and Ingmar Bergman (1918-2007).

“Bergman was his favourite. He used to like to talk to me after his dialysis in Kolkata.”

Dasgupta appeared at London-based Bengali literary title, Saudha’s and other partners, International Congress on Satyajit Ray, last month – marking the 100th birthday of India’s legendary filmmaker.

“He (Dasgupta) was a profound master of humanity. His films were very subtly political.”

He feels Dasgupta’s work will be remembered and his reputation will only grow.

Many would liken his cinematic style and oeuvre to magical realism – a term that became more widely deployed to describe a style of writing associated with novelists, such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1927-2014), and in English, Angela Carter (1940-1992) and Sir Salman Rushdie. There is also a tradition of such writing in Bengali as practised by Jibanananda Das (1899-1954) and Syed Wallullah (1922-1971).

From ‘Tope‘ (‘The Bait‘)

Practitioners often use reality as just a starting point before taking flights of the imagination and then cutting back and forth, often blurring the boundaries between each.

Among Dasgupta’s most acclaimed films are ‘Bagh Bahadur’ (1989) – a film about a man who paints himself as a tiger and dances in an impoverished village in Bengal; ‘Tahader Katha’ (1992) – starring Mithun Chakraborty, a well-known India actor and about a freedom fighter who struggles to adjust to life in independent India and the fact that his home village lies in East Pakistan (1947), which became Bangladesh in 1971 – and as Datta pointed out, is all about broken dreams; ‘Charachar’ (1993) – based on the novel by Prafulla Roy and about a family of birdkeepers who are lured to the city by a wealthy breeder who is friendly with the central character – Laka’s wife; ‘Uttara’ (‘The Wrestlers’) (2000), which premiered at the Venice Film Festival and is about village life and what lies beneath a seemingly tranquil exterior. Its depiction of wrestling had homo-erotic undertones, making it popular with progressive voices globally.

ACV was first introduced to Dasgupta’s work at London Film Festival with ‘Sniffer’ and also saw ‘The Bait’ (‘Tope’) which came to London Film Festival in 2016.

It’s a beautiful film in many ways and centred around two eccentric men and a smart young girl who all inhabit the same village. The review is here.

Dasgupta leaves a wife Sohini, a filmmaker herself and had two children from a previous marriage.

Buddhadeb Dasgupta, poet and filmmaker, born Anara, West Bengal, India February 11, 1994 died Kolkata, June 10 2021.

*The 2021 edition of LIFF begins on June 17, look out for an acv preview of the festival soon…


Review of ‘Sniffer'(scroll mid page)

Nawazuddin Siddiqui

Narendra Modi

Mamata Banerjee

Sangeeta Datta

Buddhadeb Dasgupta talks about Satyajit Ray at Saudha’s International Satyajit Ray Congress from 2.17

Ahmed Kaysher/Saudha

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Written by Asian Culture Vulture