Pratidwandi (1970)

Pratidwandi (1970)
Jayshree Ray fixes her gaze on Central Calcutta in Satyajit Ray's Pratidwandi (The Adversary, 1970)

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Two documentaries on the city

A random search on Google or YouTube throws up dozens of video clips, documentaries and snapshots of Calcutta. Here are two documentaries that I found interesting: Louis Malle's Calcutta (1969) and Christopher Sykes' Our Calcutta (1989).

     As some of the comments to the YouTube pages of both these videos will reveal, a common allegation against both of them is that they show the city in a bad light by fixating on the poor and poverty of the city. Now, one needs to be careful while making such assertions. While it is true that many documentations on the city, as well as on other parts of India, like to highlight poverty and other dark sides in a bid to capture hypothetical notions of the 'real Calcutta' or the 'real India', protests against them also often tend to be coloured by deep patriotism and loyalty that is not very tolerant of negative portrayals of the places close to one's heart.

     Rather than making such value judgments, what might be interesting is to look at these documentaries as different representations of the same city. They simply see things in a different way than we do, and tell the same stories of urban everydayness in different ways. If not anything else, these offer wonderful visual documentations of moments and fragments of the city that have ceased to exist anymore. 

     The French director Louis Malle shot his documentary in the Calcutta of late 1960s. This was a period of intense political unrest, with the city gradually coming under the grip of the violence of the Maoist movement and state-repression. The United Front government which had been elected to power in 1967, had been toppled by the Indian National Congress, who went on to take over the state legislature. Among other things, these moments of political churning are covered by Malle with great care. 


Snapshot from Calcutta (1969) by Louis Malle
Louis Malle's Calcutta (1969): 
Part I: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jtABsJnunuc
Part II: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6eSxXmQYtKM
Part III: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n-yraG7LudI
Part IV: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OAJkG5BukBI
Part V: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1oOftgTMCA0
Part VI: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CgeazV4CyYM
Part VII: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mso_yKWR__4

The second documentary, directed by Christopher Sykes, with Peter Middleton on the camera, was made for the British Channel 4. It came out in 1989. Once torn apart by the political violence of the late-1960s and 70s, Calcutta was now under the stable rule of a Left Front government, in office for more than a decade. Shot two decades after Malle, Sykes' Calcutta is much different from the Frenchman's. The political demonstrations are much less visible here and other things become more important.


Snapshot from Our Calcutta (1989) by Christopher Sykes
Christopher Sykes' Our Calcutta (1989): 
Part I: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5mWGKysY-M4
Part II: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ngc2MEcYdTg
Part III: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rZixBIWNef8

No comments:

Post a Comment