Do Bigha Zameen

Bimal Roy is one of our most loved film directors and his legacy will continue to live on on the basis of his work. Luckily, we have amidst us his daughter Rinki Roy Bhattacharya who has done so much for us to further understand, appreciate his work by organizing numerous screenings of his films, running an active organization in his memory, engaging with scholars across continents in arranging discussions, seminars and publishing papers.

Most importantly she has brought out a fine book on her father titled Bimal Roy, The man who spoke in pictures published by Penguin. With her wide contacts she has interacted with so many stalwarts and many of them have contributed their writing on Roy which she has edited .

It is quite a formidable list ranging from Mahasweta Devi , Nabendu Ghosh, Chidananda Das Gupta, Shyam Benegal, Jahnu Barua, Naseeruddin Shah, Nutan, Shashi Kapoor, Meghnand Desai, Gulzar and several others.

One understands from the writings not only Bimal Roy’s films but also that period. Meghnand Desai, economist, recalls that in the old days in Bombay the posh theatres showed only Hollywood films. Liberty was an exception, it showed Hindustani films, it had opened in 1948 with Mehboob’s Andaz.

So it was quite a thrill when Do Bigha Zamin of Roy was screened at the posh Metro. It was near our St Xavier’s college, we did not get tickets for the 3.30 p.m. show but managed to make it for the 6.30 one.

The film we saw was stunning. More than sixty years afte Pather Panchali, we realise that Do Bigha was the first modern film that had found a place in post war world cinema. Chetan Anand’s Neecha Nagar had won a prize at Cannes in 1946 but has not been seen much since.

Roy had been there before Italian neorealism came. He had been making serious films before independence. Do Bigha was not just a clone of European cinema, iys roots were deep into Bimal Roy’s life and career. He had been influenced by serious work by P.C. Barua, New Theatres, IPTA and Progressive Writers Group, rediscovering folk theatre, folk music, bringing the grim reality of India to the sachharine world of Hindustani cinema.

The story of the migrant was nothing like we had seen before, there were no sad songs blaming Bhagwan or kismet, no happy ending. The film was serious but not `parallel’, it was made within the genre of commercial films and was meant to be seen by all, not just the intellectuals. Film makers like V Shantaram Mehboob, Bimal Roy had been making serious films. It was a risky choice. Kamal Amrohi’s Daera hailed as poetry in celluloid by the Times of India reviewer ran for only a few days at Naaz in Grant road, Desai notes.

Life was so simple in those days. Rinki recalls that the idea of Bimal Roy productions was born in a double decker BEST bus when Bimal Roy had discussion with others on way to Malad home from Eros cinema near Churchgate station after watching the classic Roshomon.

One gets so many insights from contributors to this volume. Kishore Chatterjee writes a remarkable piece on the importance of black and white films and says the best Hindi cinema belonged to this genre. Roy’s Madhumati would be unthinkable in colour and is better than Satyajit Ray’s Kanchanjunga when Ray fell to the temptation of colour. He also traces the influence of Mozart on a song like Bichua in Madhumati by that wonderful music director Salil Chowdhury.

Seven years ago, the journal Café Dissensus had dedicated its issue to the question of ‘Migrant Worker’ and its 1 August 2014 number had carried noted film critic Amrit Gangar’s article, Do Bigha Zamin / Two Acresof Landand Migration in Indian Cinematography. That is the power of Bimal Roy. When you think of the toil of the migrant, you first think of this film, Roy and Balraj Sahani. The issues that are being discussed today about the ‘migrant worker have a little different context Gangar says, but the mechanics of exploitation operate in the same manner, perhaps much worse in the times of ‘neo-liberal’ economic policies that the present governments follow. In 1952, independent India was just five-year old and had embarked upon its first Five-Year Pan. “Do Bigha Zamin follows a debt-ridden peasant, Shambhu, who, oppressed by rural feudalism, migrates to Kolkata to earn two hundred and thirty five rupees, within two and a half months, to save his tiny piece of land from the wily landlord’s clutches. The zamindar or landlord whom Shambhu addresses as sarkar (government or administrative authority) has wickedly jacked up the amount that Shambhu had to repay him. Shambhu and his teenage son,Kanhaiya, come to Kolkata as complete strangers, and are caught up in an urban melee. It’s a different world; a world of commerce and trade, of urbanite difference and indifference.

Rinki knows so much about so many talented people and works of art. I have known her for many years as a journalist in Times of India and she used to write for various magazines and newspapers. She has had a long association with the TOI group. She used to write for Dharmayug at the instance of noted editor Dharmavir Bharati, author of Andha Yug. And Bimal Roy’s Do Bigha was a major winner of the very first Filmfare awards. A lovely portrait of her father I saw in her house is done by a TOI artist Bashir.

In her childhood she lived in a Parsi owned bungalow near Mount Mary church in Bandra. It was so big and had such fine architecture, one day a visiting girl almost thought it was a church and began praying. Yet, Bimal Roy had no fondness for owning property. , he did not buy properties like other film people, while men like Mehboob set up their own studios, Bimal did not own any property.

One wonders if any daughter from the film world has expressed such fondness for her father as Rinki has. Interestingly, Lata Mangeshkar owes her talent mainly to her father, the reputed singer Master Dinanath from whom she inherited her voice as did her sisters. One of the ways she has expressed her love for her father is through the song which has been on the lips of many Marathi knowing people for the last sixty years. The song means her father left her a Kalpa Vriksha, the mythological tree which could fulfil any wish. It is a touching song, particularly the line in which she asks her father, will you come to see the Kalpa Vrisksha. He died very young when Lata was barely in her teens and that made the loss even more poignant. And he was not there to see her progress.

Vidyadhar Date is a senior journalist


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