Bhuvan Shome – the beginning of the Indian New Wave/Art house Cinema.
written by Souranath Banerjee
In history we have witnessed many revolutions; be it the political revolts of common men against some tyrant, or simply a revolution of ideas (scientific, social, economical or cultural) that seemed to challenge and unshackle the primeval customs and convictions of the society.
Cinema being the most significant collective art-form that plays a pivotal role in developing and mirroring the different cultures has also been revolutionized many a times and always for good.
Italian Neorealism, the French New Wave, the Japanese New Wave – and then, finally it was India’s turn to surf the waves of experimentation.
Renowned directors (the neo-realists as they were called) like Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen, Ritwik Ghatak, Khwaja Ahmad Abbas, Tapan Sinha, Chetan Anand, Bimal Roy, Guru Dutt, V. Shantaram, later joined by Shyam Benegal, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, G. Aravindan, Buddhadeb Dasgupta, and Girish Kasaravalli, inspired by the foreign film movements made films that were unorthodox in both style and execution.
The already popular ‘parallel cinema’ became more radical and avant-garde.
And thus in the late 60s, Indian Cinema was revolutionized once again and it was the birth of the ‘new wave of Indian Cinema’, popularly known as the ‘art house’ cinema.
Based on a Bengali story written by Banaphool (Balai Chand Mukhopadhya), Bhuvan Shome was Mrinal Sen’s first film in Hindi language.
It had the first appearance of Suhasini Mulay as an actor, ace cinematographer K.K. Mahajan‘s first feature, first music composition for a film by Vijay Raghava Rao and also the first ever voiceover given by none other than Amitabh Bachchan (he wasn’t even introduced as an actor at the time).
But more importantly, Mrinal Sen introduced a new kind of film-language that was innovative and amusing to both the audience and the critics of Indian Cinema.
The basic story line of Bhuvan Shome is surprisingly uncomplicated.
The lead character named Bhuvan Shome (brilliantly played by Utpal Dutt) is a high-posted railway official, a widower (probably in his late 40s) and also an authoritarian, who steps out of his mundane office routine with the intention of playing the hunter.
But after being touched by the beauty of nature and then an encounter with a sweet and mysterious village girl Gauri (Suhasini Mulay), Mr. Bhuvan Shome’s perspective of judgement changes and he finally learns to relax and enjoy life.
Though the interpretation of the film is often made from a highly cynical overview – that Bhuvan Shome’s character was actually manipulated by the not-so-innocent villager girl Gauri whose (only) real motive was to save her husband’s job. But again that’s debatable.
In an interview director Mrinal Sen interestingly pointed out: ‘Our intention was never to tame a tough bureaucrat. On the contrary, our intention was to “corrupt” a bureaucrat suffering from Victorian morality.‘
Probably it was Mrinal Sen’s first attempt to satirize the Indian bureaucracy and indeed a successful one.
Shot mostly in the deserts of Gujarat (such locations were also rarely used that time) the film cleverly exploits the city-to-village contrast scenario – the bullock carts and the muddy roads, the hospitable simple-minded villagers and the picturesque flock of flamingos!
Right from the first shot of the railway tracks (from the point-of-view of the fast moving train perfectly synced with classical alap) to the creative documentary format of narration and then the extensive use of still frames, use of live footages and also the innovative utilization of animation – Bhuvan Shome was the most stylized and inventive film of that time.
A film so deliberately diverging from the general norms and trends of filmmaking and yet such a visual treat for the cinema lovers. An exceptional artistic triumph!
Bhuvan Shome was Mrinal Sen’s most successful film and also one of the first feature that trumpets the beginning of a new era in Indian Cinema – the rise of Indian New Wave/Art house cinema.
Photo Courtesy: www.mrinalsen.org, Photo (Sen & Ray) Clicked By: Nemai Ghosh.