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Revising Popular Bangla Cinema of the 1950s


Smita Banerjee


The 1950s is an interesting and exciting decade for popular Bangla cinema, both ‘art’ and ‘commercial’, two intersecting narratives and histories, together producing engaging and entertaining cinema in the 50s.If this decade is generally perceived as the decade of the three auteurs of Bangla ‘art’ cinema, Satyajit Ray, Ritwik Ghatak and Mrinal Sen, who debuted in this decade to international acclaim and recognition, it is no less a period of amazing offering from the industry that saw huge commercial success and got recognized as ‘good wholesome’ entertainment.To look back on some of the important events of the late 1940s that provided a template for Bangla cinema of the 50s, I would signpost the following : the establishment of Calcutta Film Society by Chidananda Dasgupta and Satyajit Ray in 1947, the arrival of Jean Renoir in 1948 to shoot The River, and the first International Film Festival in 1952, organized simultaneously in Bombay and Calcutta, the two major sites of cinema industry in that period.For practitioners of both camps these events provided engaging cinematic contexts to their craft of filmmaking.   The 1940s had seen the industry facing trying times. The war had resulted in severe crisis of raw stock and censorship issues, while the partition in1947 resulted in loss of territory for the Hindi as well as the Bangla film market in terms of distribution and exhibition centres. However the Bangla film industry suffered more as the East Pakistan which accounted for around 40% of its market, became foreign territory, and the failure on part of the Indian and Pakistani governments to work out an appropriate exchange rate of rupees proved too costly for the Calcutta producers. The 1951 editorial by M.D Chatterjee, President of BMPA estimated a loss of Rs.2,500,000 for the industry along with a loss of Rs.3.500,000 on pictures abandoned during production . Paradoxically the war economy actually fuelled an increase in production of the number of films. In 1946, the industry produced 15 films, 33 in 1947, 37 in 1948 and 62 in1948. The window collections and ticket sales belied the gloomy scenario being projected by the industry and the BMPA editors. But halt to building of new theatres due to the war led to shrinking exhibition facilities. Effectively the producers were losing money due to black marketing of ticket sales. The other axis of this mode of crisis was the flight of people from Calcutta to Bombay; Bimal Roy, Nitin Bose, Kidar Sharma left Calcutta and ...


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