Thought Box



by Satyabrata Ghosh May 22 2024, 12:00 am Estimated Reading Time: 5 mins, 49 secs

‘Chaalchitra Ekhon’ serves as a reflective piece on the generational shift from Western-centric aspirations to a more introspective examination of one’s cultural and personal identity’, writes Satyabrata Ghosh

We live amid stories—stories of our lives and how we live them. Some of these stories fade into oblivion, while others are retold and thus endure. In the eighties, a few friends and I joined newspapers as cub reporters, scouring for stories, often at the behest of our editors.

Watching Sawon Chakraborty as the cub reporter in the opening scene of Anjan Dutt’s ‘Chalchitra Ekhon’ (Kaleidoscope Today – 2024) transported me back to those days. I knew a few like him, aspiring to be authors, filmmakers, or actors. Fierce in their ambition yet edgy, they would confide their vulnerabilities to close friends. Sawon’s portrayal of Ranjan Dutta in the film vividly revived the vibrant days of our collective past—a time when we all had a fire in our bellies, a fire that, for some of us, never went out.

Actor, singer, and filmmaker Anjan Dutt pays tribute to his mentor Mrinal Sen in a unique way. He had Sawon play himself and cast himself in the role of his mentor. Through this distancing device, Dutt relives the dawn of his acting career when he played Dipu, a cub reporter, in Mrinal Sen’s film ‘Chaalchitra’ (Kaleidoscope – 1981). Sawon as Ranjan Dutta brings to life my friends from that era—anglicized to the point of being considered 'snobs,' often undermining local culture. They struggled to identify as Bengalis or connect with Indian literature, music, movies, and theatre, instead turning to Kafka, The Beatles and Godard, for inspiration.

Curiously, they often found their ebullience waning when confronted with a local stalwart or their signature works. I witnessed them trying hard to draw parallels, but even to their own ears, these attempts sounded unconvincing as counterpoints. As a result, they either stuttered in the presence of such personalities or simply fled, fearing submission.

What strikes me about Sayon’s portrayal of Ranjan Dutta is how authentically he struggles to curb his arrogance and ignorance when filmmaker Kunal Sen asks him to elaborate on his opinion about ‘Calcutta 71’ (1971). Anjan Dutt, who plays Kunal Sen and directs ‘Chaalchitra Ekhon,’ revisits his early days encountering Mrinal Sen. As a cub reporter, Dutta first met the maverick filmmaker while seeking a celebrity quote about the city on the eve of a New Year.

The dynamics of Anjan Dutt seeing his younger self from a distance while preparing Sayon to play his role are palpable in the film. Previously, in ‘Dutta vs. Dutta’ (2012), Dutt prepared to play his own dominant yet vulnerable father. As a filmmaker, Dutt has deeply resonated with audiences through these unabashed portrayals of the people he knew best—his father and himself.

‘Chaalchitra Ekhon’ also intimately depicts the prime days of Mrinal Sen, who eventually became a father figure to the young artist. As Anjan Dutt embodies Sen in the film, the audience gains a rare opportunity to enter the three-dimensional private world of both the director and the actor. Such associations are often recounted in a paragraph, chapter, or book, like ‘Manikdar Songey’ (With Manikda – 2022) by the late Soumitra Chatterjee, sharing his experiences with Satyajit Ray.

More often than not, the filmmaker Mrinal Sen responded to the idea of a story rather than the story itself. Even in films like ‘Bhuvan Shome’ (1969), ‘Ek Adhuri Kahani’ (1971), ‘Calcutta 71’ (1971), ‘Oka Uri Katha’ (1977), ‘Ekdin Pratidin’ (1979), ‘Akaler Sandhane’ (1980), ‘Kharij’ (1982), ‘Khandhar’ (1983), and ‘Genesis’ (1986), he selected characters from stories and novels by Balaichand Mukherjee (Banaphool), Mohan Rakesh, Samaresh Basu (thrice), Munshi Premchand, Amalendu Chakrabarty, Ramapada Choudhury, and Premendra Mitra, and recontextualized them according to his vision. For a film like ‘Chaalchitra’ (1980), he approached it more as a concept for a non-fiction film treated as a docu-fiction narrative. This was not a new experiment for Sen. In ‘Patatik’ (1973), he had his protagonist Dhritiman Chatterjee and other actors improvise without a script for some major scenes.

In ‘Chaalchitra Ekhon,’ the actor Ranjan spiritedly follows director Kunal Sen’s instructions. His energy and spontaneity charm both the director and the film unit. However, Ranjan gradually becomes jittery as he struggles to find coherence in the film in the absence of a bound script. This confusion extends to his personal life, where his urge to assert individuality conflicts with the group theatre he formed to perform Peter Weiss’s play ‘Marat/Sade’.

One of the most touching scenes in ‘Chaalchitra Ekhon’ features the cinematographer, who plays the late K.K. Mahajan, sharing an evening at the hotel with Ranjan after a day of shooting. Offering a generous dose of alcohol, the cinematographer advises Ranjan to stop playing a dual role—to be engaged and effortless during takes and indifferent once the shots are done. This sequence leads to some of the film's most memorable scenes, where, through Ranjan’s perspective, we witness the warm camaraderie among artists and technicians in Mrinal Sen’s team.

In another scene, a crew member expresses frustration about the production manager’s fuss over lunch. The production manager, played by Subhasis Mukherjee, replies, “I don’t know what you people eat every day otherwise, but when we are shooting Kunalbabu’s films, we get a chance to savour sumptuous lunches for a few days.” This line hints at an open secret in Bengal's film industry. Filmmakers like the late Tarun Majumdar insisted that the entire unit share the same meals during shooting. There was even an instance when a star actor was reprimanded for ordering his own food.

As the film reaches its finale, we see Ranjan undergoing a profound transformation. His dream of going to Germany to work in theatre is overshadowed by a growing affinity for Kunal Sen. Despite their differing opinions and perspectives, Ranjan becomes increasingly drawn to Sen’s lively, participatory creative process. Ultimately, he acknowledges that to thrive creatively, he must stay close to his mentor.

This transformation mirrors Anjan Dutt’s own creative journey. His expressions, in songs and films like ‘The Bong Connection’ (2006), ‘Ranjana, Ami Aar Asbona’ (2011), and ‘Dutta vs Dutta’ (2012), reveal a synthesis of Western influences with the sensibilities of an intelligent Bengali, laying bare his confusions, contradictions, and convictions—much like his mentor.

‘Chaalchitra Ekhon,’ an ode to Mrinal Sen in his centenary year by Anjan Dutta, also traces a deeply etched arc of a generation. This generation, which once gravitated towards the West, ultimately turned inward, prompting us to examine our own identities and surroundings. 

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The writers are solely responsible for any claims arising out of the contents of this article.