Is Tollywood Thinking Too Much?

What is it with us Bengalis- why do we have an inexplicable need to intellectualize almost every single thing in our lives- whether it’s mundane or momentous?

Why are we so confused when it comes to adopting cultural values whether they are inherent or foreign to our society?

Mind you, is this a class-based issue: do those hovering around the poverty line face this conundrum too? Or, is it something that comes with an English-medium based education and an affluent upbringing that is more exposed to Western values?

These are some of the intriguing issues which Tollywood’s (i.e. what contemporary Bengali Cinema is known as, based on their studio location, in a south Kolkata town, called Tollygunge) big and small production houses are exploring through their movies in the past few years.

From the poetic stance  while chatting on Google Talk, as seen by the characters essayed by Rahul Bose and Radhika Apte in the film Antarheen (2007); to the supercilious floundering of the live-in relationship explored through the protagonists in Autograph (2010); to the so-called ‘doom’ of having pre-marital sex and childbirth out of wedlock in Iti Mrinalini (2011); to the vague, confused, bewildered effusions and expectations of relationships fostered in today’s modern society, where the dichotomy of Old-Eastern/New-Western cultural values perturb thirty-something men and women as seen in Bedroom (2012).

What are these films trying to really convey to us?

If film and television are indeed mirrors of society, then what exactly are the aforementioned films trying to reflect back at us?

If it’s a miasma of feelings which irk and blur your consciousness when you have seen these films, doesn’t it then prod you to think of what the overall purpose is behind such sociological and cultural themes that are currently encompassing contemporary Bengali cinema?

We all know how globalization has brought in its wake a globalized economy, which has physically brought all seven continents closer than ever before. So, it must be impacting on societies one and all with their different complexes and myriad complications.

While the West has taken to (what was one exclusively Eastern) metaphysical and spiritual inclinations quite dearly, they have integrated these into their overall culture without affecting their inherent consumerist liberalism.

For example, they don’t hide issues like pre-marital sex, smoking and drinking from their elders and betters (the opposite of which is seen in Bedroom, where the characters essayed by Parno and Paoli Dam sneak a few swigs and puffs in their dressing rooms- before their weddings!); but then the more sensible of them do not flaunt their freedom about like some sort of banner either.  They could easily go for a yoga class and then nip to the pub afterwards.

So, why is it that Bengali society has so much trouble in tackling Western and Eastern values altogether, simultaneously? For instance, why are live-in relationships garbed and disguised in front of parents and families, of the upper classes? If acceptance is the problem then shouldn’t both sides come to terms with how to deal with their desires and intents?

If you take a good look into the mise-en-scene of the aforementioned films, you will find the absence of the Hindu Thakurer Ghor’ or prayer room in the sets. Is the message coming to us suggesting that live-in couples don’t believe in the religious practices they were likely to have been brought up to believe in as children? Is this even true or realist at the least?

Looking at it this way makes it seem that one cultural value is adopted in lieu of another. Does this mean that Bengali society is intolerant of multicultural values, in general, or is it just the so-called ‘heinous’ ones?

Life in Park Street (2012), however, seems to be bolder in that it shows live-in relationships, mutually-separated-yet-not-divorced couples, closeted gay sex, extra-marital affairs and the frustrations of taking a fling into ‘relationship’ territory. Albeit this film makes out Park Street- one of Kolkata’s primary ‘happenin’ hotspots- to be some sort of ‘Sin City’ and could probably be voted for the film having the most atrocious dialogue of the year-but at least the message is conveyed in-your-face.

Confusingly, the message behind the story in Abosheshe (2012) has left me wondering and wondering about what it is exactly. Roopa Ganguly’s character is seen to refuse to leave her hometown, Kolkata, to start a life with her husband and little son in America.  In other words, her love for Kolkata is stronger and more profound than her love for her family.  Do such people really exist? Probably in the West, where anything is possible; but what about in India, particularly in Bengal, which is overwhelmingly marred by its baffling, often stifling values?

Sometimes, cultural products of film and television can work as the light at the end of the tunnel. Maybe Tollywood could make some movies that offer possible solutions, or scope for insightful debate, to these perplexing issues, instead of merely indulging in the pathos of a society that’s struggling to integrate with a globalized culture.


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