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Tathyachitra: Itihas, Tattwa O Bishleshan – A Review

December 31, 2022 | By

Subha Das Mollick reviews Lipika Ghosh’s book তথ্যচিত্র: ইতিহাস তথ্য ও বিশ্লেষণ or Documentary: History, Theory and Analysis, published by Panchalika Publishers. The book not only packs in essential information on documentaries — both global and local Landmark developments, it also has some rare information that is usually absent from books on documentaries.

Documentary: History, Theory and Analysis

তথ্যচিত্র: ইতিহাস তথ্য ও বিশ্লেষণ (Documentary: History, Theory and Analysis)

Tathyachitra: Itihas, Tattwa O Bishleshan
By Lipika Ghosh.
Pub: Panchalika Publishers
Pages: 336
Price: ₹450

Professors of Film Studies, especially those who teach in government colleges, often lament that there is not enough film studies material in Bengali. Calcutta University allows students to write answers in Bengali, but available study material is largely in English.

Lipika Ghosh’s book তথ্যচিত্র: ইতিহাস তথ্য ও বিশ্লেষণ or Documentary: History, Theory and Analysis, published by Panchalika Publishers is a positive step to fill the lacuna.

In 335 pages the author has packed in a lot of essential information on documentaries — both global and local Landmark developments. In fact, her book has some rare information that is usually absent from books on documentaries. For example, in the chapter on ‘Film Society Movement and Documentaries in Kolkata’, she has written in details about Harisadhan Dasgupta and the films he made. Usually films of Harisadhan Dasgupta are not included in Film Studies courses. In the same chapter the author has listed documentary films made by Ritwik Ghatak, Mrinal Sen, Chidananda Dasgupta and of course Satyajit Ray. She has given brief biographical sketches of all the filmmakers mentioned above, which makes interesting reading.

The book is divided into ten chapters, the last one being an interview of Gautam Ghose. In the chapter on world cinema, I was informed about the formation of an organization ‘Workers Film and Photo League’ in America, who used documentaries to create awareness among people. However, inclusion of names like Griffith and Eisenstein in this chapter may create some confusion, although the author has mentioned that Griffith and Eisenstein took the language of cinema to new heights, that was reflected in documentaries too. One glaring omission here is Eisenstein’s one and only experiment with documentaries — Que Vive Mexico. The making of this film has many interesting angles to it, one of them being the difference in the perspectives of the western world and Soviet Union and how Eisenstein was completely misunderstood by the western film industry.

Also, in the section on Dziga Vertov, there is a passing mention of Man with a Movie Camera. The timeless brilliance of this film should have been underlined here with a brief description of its style. In fact, one wonders why Man with a Movie Camera does not appear in the list of all time greats brought out by Sight and Sound and other organizations.

So if there are some lacunae in the chapter on world cinema, it is more than made up in the later chapters. One of the chapters deals in details about the film Manufacturing Consent based on a book of the same name by Noam Chomsky. This is a landmark film that lays bare the manipulative tactics of the media. The film deserves in depth analysis that Ghosh has given in her book. The same chapter mentions Michael Moore and his commercially successful documentary films Bowling for Columbine and Farenheit 9/11. In our country commercially successful documentaries are unheard of.

The chapter titled ‘Films with New Technology’ has details about the films made on the Nirbhaya case – Daughters of Mother India as well as India’s Daughters. Controversies around India’s Daughters have been discussed in details.

The same chapter has detailed descriptions of Saurav Saranghi’s Karbala Tales and two films on Sheikh Mujibur Rahman – Bongobondhur Bangladesh and Kolkataye Bongobondhu.

Interestingly, films on Covid 19 are also mentioned in this chapter. The role of Vigyan Prasar in promoting science films is also discussed briefly.

The section on documentaries on children has details of Smile Pinki, but there is no mention of Born into Brothels or Bilal or Raja Hindustani Part 2.

The chapter titled ‘তথ্যচিত্র রাষ্ট্র ও রাজনীতি’ or ‘Documentary Nation and Politics’ is a power packed chapter with mentions of films made all over the world. Interestingly, this chapter has gone into details on films made by Tapan Bose and Suhashini Mulay. These details usually remain omitted from popular discourses on Indian documentaries. One should be thankful to the author for bringing to light these little known or near forgotten documentary films.

In this book, the role of Films Division and IDPA in furthering the cause of documentaries has been discussed in detail. Two more initiatives should have been added to the list — Docedge and People’s Film Collective. Both these initiatives have had immense impact in furthering documentary culture in India — at least in Kolkata.

Indian documentaries have attained international standard today. Shaunak Sen’s All That Breathes, Payel Kapadia’s A Night of Knowing Nothing and Sushmit Ghosh and Rintu Thomas’s Writing with Fire have brought prestige and recognition to Indian documentaries on a global platform. Yet the Indian movie goer has very fuzzy ideas about documentaries for lack of exposure.

The penultimate chapter in Ghosh’s book deals with innovative ideas to give more visibility to documentary films and generating discourses around documentaries. This is an immensely valuable addition to the book.

The book would have been even more invaluable if it had an Index. There are references to Anand Patwardhan, Ranjan Palit, Vasudha Joshi and others at several junctures, in several contexts. Without an Index it becomes difficult to locate them. I could not locate my favourite filmmaker Bert Hanstra in the book. If there was an Index, probably I would have been able to locate him.

The other thing one misses in a book like this is pictures. A book on documentaries without pictures is like a forest without grass.

While reading this book I realised that the history of documentaries in India is long and widespread indeed. It is really difficult to include everything between two covers. There are some glaring omissions in this book but to compensate for that there is a lot of information that usually does not find a place in public discourse. Kudos to the author for her meticulous research. At the end of the book the reader will find links to many interesting films. And it is highly recommended that in the 2nd edition an Index is included.

This Bengali book on documentaries is a highly laudable effort on the part of the author and publisher. They deserve every encouragement from the reader.

More to read

Dwelling in Travelling: Chronicle of the Baghdadi Jews of Calcutta

Dadamoni: Playing God

Jyotiprasad, Joymoti, Indramalati and Beyond: History of Assamese Cinema: Parthajit Baruah’s New Book

Tapan Sinha and the Triumvirate of Bengali Cinema

Creative Writing

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Subha Das Mollick is a media teacher and a documentary filmmaker. She has made more than 50 documentary films on a variety of subjects, most of which have been aired on the national television. She had been the head of the Film Studies and Mass Communication Deptt. at the St. Xavier's College, Kolkata.
All Posts of Subha Das Mollick

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