Courtesy - You Tube


Two really memorable scenes from Mrinal Sen’s Chalchitra / The Kaleidoscope (1981) and Satyajit Ray’s Mahapurush: The Holy Man (1965).

The top scene (from Chalchitra) plays out like this as Anjan Dutta’s character, a lower-middle class aspiring writer, comes back to newspaper editor Utpal Dutt’s office to show him the story he will write in order to get hired. Utpal Dutt’s character asks for an issue that is sellable and from the common man’s area. What follows is a talk about what Anjan Dutta did end up finding in his fruitless observation of the chawl he lives in and the issue of coal ovens and air pollution:

AD: “But how can you get rid of coal? You simply can’t.”

UD: “No, we can, we must. In 1905 the British made a rule: Smoke Nuisance Act. They didn’t think of household cooking then but today we have to. Smoke is a positive nuisance!”

AD: “But how’ll people cook?

UD: "That’s not your subject.”

AD: “But we use coal ovens in our house. There are others, 11 families in all…all of them use coal ovens. How many families in our area use gas ovens? Very few. There’s a slum in our area, they use coal. Everywhere in Kolkata is full of coal ovens. Why this city alone? Take this country. 60% of our people…why 60%, 70%, 80% use coal ovens…and there is no other way! Think we love it? Don’t our eyes burn? The poison you were talking about…I also said it…I mean.”

UD: “You’re a communist.”

This scene is great primarily because Mrinal Sen highlights a huge issue within a lot of reform movements lead by upper-class elites, which in the case of the environment and going green culture, first world enthusiasts always seem to blame, as you probably already know, third world nations and their poverty/overpopulation/“primitive” knowledge of environmental issues. Here Utpal Dutt goes on and on about the air pollution caused by coal ovens in a city like Kolkata without any sympathy or understanding of why coal ovens exist in such high numbers. He proceeds to call Anjan Dutta a communist when this man brings forth the helplessness of any go green solution because to go green would require money. The switch between coal ovens to gas ovens requires money, which obviously is no trouble for a newspaper editor. Mrinal Sen was way ahead of his time lbr, this was great.

On the other end of things, this is the bottom scene from Mahapurush:

Satya: Where’s Buchki?

Buchki’s uncle: She’s upstairs–a lot is happening. Her father is taking his diksha.

Satya: (laughs) Diksha?

Buchki’s uncle: What’s there to grin about? A great saint! You know he was there when Kashi was laid?

Satya: What Kashi?

Buchki’s uncle: Benares, not a cough!

Satya: What’s that, some sort of tantrik?

Buchki’s uncle: Certainly, a dhantantrik (capitalist) at least. A communist like you must go!

Satya: Communist?

Buchki’s uncle: You refuse to ride a mandrawn rickshaw on principle!

Mahapurush is filled with some really hilarious moments (I think we should lament more on Ray’s abilities as a satirist, maybe even seek out the similarities between his humor and his poet-father’s) but I thought this scene was especially great from the play on words to the underlying beliefs. Again, ridiculous perceptions of communist ideology is brought up on a social/humanist realm and it’s cool to compare how Mrinal Sen approaches it versus Satyajit Ray. Also, you may not know this but the amount of babas and tantriks arising in India right now especially on a commercial scale, promising to alleviate the middle class and becoming gurus for the rich is crazy. That one guy Nirmal Baba I think just got his income tax stuff raided or something? Dhantantrik indeed.