Buddhadeb Dasgupta, the award-winning Indian filmmaker, died on 10 June, 2021 at the age of 77. With films such as Dooratwa (Distance, 1978), Neem Annapurna (Bitter Morsel, 1979), Grihajuddha (The Civil War,1982), Bagh Bahadur (The Tiger Man, 1989), Tahader Katha (Their Story, 1992), Charachar (Shelter of Wings, 1993), Lal Darja (The Red Door, 1997), Uttara (The Wrestlers, 2000), Mondo Meyer Upakhyan ( A Tale of a Naughty Girl, 2002), Kaalpurush (Memories of the Mist, 2008) among others that he directed, Buddhadeb Dasgupta made an indelible impression on Indian cinema.
Apart from being a highly gifted and resourceful film director, he was also a sensitive poet. Indeed, his love for poetry inflected many of his films in interesting and complex ways. In many of Dasgupta’s films there are wonderful poetic sequences. In addition, in some of his cinematic creations the basic framework has been conceived of in poetic terms.
I had known Buddhadeb for over forty years, we used to meet regularly at the IFFI. He visited Hawaii and the East - West Center where I worked, several times. He and I have had extended discussions on cinema and culture. Three themes that were prominent in our conversations were: the nature and significance of the idea of cultural modernity; the imperative need to extend the discursive boundaries of cinematic realism; and the significance of the notion of social imaginary in understanding his cinema.
As a Bengali he was deeply proud of his culture. He maintained that Indian art, literature, cinema and society in general can be most profitably grasped in terms of the concept of cultural modernity, and his films bear testimony to this deeply held conviction. Instead of discussing modernity in universalized terms he underlined the need to comprehend the dynamics of modernization in terms of specific cultures. He subscribed to the notion promoted by the eminent American anthropologist that cultures are webs of meaning that human beings spin around themselves. Clearly, there is a Weberian ring to this claim.
In this short article I wish to focus on the idea of the social imaginary that Buddhadeb Dasgupta valued so highly. This came across very clearly in our diverse conversations. The concept of the social imaginary is increasingly stirring the interest of scholars and commentators both in the humanities and in the social sciences. It is proving to be an analytical instrument and a conceptual space of great consequence in cultural re-description and social inquiry, as the distinguished Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor, who has done so much to propagate this concept asserts. The concept of the social imaginary encompasses something much wider and deeper than analytical schemes and intellectual categories that scholars employ when discussing social reality. He focuses on the ‘ways in which they imagine their social existence, how they fit together with others, how things go on between them and their fellows, the expectations which are normally met and the deeper normative notions and images which underlie these expectations.’ Here, what is clear is that Charles Taylor is focusing very sharply on the experiential dimensions of social living. Buddhadeb Dasgupta was of the opinion that this was of crucial importance to the aims of a filmmaker.
It is important to point out that Charles Taylor is not speaking of social theory. This is primarily because he is interested in focusing on the complex modalities by which ordinary citizens in society imagine the social contexts that they operate in. This phenomenon is not expressed in terms of theory. Rather, it is articulated through narrative flows of images, myths, legends and so on.
-- Prof. Wimal Dissanayake
-- Edited by Latika Padgaonkar
Prof. Wimal Dissanayake is a leading scholar of Asian cinema. He has published a large number of scholarly books on the subject. They have been published by leading publishing houses of the world such as Oxford, Cambridge, Duke University Press. Prof. Dissanayake was invited to co - edit the Routledge Handbook of Indian Cinema. He was the founding editor of the East - West Film Journal. He was awarded an honorary D.Ltt. by the Kelaniya University and the Lifetime Award for Literature by the state. Wimal Dissanayake is a national award - winning poet who has published poetry books in both Sinhala and English. He is currently Affiliate Professor at the University of Hawaii and an Honorary Professor at the Open University of Hong Kong.