Bengali, Film, Review


Chitrakar raises questions about how anyone and everyone during the post-modern era can become an artist. Why do many of us state equivocally that art is dead, or, does an artist have the ability to create something that can really be called a work of art? Who does an artist create a work of art for in the first place – does he create it to be sold in the market? Does he create it as his own way of self-expression or his belief in things that exist beyond art? Or, does he create art works for the common man out there?

Chitrakar is a fictional adaptation of the blind painter Binod Bihari Mukherjee during the rime when he was working on his last work, The Last Mural. Mukherjee’s life and work was the subject earlier of Satyajit Ray’s documentary, The Inner Eye (1972). The Inner Eye is a title with a double meaning: it at once signifies the painter’s ‘inner’ eye to denote his ability to visualize life and all that it stands for despite his disintegrating vision. It also symbolizes, in a manner of speaking, Ray’s own ‘inner’ vision, to see beyond the ‘surface’ story of the painter’s childhood, training, growth as a painter. The film won the Swarna Kamal in the non-fiction category in the National Awards.

Chitrakar is a tribute, both, to Ray as a filmmaker and also to Binod Bihari Mukherjee, by director Saibal Mitra who rues the fact that cinema today has been reduced to a commodity and is no longer the art form it was once defined to be. Chitrakar bears this out through the perspective of the whimsical, moody, often rude and often uncommunicative Bijon Bose (Dhritiman Chatterji) while he works on his last mural in his relatively remote place, fictitiously titled Ekla (Alone). He also has very introspective interactions with Death who appears in a black robe and a painted face. Mitra effectively explores the mind of the slowly-going-blind painter who can actually ‘see’ the sun set and the sun rise through his mind’s artistic eye in this film. In one scene, we find see Bijon Bose seated at the break of dawn to watch the sunrise across the river. He tells his old retinue, “Just watch, the sun will now rise,” and his smiling old retinue says, “I do not think, Sir, that you have lost your entire vision.” Bijon smiles and just then, the sun rises beautifully across the horizon.

Bijon Bose is approached by Tithi (Arpita Chatterjee), a young artist who is completely frustrated with her own works because they do not sell. She is commissioned to go to Ekla to help Bijon Bose create a mural for a new restaurant in Kolkata. This runs completely against the creative grain of Bijon Bose so convincing him is the biggest challenge for Tithi. The narrative shifts to the sometimes harmonious and sometimes volatile exchanges between the old muralist and the young painter who are both artists but whose perceptions of art are distinctly different. Tithi feels she has begun to understand how this artist’s mind works but Bijon feels she does not understand anything, not art and certainly, not his art. The entire process of painting, of creating a mural is fleshed out in precise audiovisual detail inter-cut with arguments, quarrels and music between the old man and the young woman. Arpita Chatterjee as Tithi, Arun Guha Thakurta as Death, Debdoot Ghosh as the hep art gallery owner in Kolkata and Subhrajit Dutta as the disciple of Bijon fit into their characters quite convincingly.

On the technical side, Asoke Dasgupta’s cinematography vividly captures the painterly quality of the outdoors juxtaposed against the darkness of the shady interiors where Bijon argues with Death and the brightness of the studio floor where brown paper sheets are being folded and cut and transferred onto colorful mosaic tiles to be pasted on the wide board across the wall. The art direction by Gautam Basu, who created the last mural and the other paintings for the film, is spellbinding and a major asset. Add to this, Pandit Tejendra Narayan Majumdar’s musical score with a couple of Tagore songs and a Kabir Bhajan that blend extremely well into the painterly surroundings and ambience created by Mitra. But on the downside, the length of the film tells and this is typical of Mitra whose films are always appear a tad longer than necessary.

Chitrakar has already been screened at the International Film Festival of India, Goa (IFFI) 2016, the International Film Festival of Kerala, (IFFK) 2016, the Third Eye Asian Cinema Festival, Mumbai 2016, the Jaipur International Film Festival (JIFF) 2017, the Bengaluru International Film Festival 2017 and the International Film Festival of South Asia, Toronto (IFFSA) 2017 before its much delayed theatrical release. The film is worth a watch if you haven’t seen it yet.


Bengali, Drama, Color

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