Bengali cinema has never seen such a flood of releases within one year as it did in 2008. The year marks a record for new talents, new directors, young producers, a new genre of ensemble films, a few off-beat films, a few films for children, an animation film and films in languages other than Bengali but having a distinct Bengali atmosphere. This, alongside ten releases of Prosenjit, the numero uno, among the 61 releases we saw last year and some experimental films new directors stepped in with. The predominantly young audience reveals a marked preference for fast-paced romance-cum-action films featuring strapping young actors instead of the ageing Mithun or the dropped-jaw Prosenjit. Shibaji, Ghar Jamai, Mr. Fantoosh, and Takkar, were the successful Prosenjit starrers. Among films not starring Prosenjit, the successful films were Chirodini Tumi Je Amaar, Bhalobasa Bhalobasa, Love Story, Mon Maane Naa, Chirosaathi and Tintorettor Jishu, again a Feluda adventure from Sandip Ray. Prosenjit’s Mahakaal did average business Mithun’s sole commercial release Satyameva Jayate was a super flop while his off-mainstream release, Buddhadeb Dasgupta’s Kaalpurush, was taken off the theatres within a fortnight even though the film sees Mithun in one of his career-best performances in Bengali cinema. Bengali cinema’s first animation film Laal Kalo, did well among the Bengali audience but its Hindi version was a super flop.
Off-beat films got a very bad beating at the box office and even the Big B in his first English-language film, The Last Lear, under the directorial baton of Rituparno Ghosh, could hardly draw in any audience at all. Rituparno’s moving Khela, a self-reflective film that repeats his passion for pointing fingers at the brutal opportunistic and selfish mindset of ‘committed’ filmmakers, was also a flop though it was popular among kids. Joy Ganguly’s Hindi language film Via Darjeeling, supposedly a thriller with a Bollywood cast, came a cropper simply because it was a terrible film while Buddhadeb Dasgupta’s other film Swapner Din, released around three years after it was made, also did not do well commercially. Suman Mukhopadhyay’s second film Chaturanga, a beautiful adaptation of a complex Tagore novella, did not go down well with an audience so fond of Swapan Saha, Sujit Guha and Haranath Chakraborty potboilers. Shubrajit Mitra’s much-hyped Mon Amour Shesher Kobita Revisited, inspired by a Tagore creation, Manoj Michigan’s Hello Kolkata, an ensemble film, also did not do well at all. Mon Amour Shesher Kobita Revisited proves that without a powerful and tight-knit script, even the best of actors, singers, music and technical excellence can do nothing to save a film. Arin Paul’s Doshta Dosh told an unusually funny story that failed because it lacked focus. Rati Agnihotri’s first Bangla film Aainatey was also a flop as were two new directors’ debuts, Arjun Chakraborty’s Tollylights and Sougata Roy Burman’s 90 Hours, a slickly made psychological thriller. Both films directed by the talented cinematographer Riingo, Neel Rajar Deshe and Love, were massive flops because despite technical excellence, the films did not have a cohesive script and did not have much to say either.
Chirodini Tumi Je Amaar introduced the new director, Raj Chakraborty, who honed his skills with television. It also brought in two wonderfully fresh faces with talent to boot in Rahul and Priyanka who play the star-crossed lovers in the film. Running neck-to-neck in the race to the biggest hit is Sandip Ray’s Tintorettor Jishu released in December. Coming a close second are the Koel Mullick-Dev starrer Mon Maane Naa and the Koel Mullick-Hiron starrer Chirosaathi. Another big hit was Bhalobasha Bhalobasha produced by Ashok Dhanuka and directed by Ravi Kinnagi starring Hiron opposite Shrabanti, making a comeback after marriage. Sandip Ray’s Feluda adventure Kailase Kelenkari, Zor starring Jeet and Varsha, Ravi Kinnagi’s Premer Kahini with Dev and Koel Mullick and Haranath Chakraborty’s Bajimaat exploring the ugly underbelly of musical reality shows on television, with two new faces Soham and Subhasree were also thumping hits at the box office. Anjan Dutt’s Chalo Let’s Go, a road movie with a lilting musical score, is a big hit claims its producer Joy Ganguly. Rangan Chakrabarty’s Bor Ashbe Ekhuni did well but was not a thumping hit. The year’s last release, Raaj Kumar starring Prosenjit, did not do well.
The biggest star draws were Koel Mullick, Dev, Priyanka Sarkar, Rahul, Hiron, Shoham and Srabonti. Music wise, Jeet Ganguly is surely going places while as far as direction goes, Raj Chakraborty has his hands full of assignments he can pick and choose from. Rangan is likely to begin his second film this year and as one finishes this summing up, news trickles in that Bengali cinema will open its innings in 2009 with the release of Aniruddha Roychoudhury’s Antaheen starring Aparna Sen and Sharmila Tagore in the same film for the first time with music by Shantanu Moitra.