Friday, January 18, 2013

Letter to Ashis Pandit on Dutta Vs Dutta by Anjan Dutt, India 2012

The changing of sunlight to moonlight 
Reflections of my life, oh, how they fill my eyes 
The greetings of people in trouble 
Reflections of my life, oh, how they fill my mind
(song "Reflections of my life" from the band Marmalade)

Dear Ashis,

Last evening I watched the new DVD of Anjan Dutt´s Dutta VS. Dutta.
It is the 5th film I saw from this director. I liked them all, some more some a bit less.
But how could I know that this, his most recent film will break my heart. During seeing this film, I was already impressed and moved to tears. But it was even more intense when I waked up this morning and the first thing came to my mind, was Dutta vs Dutta.

It might be the knowledge that this film is autobiographical, one of the “Songs about Themselves". The filmmakers who are mostly hidden behind the camera, their own aesthetic system or often in the case of Anjan Dutt( when he appears physically in his films) totally changed into a fictive character.
Remarkable is here Anjan Dutt´s performance as his own father. But at the same time the over coice narration spoken in the first person is also from him.

He talks about the first kiss, the first cigarette the first drink, friends with whom he spent his youth and who finally disappeared. Like in most of his films there is also the strange contrast between nostalgia and harsh realism. The family is divided. The mother is alcoholic, the father pretending strictness (as a follower of Indira Gandhi), he is a lawyer r but also a sinner who has an affair. Rono, Anjan Dutt´s Ego has no intention to follow the wishes of his father. He likes to play guitar and sing and he wants to be an actor.

According to Adrian Martin´s essay on Malick´s The Tree of Life, "Great Events and Ordinary People", Dutta vs Dutta tells about the inner conflicts of a family but at the same time as well about the turbulences of West Bengal in the 1970s, the Naxal Movements ( a maoistic movement in India), uproars and the repressing reaction of the police. When the sister finally marries a naxalite, the family and especially the dreams of the father Biren Dutt is disturbed.

Dutta VS Dutta is also a brilliant example of an autobiographic period drama. Even as a foreigner, I get a sense of this Kolkata in the 1970s. It is like reading Marcel Proust´s On the Search for the lost Times  - even without being a French, even without being familiar with typical french  gestures - you get at least an idea about time and location of this novel.  Costumes, production design in Dutta vs Dutta are never just decoration. In the combination with the music they look rather like memories which were lived and felt. Until now Cinema is the only time machine which is invented. 
Despite the distance between Kolkata and where I life, I can connect with the music used as well in this film. It was world wide the period of folk and Rock music, King Crimson for example, music sometimes listened by my elder brothers whose generation is the same like Anjan Dutt´s. Sometimes small hints like the persons are dressed, a picture of Jean-Luc Godard or Bob Dylan on the wall of a room is enough for me to be transferred to another time.
Several times the film changes from colors to monochrome sepia. When the colors fade the film has less the look of performed memories but memories depending on the body of a mortal living human being.  

In the 5 films by Anjan Dutt I hace seen as far, I feel Anjan Dutt leads the old discussion about art and entertainment ad absurd um. The films I saw until now from him have both and always at the same time. His films are always tragic and funny at the same time. It is like how I said the same with the contrast between Nostalgia and sometimes harsh moments. This is a film you can enjoy and at the same time you learn a lot about what the film is telling about but as well about Cinema in general.

Anjan Dutt´s characters are full of contradictions and especially the ones he performs himself are close to burst. To show how history moves through the body of an individual is always one of the most difficult things in Cinema - and Anjan Dutt manages it like he has never done anything else. His performance as Biren Dutt is one of his most soulful one: the father you can imagine to rebel against, the petty bourgeois who is secretly a sinner. Anjan Dutt´s characters are great especially in their failures and their weakness.

If I think about the two texts on other films by Anjan Dutt, I have written so far, I believe Dutta vs Dutta highlights a different light on these films like  Bow Barracks Forwever or Ranjana Ami Ar Ashbo Na All three films include a very crucial open rebellion against father, mother or in the case of Ranjana Ami Ar Ashbo Na against a fatherlike character. In Bow Barracks Forever we have the long and intense scene between the young Anglo-indian Bradley and his mother, in Ranjana Ami Ar Ashbo Na we have a very angry dialogue between Ranjana and her idol and in his most recent film finally the final rebellion of Anjan Dutt´s Ego Rono against his father. It is a rebellion against the image father, mother or a father-like character are making themselves of their children/disciples. Remarkable in all this three films the young people are aggressive but at the same time they are fighting with tears. The silence after this angry dialogues tells as much as the dialogues itself. In such moments Anjan Dutt´s films give a location about "pure cinema".  

Where it comes from this freshness in the films by Anjan Dutt, I do not know. He is not following any fashions or trends, he “sings his own songs” and after all what I heard about - he even found his niche.
And Anjan Dutt is fearless in using different genre pattern and in all the five films I have seen so far, all films are unique. Call it popular or mainstream or whatever, these films have a personal signature. Like Truffaut said about Bergman and Hitchcock: "Both directors films are entertaining but also great art."

Dutt has an amazing eye for characters, characters you never forget. But in Dutta vs Dutta there is everything a nuance more intense and even his own performance as Biren Dutta is one of his four or five most impressing ones I can remember.

The performance the intention to tell a story reaches in Dutta vs Dutta often the border where I feel he begins to share. His own voice used for the over voice-commentary has some weight in this film. At the end there is a very moving scene between his Ego Rono and his father Biren. Biren has suffered a brain stroke and it is hard to know what he still realizes and what not. Before we hear Anjan Dutt´s off-commentary, which is obviously from the present, he says, that he became an actor and is now a filmmaker and no one among his family members we see in this film know his films.
Later Rono tells his sick father that he got a role in a film by Mirinal Sen. Clumsily Biren makes efforts to hug his son. This is a very intimate and heartbreaking moment.
How could I know that a film by Anjat Dutt finally moves me to tears?
I have expected good storytelling, some good music and some insights into my beloved Kolkata in the 1970s. But what I got is finally a very personal moving film.
Dutta vs Dutta is honest, heartbreaking and authentic to the bones.

And last but not least, Dutta vs Dutta enriches cinema with another autobiographical inspired masterpiece. In its captivating evoking of both, a concrete historic period and the personal history of an individual. In fact this wonderful film is a kind of Bengali pendant to Hou Hsiao Hsien´s Tong Nien Wang shi (A Time to live and a time to die, Taiwan: 1985) or Terrence Malick´s The Tree of Life. As different these films are, they approach from different sides the center of Cinema.
Out of my controll – while Anjan Dutt shared in his film his memories-  my own in the 1970s of my childhood came to my mind. Maybe cinema has as well always to do with the dammed thing called identity. Believe it or not after this evening, I dreamt the whole night only about this film.
 I am so in love with this film and nobody is here to share it with. 
In my imagination I have seen this film with you in a film theatre in Kolkata.

All the best

A text onn Anjan Dutt´s Bow Barracks forever
and on Ranjana.... Recently I published the english version of a review of Dutta Vs Dutta whose german version was written for the print version. Here is the Link.

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