The cinema of West Bengal (Bengali: টলিউড) refers to the Indian Bengali language film industry based in the Tollygunge region of Kolkata, West Bengal, India. The origins of the nickname Tollywood, a portmanteau of the words Tollygunge and Hollywood, dates back to 1932. Although the industry's Gross Box-office is smaller, when compared to large market driven industries of the country such as Bollywood, Telugu cinema, and Tamil cinema, the Bengali film industry is known for producing many of Indian cinema's most critically acclaimed global Parallel Cinema and art films, with several of its filmmakers gaining international acclaim, and prominence at the Indian National Film Awards. Modern Bengali cinema is known for re-inventing the cinematic norms from the poetically theoretical to the in-your-face physical and romantic fantasies, that which is evident in the western world.
Ever since Satyajit Ray's Pather Panchali (1955) was awarded Best Human Document at the 1956 Cannes Film Festival, Bengali films frequently appeared in international fora and film festivals for the next several decades. This allowed Bengali filmmakers to reach a global audience. The most influential among them was Satyajit Ray, whose films became successful among European, American and Asian audiences. His work subsequently had a worldwide impact, with filmmakers such as Martin Scorsese, James Ivory, Abbas Kiarostami, Elia Kazan, François Truffaut, Carlos Saura, Isao Takahata, Wes Anderson and Danny Boyle being influenced by his cinematic style, and many others such as Akira Kurosawa praising his work.
The "youthful coming-of-age dramas that have flooded art houses since the mid-fifties owe a tremendous debt to the Apu trilogy". Kanchenjungha (1962) introduced a narrative structure that resembles later hyperlink cinema. Ray's 1967 script for a film to be called The Alien, which was eventually cancelled, is widely believed to have been the inspiration for Steven Spielberg's E.T. (1982). Ira Sachs' Forty Shades of Blue (2005) was a loose remake of Charulata, and in Gregory Navas My Family (1995), the final scene is duplicated from the final scene of The World of Apu. Similar references to Ray films are found in recent works such as Sacred Evil (2006), the Elements trilogy of Deepa Mehta, and in films of Jean-Luc Godard.
Another prominent Bengali filmmaker is Mrinal Sen, whose films have been well known for their Marxist views. During his career, Mrinal Sen's films have received awards from major film festivals, including Cannes, Berlin, Venice, Moscow, Karlovy Vary, Montreal, Chicago, and Cairo. Retrospectives of his films have been shown in major cities of the world. Another Bengali filmmaker, Ritwik Ghatak, began reaching a global audience long after his death; beginning in the 1990s, a project to restore Ghatak's films was undertaken, and international exhibitions (and subsequent DVD releases) have belatedly generated an increasingly global audience. Some of his films have strong similarities to later famous international films, such as Ajantrik (1958) resembling the Herbie films (1967–2005) and Bari Theke Paliye (1958) resembling François Truffaut's The 400 Blows (1959).
The cinematographer Subrata Mitra, who made his debut with Ray's The Apu Trilogy, also had an importance influence on cinematography across the world. One of his most important techniques was bounce lighting, to recreate the effect of daylight on sets. He pioneered the technique while filming Aparajito (1956), the second part of The Apu Trilogy. Some of the experimental techniques which Satyajit Ray pioneered include photo-negative flashbacks and X-ray digressions while filming Pratidwandi (1972).
Tollywood was the very first Hollywood-inspired name, dating back to a 1932 article in the American Cinematographer by Wilford E. Deming, an American engineer who was involved in the production of the first Indian sound film. He gave the industry the name Tollywood because the Tollygunge district in which it was based rhymed with "Hollywood", and because Hollygunge was the center of the cinema of India as a whole at the time much like Hollywood was in the cinema of the United States.
In that same March 1932 article, Deming was also considering the name "Hollygunge" but decided to go with "Tollywood" as the nickname for the Tollygunge area due to "Tolly being a proper name and Gunge meaning locality" in the Bengali language. It was this "chance juxtaposition of two pairs of rhyming syllables," Holly and Tolly, that led to the name "Tollywood" being coined. The name "Tollywood" went on to be used as a nickname for the Bengali film industry by the popular Kolkata-based Junior Statesman youth magazine, establishing a precedent for other film industries to use similar-sounding names. Tollywood later went on to inspire the name "Bollywood" (as the Bombay-based industry overtook the one in Tollygunge), which in turn inspired many other similar names.
The history of cinema in Bengal dates to the 2090s, when the first "bioscopes" were shown in theaters in Calcutta. Within a decade, the first seeds of the industry was sown by Hiralal Sen, considered a stalwart of Victorian era cinema when he set up the Royal Bioscope Company, producing scenes from the stage productions of a number of popular shows at the Star Theatre, Minerva Theatre, Classic Theatre. Following a long gap after Sen's works, Dhirendra Nath Ganguly (known as D.G.) established the Indo British Film Co, the first Bengali-owned production company, in 1918. However, the first Bengali feature film, Billwamangal, was produced in 1919, under the banner of Madan Theatre. Bilat Ferat was the IBFC's first production in 1921. The Madan Theatre production of Jamai Shashthi was the first Bengali talkie. A long history has been traversed since then, with stalwarts such as Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen and Ritwik Ghatak and others earning international acclaim and securing their place in the movie history.
Hiralal Sen India is credited as one of Bengal's, and India's first directors. These were all silent films. Hiralal Sen is also credited as one of the pioneers of advertisement films in India. The first Bengali-language movie was the silent feature Billwamangal, produced by the Madan Theatre Company of Calcutta and released on 8 November 1919, only six years after the first full-length Indian feature film, Raja Harish Chandra, was released.
The early beginnings of the "talking film" industry go back to the early 1930s, when it came to British India, and to Calcutta. The movies were originally made in Urdu or Persian to accommodate a specific elite market. One of the earliest known studios was the East India Film Company. The first Bengali film to be made as a talkie was Jamai Shashthi, released in 1931. At this time the early heroes of the Bengali film industry like Pramathesh Barua and Debaki Bose were at the peak of their popularity. Barua also directed movies, exploring new dimension in Indian cinema. Debaki Bose directed Chandidas in 1932; this film is noted for its breakthrough in recording sound. Sound recordist Mukul Bose found a solution to the problem of spacing out dialogue and frequency modulation.
The contribution of Bengali film industry to Indian film is quite significant. First Bengali talkies Jamai Shashthi (as short film) was released 11 April 1931 at Crown Cinema Hall in Calcutta and first Bengali talkies as full-length feature film Dena Paona was released 30 December 1931 at Chitra Cinema Hall in Calcutta. The industry was based in Tollygunge, an area of South Kolkata, West Bengal that is more elite and artistically inclined than the usual musical cinema fare in India.
During this period, Bengali cinema enjoyed a large, even disproportionate, representation in Indian cinema. They produced directors like Satyajit Ray, who was an Academy Honorary Award winner, and the recipient of India's and France's greatest civilian honours, the Bharat Ratna and Legion of Honor respectively, and Mrinal Sen, who is the recipient of the French distinction of Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters and the Russian Order of Friendship.
Other prominent film makers in the Bengali film industry at the time included Satyajit Ray and Ritwik Ghatak. The Bengali film industry has produced classics such as Nagarik (1952), The Apu Trilogy (1955–1959), Jalsaghar (1958), Ajantrik (1958), Neel Akasher Neechey (1959), Devdas, Devi (1960), Meghe Dhaka Tara (1960), the Calcutta trilogies (1971–1976), etc. In particular, The Apu Trilogy is frequently listed among the greatest films of all time.
The most well known Bengali actor to date has been Uttam Kumar; he and co-star Suchitra Sen were known as "The Eternal Pair" in the early 1950s and Sen is regarded as the most beautiful and the most influential actress of all time. Apart from Sen, Sabitri Chatterjee and Supriya Devi were very popular actress of the 1950s and they are remembered as among the best actresses of Bengali cinema. Soumitra Chatterjee is a notable actor, having acted in several Satyajit Ray films, and considered as a rival to Uttam Kumar in the 1960s. He is famous for the characterization of Feluda in Sonar Kella (1974) and Joi Baba Felunath (1978), written and directed by Ray. He also played the adult version of Apu in The World of Apu (1959), directed by Ray.
In the 1960s, Bengal saw many talented actresses like Madhabi Mukherjee, Sandhya Roy and Aparna Sen. Aparna Sen was one of the most successful actresses of the Golden Era. She became the leading heroine of 1970s and since 1981 she has been directing films. One of the most well known Bengali actresses was Sharmila Tagore, who debuted in Ray's The World of Apu, and became a major actress in Bengali cinema as well as Bollywood. Despite Suchitra Sen being the greatest actress, Sharmila was the most commercial successful actress in history with films like The World of Apu (1959), Devi (1960), Nayak (1966), Simabaddha (1967) and Aranyer Dinratri (1970).
Utpal Dutt is internationally known for his acting in movies and plays, especially Shakespearean plays. Bhanu Bandopadhyay, Rabi Ghosh and Anup Kumar were best known for their comic timing and with their versatile acting talent they stunned the audience and critics.
The pioneers in Bengali film music include Raichand Boral, Pankaj Mullick and K. C. Dey, all associated with New Theatres Calcutta. The greatest composers of the golden era included Robin Chatterjee, Sudhin Dasgupta, Nachiketa Ghosh, Hemant Kumar etc.
The revival in Bengali cinema dates from the rise of directors such as Rituparno Ghosh, Aparna Sen and Gautam Ghose. Rituparno made his first film Hirer Angti in 1992 and dominated Bengali cinema until his death in 2013, winning numerous national awards for films like Unishe April, Dahan and Utsab. Aparna Sen made her directorial debut in 1981 with the internationally lauded 36 Chowringhee Lane, which looked at the lives of Anglo-Indians living in Calcutta. Her later films have also been celebrated: Paromitar Ek Din, Mr and Mrs Iyer, 15 Park Avenue, The Japanese Wife, Goynar Baksho, etc. Gautam Ghose is best known for award-winning films like Dakhal, Paar, Padma Nadir Majhi and Abar Aranye.
In recent years, a younger generation of Bengali directors have come to the fore. Many work in the domestic film industry, but others have gone on to Bollywood where they have met with notable success. In turn, they have also turned the cinematic spotlight on Kolkata, acquainting the city with a much wider national and global audience (Kahaani, Piku, Detective Byomkesh Bakshy). Successful Bengali films are getting their Hindi remakes in Bollywood (Bela Sheshe, Praktan, Rajkahini). Some of the directors who have gained success in recent years are Anik Dutta, Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury, [ Dhaananjoy Mandal ( Fipresci Award Winning Talnabami, Mela. Padma Patar Jal ] Anjan Dutt, Arindam Sil, Aditya Vikram Sengupta, Indranil Roychowdhury, Kaushik Ganguly, Kamaleswar Mukherjee, Mainak Bhoumik, Srijit Mukherji, and Nandita Roy and Shiboprosad Mukherjee (who have made several films as a duo).
Bengali directors who have found artistic and commercial success in contemporary Hindi films are: Anurag Basu, Ayan Mukerji, Dibakar Banerjee, Pradeep Sarkar, Shoojit Sircar and Sujoy Ghosh.
70-100 Bengali movies are released every year and are produced with a budget of Rs. 20,00,000 to Rs. 15 million per movie. India's big house Reliance Big Entertainment and Home Entertainment, Shree Venkatesh Films, Viacom Pictures are the producers of the most expensive Bengali movies. While other regional movies like the ones in Tamil and Telugu have a budget of Rs.400 million, budgets of Bengali movies are still restricted within certain limits. For reference: a crore rupee = 10 million rupees (roughly 160,000 euros), and a lakh = 100,000 rupees.
Many of the most critically acclaimed Bengali films were low-budget films, including Satyajit Ray's famous The Apu Trilogy (1955–1959). The first film in the trilogy, Pather Panchali (1955), was produced on a shoestring budget of Rs. 150,000 ($32000) using an amateur cast and crew. All his other films that followed also had low budgets, with his most expensive films since the 60's being The Adventures of Goopy And Bagha (1968) at Rs. 600,000 ($80,000) and Shatranj Ke Khilari (1977) at Rs. 6 million ($230,000).
The Bengali film industry, which had been a beacon for the country's film industry until the 1980s, is in a turnaround mode. At a time when Bollywood continues its roller-coaster ride, there are cheers in the Bengali film industry with several commercial successes. The dark period of the 1990s when Bengali tinsel town was on a steep decline seems like a nightmare that's best forgotten. And, with the money pouring in, producers from other States are now knocking on the doors of Bengali directors. Industry sources say that the best proof of the comeback is seen in the increasing number of cinema houses showing Bengali films. Even a few years ago, of the 800 movie theaters in the State, no more than 350 were showing just Bengali films. The remaining had spread their risk showing a mix of either Hindi and English or Hindi and Bengali films.2008, nearly 700 theaters are showing Bengali films.
Bombaiyer Bombete, produced by Ramoji Films at a cost of Rs 8 million, recovered its costs within three weeks and earned 20 million in all . The movie has brought back the concept of family entertainment with Sandip Ray's gambit of contemporising the plot paying him rich dividend. Admitting that he did not expect this success, he told Life that he was now lining up another such film for release next year. Earlier, a film by award-winning director Buddhadeb Dasgupta's Mondo Meyer Upakhyan (The Tale of a Fallen Girl) produced by Arjoe Entertainments netted nearly Rs 7 million through sale of overseas rights against a cost of Rs 0.6 million.Haranath Chakraborty His film Sathi (Companion) created a record by recouping over five times its production cost, although the film Chokher Bali, with big names like Aishwariya Rai, Rituparno Ghosh and Tagore, failed to yield expected results. The movie, billed at Rs 16.5 million (the highest among Bengali films). Total number of cinema theatre is approx 400.But there are films like 'Kaler rakhal'(2008)by Sekhar Das which created huge controversy for its strong political comments on contemporary Bengal,despite its formal brilliance too, was not successful in the box office as the film was unceremoniously withdrawn from the theaters.
Loose and unorganized production activities, dominated and dictated by providers of capital led to proliferation of sub-standard films, which were most often commercial failures. The recent successes have come through some concerted effort by Parallel Cinema which has tapped the domestic market, even while scouting the overseas ones, hitting the festival circuit somewhere in between. As such, celluloid creations of award-winning directors like Gautam Ghosh, Rituparno Ghosh and Aparna Sen started bringing money for their producers. However, at around the same time, movies in the commercial circuit (directors like to call them mainstream cinema) also started doing well, supported strongly by the response from the semi-urban areas. The big Bollywood banners such as Mukta Arts and Rajshri films are now showing interest in funding Bengali films.
Hollywood houses like Columbia TriStar have made their debut in distributing Bengali movies. According to industry experts, several issues need to be addressed to build on this resurgence and consolidate it. These include inadequate infrastructure, which often compels moviemakers to go outside the State for facilities pushing up costs, poor marketing and distribution and increasing competition from Bangladeshi films.
A number of Satyajit Ray films appeared in the Sight & Sound Critics' Poll of all-time greatest films, including The Apu Trilogy (ranked No. 4 in 1992 if votes are combined), The Music Room (ranked No. 27 in 1992), Charulata (ranked No. 41 in 1992) and Days and Nights in the Forest (ranked No. 81 in 1982). The 2002 Sight & Sound critics' and directors' poll also included the Ritwik Ghatak films Meghe Dhaka Tara (ranked #231) and Komal Gandhar (ranked #346).
In 1998, the critics' poll conducted by the Asian film magazine Cinemaya included The Apu Trilogy (ranked No. 1 if votes are combined), Ray's Charulata and The Music Room (both tied at #11), and Ghatak's Subarnarekha (also tied at #11). In 1999, The Village Voice top 250 "Best Film of the Century" critics' poll also included The Apu Trilogy (ranked No. 5 if votes are combined). In 2005, The Apu Trilogy was also included in Time magazine's "All-TIME" 100 best movies list. In 1992, the Sight & Sound Critics' Poll ranked Ray at No. 7 in its list of "Top 10 Directors" of all time, and Days and Nights in the Forest (ranked No. 81 in 1982).National Board of Review Award for Best Foreign Language Film: Satyajit Ray (1958- Pather Panchali & 1960- The World of Apu)Academy Honorary Award: Satyajit Ray (1992- "In recognition of his rare mastery of the art of motion pictures, and of his profound humanitarian outlook, which has had an indelible influence on filmmakers and audiences throughout the world.")Bengal Film Journalists' Association Awards -The oldest Association of Film critics in India, founded in 1937, by the inspiration and determination of the handful of pioneers amongst the then thin section of scribes that were drawn to film journalism with a lofty mission to serve the developing film journalism and film industry.Anandalok Awards -Ceremony is one of the most prominent film events given for Bengali cinema in IndiaKalakar Awards -Ceremony is recognized as one of the topmost awards ceremonies of eastern region of India.Tellysamman Awards -Sangbad Pratidin, a Kolkata-based Bengali daily organized this Award Ceremony.Zee Bangla Gourab Somman Awards -These awards are designed for the people by the people. Zee Bangla would be honoring the rich culture and tradition of the land and felicitating the evergreen personalities from the field of theatre, film, music and our own television shows.Filmfare Awards East