A Cloud-Capped Star Sets

meghe-dhaaka-taaraSuddenly, a very happy day turned out to be not so happy.

It was my wife’s birthday yesterday, and she was celebrating a special birthday in Kolkata with her friends and family (we don’t call it extended family there — it’s just family). She doesn’t get such an opportunity: here in New York, it is a year-after-year routine visit to a restaurant of her choice between the small few of us, followed by watching a movie, only to rush back home in a terribly cold weather. Not much fun. Back there, it‘s always different. Her aunt cooked tons of food, and friends fed her with the ceremonial “payesh,” or rice pudding Bengali style.

Then, on the same day, I got the news of Supriya Chowdhury’s death. Or, Supriya Devi, as she was later known.

Even though it may seem far too sentimental and detached: like, why would I even care about the death of a film star I never knew, and only admired her acting on the silver screen? There is a reason. The two most important movies Supriya acted were “The Cloud-Capped Star” (Bengali: Meghe Dhaka Tara), and “E-Flat” (Bengali: Komol Gandhar), both directed by legendary filmmaker Ritwik Ghatak.

Note: If you want to know the riches of Bengali and Indian non-Bollywood (i.e., junk) movies, watch them. I can send you a list of such movies. They are subtitled.

These two movies, like some other movies by Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen, Buddhadev Dasgupta, and such directors (Shyam Benegal, Ketan Mehta, Girish Kasaravalli, M. S. Sathyu are just a few others) made me what I am today — psychologically and intellectually. It made me what I am today — a progressive, democratic, socialist who believes in equality of all kinds.

The open, liberal, and progressive, intellectual Bengali consciousness I slowly got transformed to, from a closed-minded fanaticism and patriarchy that I originally had inherited — was possible because of honestly, Bengali literature, poetry, music, and yes, movies. Coupled with reading some history.

Supriya Chowdhury’s acting in Ritwik Ghatak’s movies made me appreciate the history of a bloody and traumatic British partition and its aftermath on our society, economics, and politics. It made me realize what we had lost as a nation, and what we did not gain. How the British stole our treasures, and transferred power to the rich feudals.

If Ritwik Ghatak was the writer of this script, Supriya was the personified conveyer of the message.

A picture tells a thousand words. Sure. A dark-skinned (and therefore not pretty by Indian and Bengali standards), tall, strong actress whose eyes and lips oozed sensuality (and therefore not acceptable within the prejudice of Bengali and Indian mediocrity) blew me away.

She made me a man, from a child.

Sincerely,

Partha Banerjee

Brooklyn, New York.

Supriya Chowdhury

Human Rights and Hans Dhun

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Human rights — we all know. But what is Hans Dhun?

It is a beautiful Indian music based on a classical raga. Some people call it Hans Dhwani. Hans means swan. The swan is often associated with Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of learning. Hence, Hans Dhwani or Hans Dhun has a divine, sacred connotation.

For the non-religious, it’s simply beautiful.

Just a few days ago, I went to buy some small groceries at a neighborhood Pakistani store in our Brooklyn. The lonely storekeeper was half-asleep, watching Pakistani music video on his small TV hung from the wall. I got glued to it. Somebody was singing Hans Dhun.

Here’s the video. Watch it. Flute, strings, drums, voice…beautiful.

The music video talks about the plight of Afghanistan refugees who took shelter in Pakistan for three decades, before their makeshift huts were demolished, and they were sent back. Very touching — seen through the eyes of three Afghan men.

The video does not talk about how American powers created Frankensteins in post-Soviet Afghanistan, but truly, that’s a different story. At least, we see the devastation of war and terrorism.

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Watching the video and listening to the heart-wrenching Hans Dhun, following the original Amir Khan rendition, I thought about another Hans Dhun I heard on our watershed Bengali movie Meghe Dhaka Tara (the Cloud-capped Star).

That story also, amazingly, talked about the plight of refugees and their never-ending struggle. A young man, a genius musician who lived in a refugee colony after being evicted by rulers in a partitioned Bengal, went away and found his fame in Bombay. He is now coming back to see his sister who was his only supporter and admirer throughout this struggle. Now, the dear brother is rich and famous, but the sister is dying. She has worked too hard to keep the family survive. And then, her boyfriend has broken his pledge to her. She is dying broken-hearted.

You watch the movie. Here’s just a clip of the song the brother sang on his way back to the colony.

It was fortuitous on my part to have learned about the Pakistani-Afghani band. It gave me an opportunity to bring up the subjects of human rights and plight of the poor, neglected people (predictable subject for me, as one of my esteemed Columbia University professors would declare), as well as the horror or war, violence and partition.

Times have passed. But did the pain?

You decide.

Post Script. — On this International Women’s Day, 8th March of 2014, I dedicate this blog to the woman cricket players of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh. They are not just playing cricket. They are fighting back against terrorizing-oppressing dark, medieval forces in their countries. You wouldn’t believe how brave these young women are. Sisters, my hats off to you.

Plain Thinking,

Partha

Brooklyn, New York

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