Birth centenary of Chidananda Das Gupta, the most loved film critic

When Chetan Anand was in Kolkata in 1964 to receive the BFJA for his war epic Haqeeqat, Das Gupta already ripped apart the film in his review. He was particularly critical of the political Nehruvian nationalism and incorrect depiction of the Chinese People's Liberation Army in Haqeeqat

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Ranjan Das Gupta
is a Kolkata-based independent journalist. He has been doing freelance work for more than 3 decades and writes on arts & culture, cinema, politics, healthcare and education

Kolkata: In 1948, Chidananda Das Gupta along with Satyajit Ray and Kamal Kumar Majumdar wrote to debutant director, Chetan Anand to visit Kolkata and lecture to their film society on Neecha Nagar. The film directed by Chetan Anand won the Grand Prix at Cannes together with David Lean’s Brief Encounters. The shy Chetan Anand politely refused to oblige stating he was too small in stature to address such an august gathering.

Thus started a rarely known relation between a filmmaker and a journalist who later took to direction. Not that Chidananda Das Gupta, affectionately called as Chidu da and Chetan Anand were close friends. Neither did they form a mutual admiration society. Both developed deep silent regard for each other based on creative feelings. Chetan Anand always spoke highly about the objective analysis Das Gupta did of Neecha Nagar. The eminent journalist appreciated the rhythmic cinematography by Vidyapati Ghosh, the use of dialectical montages and Ravi Shankar’s background score.

Das Gupta admired and saw the earlier classics of Chetan Anand. About the picturization of Man Mor Hua Matwala Re in Afsar, the film critic termed it poetic. He particularly praised Ali Akbar Khan, Ravi Shankar and Pannalal Ghosh’s background score in Aandhiyan. The two stalwarts did finally come across each other at Kolkata in September 1954, when Taxi Driver was premiered at Roxy cinema.

A brief conversation followed between the two in the cinema which had no reference to Hindi movies. They discussed Sergei Eisenstein, Greta Garbo and John Ford. Chetan Anand remembered the interaction as an interesting and heart-touching one. Das Gupta questioned Chetan Nanad about the Chinese actress who was dubbed for Nimmi in Aandhiyan. Chetan Anand smiled and replied that the dubbing was completed in three days and how Comrade Mao Zedong praised the film’s social concern.

With the introduction of Satyajit Ray via the classic Apu Trilogy. Das Gupta rose in stature as a journalist and critic. He was sharp, impartial and studied in his reviews. Never did he compromise with ethics. Gradually Das Gupta earned international fame and the likes of David Lean and Elia Kazan were fond of his reviews. In 1956, Francois Truffaut purchased a print of Chetan Anand’s costume drama Arpan Anjali based on Gautam Buddha’s 2500th birth anniversary.

film critic chidananda das gupta chetan anand chidu da
Chindanand Das Gupta and Chetan Anand | Courtesy: upperstall.com and bollywoodirect.medium.com

The Light and Sominette at Sri Fort was directed by Chetan Anand in English and Hindi with scripts by Khuswant Singh and Sardar Ali Jafri. The lighting was designed by Philips. Viewing it, Das Gupta termed it a visual treat and conveyed his positive feelings to Ali Akbar Khan who composed music for both versions. Chidu da was deeply moved by the natural play of light and shade and background voices of Balraj Sahni, Kamini Kaushal and Meena Kumari.

When Chetan Anand was in Kolkata in 1964 to receive the BFJA for his war epic Haqeeqat, Das Gupta already ripped apart the film in his review. He was particularly critical of the political Nehruvian nationalism and incorrect depiction of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army in Haqeeqat. It hurt Chetan Anand a lot but the proverbial gentleman that he was, he never lost his cool.

Returning to Mumbai he issued a press statement “Our critics have never known the true essence of war in the Indian contest. My film Haqeeqat is a saga of defeated soldiers. It was not possible for me to get exact details of the Chinese army as Hollywood or European cinema has of the Axis defense. Sitting in the comfort of a city, how can one understand the difficulties and pangs of empty stomachs we faced shooting at a topography several hundred feet high, some even no man’s lands?”

For three decades after this, there was no communication between the two. In 1995 as Chairman of the National Awards Jury, Chetan Anand presented Das Gupta’s directional venture Amodini the award for Best Costumes. There was some resistance from other jury members but Chetan Anand was adamant about his decision. He was full of praise for the film’s period sense created with sensitivity and maturity by Das Gupta.

As editor of SPAN magazine, Das Gupta became synonymous with Satyajit Ray. His articles and constructive criticism of Satyajit Ray’s works were appreciated across the world. He also shared good vibes with Mrinal Sen and respected the earlier works of Raj Kapoor. As a director, he showed ample promise in his directorial debut film, Bilet Ferot, 1972.

In his centenary when the author, critic and director is remembered with due respect his relation with Chetan Anand remains a lesson in unspoken ethics for the present generation. Chetan Anand did confess to me in 1995, “As the editor of SPAN, Chidananda Das Gupta wrote with a rare combination of the Ode to the West Wind and The Charge of the Light Brigade. No critic in Mumbai could match his sense of cine literacy.”

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Ranjan Das Gupta
is a Kolkata-based independent journalist. He has been doing freelance work for more than 3 decades and writes on arts & culture, cinema, politics, healthcare and education

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Another of the author’s – he told me stories. No reference at all. Neither Chetan Anand not Chidananda Dasgupta is there to corroborate this fairy tale sold in the name of ‘fact’.

    • Namaskar,
      I have been a freelancer for the past 33 years writing for majority of national publications. My association with Chetan Anand is well known in all earlier media circles. In fact you may learn the same from his elder son, Ketan Anand, 9820180332. Also please refer to my articles on Chetan Anand in the Hindu, Deccan Herald and Hindustan Times. Many copies of my interactions with him in the 80’s – 90’s are now not available as those publications had no websites or are extinct. I have not interviewed but interacted with late Chidananda Das Gupta four times in the 90’s and what I wrote are some of our conversations. Even today no one can deny my authenticity. Only those unaware of my earlier works call my writings fairy tales.
      Ranjan Das Gupta

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