It's the time of the year when the skies are flecked with cotton candy clouds, the fragrance of shiuli flowers hangs heavy in the air, and the familiar beats of the dhak announce Durga's arrival into our homes and hearts. It's also the time to dress up in new clothes and go pandal-hopping till the wee hours of the morning.
When I moved to the United States, almost 15 years ago, Durga Pujo was a huge culture shock. We celebrated the goddess quietly, in a sanitised manner, careful not to disturb the neighbours. The four-day Pujo was packed into a two-day weekend. All picture perfect and synchronised like a well-oiled machine.
I love watching and rewatching films that celebrate Durga Pujo as part of their plot. It's a wonderful way to partake of the festive spirit without setting foot outside the home!
Maybe it was by force of habit, or due to mellowing with age, but I grew to like this quiet Pujo celebrations with friends. Now back in Kolkata, I find the festivities, which are stretched way beyond the traditional four days of worship, and the surging crowds, overwhelming. So, while I reminisce fondly about the hectic pandal-hopping, weaving through multitudes of people, preening in my new clothes, eating roadside rolls and puchkas, I confess I'm now too faint-hearted to stray too far from my home during Pujo.
But, that doesn't mean I enjoy the Pujo any less. There are the usual suspects, of course, cooking for family and friends, poring over Puja-barshikis, those much-awaited fiction- and-poetry anthologies published annually, and the ubiquitous people-watching.
And, when all else is done and dusted, there are films! I love watching, and rewatching some Bengali and a few Hindi films that celebrate Durga Pujo as part of their plot. It's a wonderful way to enjoy the Pujo and partake of the festive spirit without setting foot outside the home! Here are some of my favourite films to watch during the festive days.
If you want to watch a film with a strong social message, Daman: A Victim of Marital Violence, directed by Kalpana Lajmi, is a great choice. The protagonist, Durga, played with conviction by Raveena Tandon, vanquishes her patriarchal tormentor on the day of Bijoya Dashami, finally recognising, and celebrating her feminine power.
Vidya Balan plays a mysterious pregnant woman in this gripping thriller directed by Sujoy Ghosh. As an added bonus, you get to see the chaotic beauty of Kolkata streets during Pujo.
Debipaksha, directed by Raja Sen, is the story of Haimanti (Rituparna Sengupta), a survivor of sexual assault who courageously stands up to her molester when her younger sister's safety is threatened. Good performances by a strong cast, led by the thespian Soumitro Chatterjee, make this film a great watch.
Based on Tarashankar Bandhopadhyay's short story 'Protima', Antarmahal , directed by Rituparno Ghosh, is a tale of misogyny and oppression in the guise of religion. A bold tale that intertwines the private lives of an aging zamindar (Jackie Shroff), his two wives (Roopa Ganguly and Soha Ali Khan), and a potter (Abhishek Bachchan) commissioned to craft the Durga idol in the image of Queen Victoria, this is a great film for a romantic dine-in date on a crowded Pujo night.
A family crisis that begins on Mahalaya (the first day of the Pujo fortnight), brings to focus Ishaani's (Arpita Pal) inner turmoil about motherhood and its boundaries, or lack thereof. Bodhon, directed by Ayananshu Banerjee, is a fitting tribute to the caring women in our lives.
A masterful piece of celluloid art, Bishorjon, directed by Kaushik Ganguly, is a timeless tale of love and sacrifice of a couple distanced by faith and geographical boundaries. The film's earthy music by the late Kalika Prasad Bhattacharyya blends in beautifully with the narrative, making it a perfect watch on a Pujo night.
7. Pather Panchali
A path-breaking film based on a novel written by Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay, Pather Panchali, directed by Satyajit Ray, is one of my perennial favourites. While Durga Pujo in the film underlines the drudgery of the lives of Apu and his elder sister, Durga, it's also a portent of changes that overwhelm them in the days to come.
Patriarchy, and its manipulation of the feminine consciousness is the underlying narrative of Satyajit Ray's Devi. Veteran actor Chhabi Biswas plays a zamindar who believes that goddess Durga manifests in his daughter-in-law (Sharmila Tagore). Bolstered by his belief and the devotion of people around her, she too starts believing in the myth, leading to tragic consequences.
Siblings on a visit to their mother (Madhabi Mukherjee) at their ancestral home during Durga Pujo are at the core of Utsab, directed by Rituparno Ghosh. An ensemble cast of fine actors get the emotions just right, making this all-time favourite film a must-watch during the Pujo.
10. Joy Baba Felunath
An oldie but a goodie, my Durga Pujo playlist is never complete without a viewing of Joy Baba Felunath, directed by Satyajit Ray. The theft of a family heirloom and a murder during Durga Pujo in Benaras challenge private investigator par excellenc, Prodosh C. Mitter, aka Feluda to engage his 'mogojastro' to bring a master villain to justice. An evening of fun for the entire family!
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