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VOLUME - 1     NO.  1
January  2013

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The making of the art documentary

"The City of Enigmas"

A Documentary is not just a recording of places and people. It is an audiovisual recording from a definite angle, with a purpose that makes a statement through the cine media.
The mode of presentation of the recording makes a huge difference in the quality of the documentary and the fulfillment of the purpose for which it is created.
With these aspects of movie making I had planned to produce "The City of Enigmas", an art documentary on Kolkata.
Many documentaries have been made on Kolkata, but this one was planned to make a presentation in the way I view Kolkata.
For me, Kolkata is a city of people who display the spirit of a remarkable will to live and reach out beyond the mundane inspite of the multiple difficulties that may pressurize them.
This spirit to search for the extraordinary through most ordinary everyday situations, is widespread in this mega metropolis and this makes Kolkata or Clacutta different from other cities in a very special aspect.
This is the message I wanted to convey in this documentary movie, "The City of Enigmas". We have noted that in this city, many defy poverty and social boundaries with the will to study and with the irrepressible desire to express through visual and performing arts.
This creative attitude found in different stages of the social structure of this mega metropolis has created a vibrant cultural scenario that allows this city a special place in the cultural history of mankind.
The script of the documentary I wrote in a village in the hills far away from Kolkata with all its hustle and bustle.
The script was recorded in Pathankot. I relied on my memories of the city and on my knowledge of the situation there for the matter of the script.
Mr. Arup Chandra went to Kolkata and the shooting of the movie was made at proper and real location. Our team in Kolkata, included Mr. Pratap Kumar Mondal, Mr. Suhas Chandra Saha, Mr. Utpal Chandra, Mr. Pranab Paul, Mr. Mantu Pandit and Mr. Bapi.
There was not a single "made up" set. There was no make up, no actors or "got up" situation in the movie. I just wanted the team to record natural situation and atmosphere that would later fit in with the script.
Often reality presented many interesting and vital subjects for the movie in sudden and unforeseen manner, so the team had to capture the moment without any chance of a second shot.
When you are not instructing people to dramatize the sequences, you have to find and project the drama in real life and Kolkata is a place that offers "bigger than life" situations in most unexpected ways.
Different aspects of life in Kolkata, that is linked with the spirit of expression in most ordinary situations have been documented from interesting angles.
Every documentary has its limitations, and the producers have to be conscious of those limitations. I understood that within the perimeter of these limitations, I would have to make my message reach the audience.
The message of the indefatigable spirit of the common people of this mega metropolis is evident from the first shot, that focuses on footpath child studying. It may seem incredible to many more financially fortunate people to see the ragpicker boy at his studies.
Such shots could not be recreated evidently and are valuable records of people in very difficult situation trying to pull themselves up in life inspite of their daily struggle with abject poverty.
In the city of Kolkata art, music, literature and performing arts are not for the elite class or the socially affluent class only.
The appeal for culture is universal and this appeal spreads much deeper in society despite of economic disparity. The struggle for existence has a different dimension in this city where common people defy money based class distinctions openly.
I wrote the lyrics for the musical part of the documentary myself and this was in Bengali to give a true flavour to the presentation.
A group of musicians with base guitars and cassio accompanied by a vocal singer provided the music for the background sound track.
Kolkata is a city where aspirations and dreams triumph not only over social failures but also over ostentatious material success. It is a city where cultural consciousness is respected from the grassroots level and this feature has become a part of its tradition.
The happy go lucky attitude of the common people, whose daily gamble with fate has triumphed vividly over the calculated money oriented attitude of the weathier class.
We showed that the human factor is much more important than the accumulation of monetary wealth in this enigmatic city of controversies.
I have included some basic features of this city that have played important roles since the city was founded in late seventeenth century.
The river Ganga had been a primary factor in the growth and development of this city. More over it has been providing the breath of fresh air the city and needs for more than three hundred years.
The navigable river, inspite of all the pollutions and problems, acts as the lungs of the city and also is a major lifeline for communting as well as for trade and commerce.
Kumartulli, the area where artists working in clay create art works and reside is a very old part of the city and has been given due importance in the film.
The famous flower market are awash with colours and the huge markets for common people are also shown in this movie.
Book production has been extremely important in this city ever since printing industry started flourishing in eighteenth century.
Nearly all the forms of printing, form handmade wooden blocks to highly sophisticated modern printing process are all found in working condition in this city. Different phases of book industry, including printing and binding have been shown here.
The book market is an important aspect of the educational and cultural world of Calcutta. People have a passion for books and all sorts of books in many languages are available here to fulfil that passion.
Fish market, cater to Bengalis’ love for this food and an immense variety of fish are sold in this busy market. The markets had to be given a special place when making this movie, as these markets display the way of life in a very busy bustling manner.
Special care had to be taken about the time of the day to get the right light effect. All the shots were arranged in relation to the storyboards that were made according to the script.
The making of the pictorial storyboards had to be done with special care and I explained the technical aspects clearly to my team.
The documentary was a painstaking job and the fact that life changes its style of living in every decade in modern cities in many aspects makes documentation more important. Even so, the basic character of this metropolis have remained more or less the same under the layer of more visible changes. This character has developed with the spread of education and socio-political consciousness in Bengal.
This documentary is not for tourism purpose, as tourists from outside are likely to miss out many of the features focused on here.
It is a true documentation of contemporary life, without any artificial setup and this feature makes this documentary much more real and authentic than any so called "City of Joy" movie shot by foreigners, with made up sets. The real skill for movie making with a true to life view point is most important when depicting the mood of civilization.
No amount of monetary investment can make up for this deficiency. I firmly say that many box office hits are absolute failures as movies.
I never measure a work of art interms of its sale value. Only people without the ability to understand art do that.
The movie "The City of Enigmas" was screened in its primary stage at Kolkata Press Club on ... and the screening was attended by many members of the press and also by viewers.
It was well appreciated and has encouraged us to give the movie a final stage that we will release at our Book Cafe at "Barnaparichaya" at College street and will be available in e-book form.
by Prabal Pramanik

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