January 17, 2016

Bimal Roy Retrospective At Bhartiya Vidya Bhavan

It’s been a busy winter for film retrospectives of Indian Film Directors of yore.

Not long after Liberty screened a week long retrospective of Shyam Benegal’s classics in December 2015, Bhartiya Vidya Bhavan followed up with a retrospective of Bimal Roy’s films that ran between Jan 11-16, 2016.

Organised by Bimal Roy MemorialCommittee (BRMC) in collaboration with Cine Society, the retrospective was held to commemorate the 50th death anniversary of the legendary filmmaker.

Ashutosh Gowarikar and Shabana Azmi inaugurated the retrospective. It ended yesterday with the screening of Bandini (1963), finding little or next to nothing coverage in the mainstream press or online!

Bhartiya Vidya Bhavan’s Auditorium or Bhavan’s Auditorium as it is commonly known is a relative unknown as a hub of cultural events compared to other, better known, venues in this part of Bombay.

The auditorium is within walking distance from Wilson College located across the road from Chowpatty beach toward the Walkeshwar end.

Before the television boom sidelined the primacy of Doordarshan (DD) as the television channel of choice (or compulsion as many would remember it) that stretched well into the 1980s, DD would serve up classics via film retrospectives of its own from time to time.

It was a time before the advent of CDs and when VCRs were not easily affordable to most.

So the venue was your drawing room, and screen space, a small TV occupying a pride of place in the scheme of the room where visitors were entertained.

The scale of a large screen and the community of film goers seated around you were missing, but the import of films that straddled the parallel cinema movement struck a chord among film lovers and those who were on the way to joining them in their love for films.

To the generation from before, the screenings on DD brought nostalgia, renewing sentiments of their origins in the hinterland. To the new generation, the films introduced them to the older generation and the mores from where they came from, and as a consequence, to an India somewhat removed from the realities of drawing rooms in towns evolving toward a homogeneity we see now.  

That’s how I first saw Bimal Roy’s Do Bigha Zameen in addition to Ritwik Ghatak’s oeuvre, Ray’s classics and a host of others.

The Bimal Roy Retrospective opened early this week with Do Bigha Zameen, his signature film.

While we hoped to watch them this week, work and other commitments meant we did not find our way to the venue until the fag end of the retrospective, the day they were screening his Parakh.


We returned from Chowpatty beach as the Sun began to dip and the first lights came on across the street from the beach in Girgaon.

Traffic streamed both ways on the sea-facing road named after Netaji Subash Chandra Bose – toward Walkeshwar on my left and SOBO on the right. The temperature had dropped by a notch. Policemen gathered on the pavement watching traffic halt on signal turning red.

Café Ideal lay directly across the road while Sukh Sagar Veg Restaurant lay at a diagonal, along the road (Sardar Vallabbhai Patel Road) that branches off the sea facing road we had just crossed, and runs through Khetwadi, Dongri and beyond, ending on P.D. Mello Road that runs along Mumbai Port Trust docks. Beyond that is the sea, again.

With the Eastern Freeway operational, P.D. Mello road has shed its quiet for traffic streaming along the freeway, a route of choice for commuters travelling to the faraway suburbs of Vikhroli, Kanjur Marg, Bhandup and Mulund, and beyond.


I was keen on a bite at Sukh Sagar so we crossed the road and found ourselves a seat in the restaurant.

After tucking in a spread of Bombay Pav Bhaji, Vegetable Grilled Sandwich and Nescafe (they don’t serve tea) we stepped out and took the turn that led us down Hughes Road, past the Mercedes Benz showroom. Traffic was light on Hughes Road.

Soon, streamers of glowing light bulbs descending from a building at the corner of K.M. Munshi and Pandit Ramabai Roads announced Bhavan’s Auditorium. The decorations were part of Bimal Roy Retrospective underway at the venue.

A standee placed outside and visible to everyone on the street listed the films scheduled for the duration of the retrospective. Each screening got underway at half past six in the evening.

Up a short flight of steps led past a table at the entrance stacked with copies of Bimal Roy’s biography.

We had landed at the venue half hour after Parakh commenced so we meandered in the hallway looking at displays put up, including those supporting the event, Zee Classic and CMC among others.

Each day, the poster of the film scheduled for screening is put up by the entrance to the auditorium.

On a stand-up board, a sketch of Bimal Roy was accompanied by signatures of Bollywood Dignitaries acknowledging their presence at the retrospective.

“Asha Parekh was present at the start of today’s screening,” a man manning a temporary stall of DVDs of Bimal Roy films set up on a table told us as we lingered by the sketch. Sure enough she had signed in her presence at the bottom.

Apparently, each day of the retrospective was graced by Bollywood figures associated with Bimal Roy. 

I find the designs of posters of yesterday year films charming. They’re uncluttered, expressive without being angst ridden, and project an innocence of a time long past.

Ranged on the table for sale were a mix of films he produced and directed and those he produced.

Of the films he directed, the following were on display – Do Bigha Zamin (1953), Devdas (1955), Sujata (1959), Parakh (1960), and Prem Patra (1962), each priced at 120/-.

Of the films he produced but were directed by others, the following were on display –  Apradhi Kaun? (1957), Parivar (1956), Madhumati (1958), Kabuliwala (1961), Usne Kaha Tha (1960), priced 120/- each.

Also on sale were collections of these titles at different price points.

To those who came of age in the era of his films, the titles on sale would guarantee a trip down the memory lane, reminding of events in their own lives where woven with these films.

We stepped into the hall. The screen flickered with a scene from Parakh. Much of the hall was full and where seats were vacant, toward the back, viewers were boxed tight at the entrance to the rows and unwilling to make space to let latecomers pass.

A cursory look at the audience seemed to suggest that most of them belonged to the generation familiar with the mores of the time Bimal Roy’s films were set in, or at the very least they likely grew up seeing his films.

We stepped out of the screening and made for the DVDs, purchasing Parivar and Benazir.

Benazir because K felt a love story set in Lucknow would make for interesting viewing.  

And, Parivar because I felt it’d be interesting to see how a story of a joint family of five brothers and their families “living and sharing each others’ joys and sorrows” would pan out after “an argument breaks out over a glass of milk, and the entire family is thrown into chaos, and the only resolution seems to be nothing but dividing the entire property amongst the brothers and their respective families.”    

We stepped out into the night, passing a compound home to a cottage standing all by itself, a rare but welcome sight in a city overrun by buildings.

Up ahead we stepped into Westside where K made a quick purchase before we set off toward Gamdevi, settling for dinner at By The Way: The Parsi Kitchen.

That was an experience in itself, a story for another time.

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