TUCKED AWAY from the traffic of Central Avenue, the arterial road of the city, Bharat Bhavan is prototypical ode to old Kolkata.
It’s gothic edifice rises tall over everything else around. An unpolished brass plate adorns its entrance — Calcutta Film Society.
Any queries about the nameplate is faced with stone-faced resilience by the gatekeeper. “Yaha koi film studio nahi hai (There is no film studio here),” he said.
Yet, Bharat Bhavan is not just another old crumbling mansion in Kolkata, it is home to one of oldest film clubs in the country, and definitely one of the most illustrious in the subcontinent — Calcutta Film Society was founded by Satyajit Ray and Chidananda Dasgupta in 1947.
However, the film club is on the verge of closing, as it faces eviction from its current address on Chittaranjan Avenue for defaulting on rent. With just 300 members, each paying an annual fee of Rs 100, Calcutta Film Society is strapped for funds.
“The owners of the building, Life Insurance Corporation of India (LIC), had rented out the room to us. We paid Rs 1,500 as rent but now they have hiked it to Rs 4,500. We don’t have the money to pay that kind of rent,” said Pradipta Sen, working president of the society.
“It was one of the most celebrated film societies in the country. It contributed a great deal in developing some sort of film culture in our country,” said actor-director Aparna Sen, whose father Chidananda Dasgupta was one of the founder members of the society.
In 1947, when the society was launched, Satyajit Ray was a young aspiring filmmaker, who supplied books and film magazines to the members. Dasgupta, who was later to become one of the most respected film critics in the country, offered a room in his home for meetings.
Before the society was founded, there was only one film club — the Mumbai Film Society. It was, however, disbanded before the Calcutta Film Society was launched. “This means the Calcutta Film Society is the oldest running film club in the country and we need to do all we can to preserve it,” said filmmaker Goutam Ghose.
In 2011, Ghose, along with Aparna Sen and directors Sandip Ray and Srijit Mukherji, tried to revive the fortunes of the Calcutta Film Society. “The fact that the society provided a common platform for film lovers to share their views was integral in shaping the film culture in the country. Today, people have ready access to films thanks to the Internet or DVDs, but we need to watch films together if we want to foster a serious film culture… We felt that we needed to do something about it,” said Ghose. Now, film shows are held every Saturday at the society, some of which are attended by the luminaries of the Bengali film industry. But the society has always been plagued by funding problems.
“The LIC has issued a showcause notice to us because we couldn’t pay the enhanced rent. But we had a meeting with them and explained the problem. It all depends on the LIC now, if they disagree to make an exception for us, we will have to shut down,” said Pradipta Sen.