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Monday, June 01, 2020

The final Cut

Dulal Dutta,who edited all the films of Satyajit Ray from Pather Panchali to Agantuk,rarely made headlines. He let his work speak for him.

Written by Shoma A. Chatterji | Mumbai | Published: September 17, 2010 12:51:31 pm

Dulal Dutta,who edited all the films of Satyajit Ray from Pather Panchali to Agantuk,rarely made headlines. He let his work speak for him.

Dulal Dutta,who also went on to edit Sandip Ray’s Uttaran,Target and Goopy Bagha Phire Elo,passed away on August 17 in Kolkata after a cerebral haemorrhage. He was 85. Dulal Dutta,a bachelor,lived alone in dire financial straits because he was not interested in money initially and working with Ray was hardly financially fruitful. He spoke little and during his heyday,did not hesitate to work round-the-clock if needed. “A towering tree captures attention,but those beneath its shade go unnoticed.This analogy bears a resemblance to Dulal Dutta,the man who edited every film Satyajit Ray ever made,” wrote documentary filmmaker Partha Mukherjee. “He kept a low-profile away from the media,sad about his poor state in the last phase of his life. He rarely made headlines and let his editing speak for him. Film editing is a skilled art. It consists of the selection and integration of a sequence of shots taken from thousands of feet of film to establish a structure,tempo,mood,or style. Dulal Dutta had honed this art to perfection.”

Like most editors of his time and even now,Dulalda rarely made headlines,letting his work speak for him. Dutta lived in a house in a nondescript bylane of Kolkata which,he once recalled in an interview,an actress-singer-producer helped him build by giving away the doors and windows built for the sets of her films. “She chided me for living in a bad house with broken doors. She was an extremely generous person who genuinely felt for her team,” said Dulalda. Aspiring filmmakers and established directors sought his advice.

Born in 1925 in Chandannagar,a small town away from Kolkata which was once under French occupation,Dulalda came to the city around the beginning of World War II and worked as a compounder in a charitable dispensary at Alipur. He saw the first film of his life while living in Behala. The film was one from the Hunterwalli series with Nadia in the title-role. “I was fascinated with the film and the medium and suddenly decided to run away to Bombay with Rs 30,the salary I drew for the previous month.” He spent a few nights sleeping on the platform of a local train station and ate roasted peanuts from the nine rupees that remained after buying the train ticket.

Desperate for work,he went to the local Bengal Club and met Kanailal Mitra who worked as a make-up man in films. “Kanaida introduced me to filmmaker Surendra Desai,who had made films like Paigham and knew a little Bangla. He took me to Ranjit Movietone where I worked as clapper-boy for some time. One day,Desai took me to the editing room where some editing was going on. I waited outside. I could hear the sounds floating out of the room but could not see the visuals. He then called me in,introduced me to the editing crew and told them that I would observe them at work till they finished the editing of the film,” Dulalda said. Back in Kolkata,editor Ardhendu Chatterjee introduced him to legendary editor Ramesh Joshi who worked with Ritwik Ghatak. He learnt from scratch — dusting the tables in the editing room,cleaning the scissors to be used for cutting the film,cleaning the splicing tools and so on. Finally,he began to assist Chatterjee for Kanan Devi’s Mejdidi (1950) based on a Sarat Chandra novel and made by Devi’s production house. But his independent debut was with Satyen Bose’s Paribartan (1949) followed by Borjatri (1951) a rip-roaring comedy also directed by Bose. Then came Debatra(1955),Asha (1956) and Andhare Alo(1957),all produced by Devi. He edited both visuals and sound for Tarun Majumdar’s Balika Bodhu (1967) and Ray’s Chiriakhana(1967).

While working for Borjatri,he met the art director Bansi Chandragupta who took him to Ray’s Lake Temple Road apartment and introduced him to the filmmaker. Ray was totally unknown then. All Dulalda knew was that he was going to make a new film based on a Bibhuti Bhushan Bandopadhyay classic called Pather Panchali and was looking for an editor. Dulalda did not know the name of this man. But when the tall and dark gentleman with a bass voice asked him whether he would be willing to edit his new film to be shot on location and that there was very little money,Dulalda agreed at once. “When we were clambering down the stairs,I asked Bansi what the man’s name was. Bansi said his name was Satyajit Ray.” The meeting marked a new history in the director-editor relationship that began with the director’s first film and ended with his last.

Though Dulalda would insist that he was speechless and stunned with the beauty of the cinematography in Pather Panchali where Durga and Apu are sprinting through the field of kaash flowers to see the onrushing train in the distance,the story goes that much of the credit for the scene goes to Dutta. Ray had shot a lesser number of frames than was required for the sequence and Dutta came to his rescue. He edited the frames in a way that created the illusion of motion. The scene is now identified as one of the most classic scenes in the history of Indian cinema akin to the Odessa Steps sequence in Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin(1925).

“I learnt a lot from his work,” says film editor Shuvro Ray. He was known for his editing rhythms and pace,jump-cuts and cut-points. The memory-game scene in Jana Aranya,the scene where Sharmila tears off the sheets that carry Uttam Kumar’s interview in Nayak cut to a long shot of the train’s corridor seen through the pantry entrance as Uttam Kumar slowly walks out of his coupe dragging his suitcase,are contemporary and imaginative and add not only to the meaning of the scene but also to its aesthetics in one smooth flow.

Dulalda was devastated when a critic wrote very poorly about his editing in Aparajito. “I was in tears. I went with the cutting to Manik Babu’s (as Ray was fondly called) house. He went on doing what he was doing and I felt he had not noticed me. It made me very nervous. Then Madan,the servant,stepped in with a cup of tea. He asked Madan to bring another cup. Then he turned around and told me,‘Do they even understand your style of editing? And you are crying for the brilliant work you have done?’ Manik Babu and I had perfect bonding. I would often suggest alternatives and,after watching the alternatives he would often say,‘This is exactly what I had conceived.’ Ironically,Dulalda’s editing of Aparajito is probably among his best. He would sometimes splice the shots differently and keep these alternatives ready for Ray to take a look at,so focussed was he in his work. “Manikda’s personality,his love for cinema and immense appetite for knowledge conquered my heart. I just knew that I was working with the right man,” he said.

Dulalda is said to have refused a prized contract with Merchant-Ivory Productions because it would take him away from Ray’s work. But looking back,this turned out to be an unwise decision. Financial reward remained an elusive dream. He found it difficult even to make both ends meet. “Pather Panchali is ranked as among the best films ever made in the history of world cinema. It brought recognition and rewards not only to Manik Babu but to many others of the team involved in making it. I remained out of that circle till the end. Not working with other banners was not exactly a practical professional move. But looking back,I feel I have always followed my heart,and creative satisfaction ruled over every other concern,” he said sadly,his voice almost choked with unshed tears.

In Some Aspects Of My Craft(1966),Ray wrote about the alternative assemblages Dulalda would put together for him. “These offer endless variations of emphasis and unlimited scope for pointing up shades of feeling. It is not unusual for an important dialogue scene to be cut in half in a dozen different ways before a final satisfactory form is achieved,” wrote Ray. Film editing is the ‘invisible’ art behind some of the greatest motion picture sequences of all time. Sadly,the creator of these sequences — the editor,remains as invisible in death as he has been in life. Dulal Dutta is no exception.

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