For any cinema connoisseur, a free entry for Mrinal Sen's highly acclaimed films is not a rosy prospect. The apprehension is that there will be a heavy rush and in a city like Dhaka this can be even more frustrating for a number of reasons. One of them is the uncertainty of reaching anywhere in this city on time. When a retrospective of Sen's films was organised at the main auditorium of the Bangladesh National Museum from May 13-17, the thought that it would be impossible to manage entry there on account of rush quite naturally assailed the mind. But it was a pleasant surprise not to confront any rush whatsoever.
Altogether nine films along with three documentaries on the filmmaker were on show. These were some of the best of his creation - a few of them award-winning ones. So drawing an instinctive mental picture of men and women of all ages jostling for a seat in the auditorium was not out of place. But it was a great relief to see that there was no competition for taking advantage of the free entry. Those handful of audiences who came to watch what is called the best representatives of 'parallel cinema' were richly awarded by the leisurely serene atmosphere, no doubt.
However, by taking a deep breath one cannot help experiencing a gnawing sensation in one's heart. So poor a response to a retrospective of as internationally famed a filmmaker as Mrinal Sen! How can that be? Certainly, the intractable traffic jam for which many do not like to get out of home unless there is an urgent business will not explain it all. The organisers -the Bangladesh National Museum and Chalachitram Film Society -have no reason to be happy for the turnout. The India-Bangladesh Foundation that extended its help to the organisers may as well feel deeply disappointed.
Such disappointments apart, there is perhaps a need for vivisection of the audience psychology. It is not that anything on offer for free is cheap. The run-of-the-mill audience who gather in droves even when a mountebank displays his bizarre wares on roadside making his audacious claim of all-cure alchemy of his medicine or herbs can very well be kept out of the reckoning. What about the older generation and the so-called elite audience who have grown up watching the world's classic films and listening to the music of the golden age?
Sure enough, they have not all vanished from the scene? In Bangladesh, has the new-wave cinema movement fallen flat altogether. Has the tinsel town been completely overtaken by movie mafias who do not even have the slightest idea of what a good film should be? Cinema-lovers had long turned their back to movie houses. And it was expected that such an opportunity would prompt the movie-hungry audience to cram the auditorium gates at the museum. Even the assurance that audiences are gradually returning to good films seems to be proving a myth.
Maybe, the organisers did not go for extensive promotional campaign lest the rush were too heavy to manage. But once the news got circulated that this was an attempt to pay tribute to the famed filmmaker on his 94th birthday, there was no need for more media or other forms of campaign. Still, the organisers tried to pamper the new generation looking for new wave cinema movement.True, people who can afford today have home theatre and many other modern gadgets to watch films of their choice. But do they not really miss the community atmosphere that is found only in cinema halls or auditoriums?
Even such an explanation cannot hide the fact that there has been a marked decline in Bangalee taste -cultural taste that is. The young generation now prone to listening to metallic music and watching films full of violence and explicit sex is likely to be averse to films that centre around the psychological struggle within. The protagonists are torn apart by their helplessness and even middleclass meanness and still the oeuvre does not end on a happy note. The intolerable reality is presented in all its harshness and at some point somewhere the soft corner bleeds, humanity refuses to capitulate before the ruthless fait accompli.
These are no longer the cup of tea for most young men and women. People who spend most of their time in virtual world cannot appreciate emotional crises, let alone respond to those. A kind of escapism in the virtual world away from life as it is has wreaked havoc with human feelings. The danger of modern gadgets is fast becoming apparent now. Even when as serious a film as Ek Din Achanak's screening was in progress, at least two romantic young couples were fiddling with their smart phones at the back row of the auditorium. They chose the cosy corner apparently to get as closer as they could be.
This apparently isolated incident may not be fully representative of society. But there is no denying that the value system has gone for the worse and cultural taste, instead of marking an improvement, has nosedived further. The rat race for money has made people arrogant and they could not care less for human suffering and sorrows. It is because of this hardening of the soul, perhaps today an opportunity of watching iconic films goes a-begging. Before it is too late, educationists and social thinkers should take this matter seriously. A revision of school curricula is perhaps in order to make amend for the missing elements in a healthy mental makeup.