Essence of Durga Puja in Films – Indian Diaspora

Durga Puja, the most popular festival in Eastern India, is celebrated with grandeur and charm every year in the months of October and November. From flavours to fervour, a feast to frolic, the fun and frenzy catch up on all aspects of social life. Films have not been immune to this grandeur. Needless to say, this festival has been a delight for filmmakers – Bengali and Hindi alike. For our international readers, Bengali and Hindi are the two colloquial languages of India. In this article, I would like to present before you 8 spectacular representation of Durga Puja in Films, enacted in these two languages.

Popular Hindu epic Ramayana narrates the story of Lord Rama invoking Goddess Durga to seek blessings during his battle against the demon king Ravana. Devi Durga has since been worshipped around the time of the autumnal equinox. But Durga isn’t just an immortal from the Hindu mythologies. She is considered as the daughter of the soil by Bengali people. We celebrate Her homecoming to her parental place from Mount Kailash (Land of Lord Shiva, Her husband) through five days of festivity.

Pather Panchali (Bengali, 1955)

Based on the novel by Indian eminent writer Bibhutibhusan Bandyopadhyay, Pather Panchali directed by Satyajit Ray; shows the mundane life of a poverty-stricken village family. For our readers, Satyajit Ray is the legendary Indian Film Director who won the Honorary Oscar award in 1992 from another legendary Hollywood actress Audrey Hepburn. Pather Panchali is a symbolic representation of Durga Puja in Films, a unique of its kind.

Perhaps symbolically, Durga is the name of the elder sister of the protagonist of the film. The scene of her running through a “sea of fluffy whiteness” – field of Kaashphool (accharum spontaneum is the scientific name of this flower) is permanently etched in Bengali consciousness as a representation of autumn. Durga Puja celebration in the village gives the duo excuse for merriment before tragedy befalls the family in the form of Durga’s death.

Pather Panchali had won India’s National Film Award for Best Feature Film in 1955. It also received the Best Human Document award at the 1956 Cannes Film Festival.

Antony Firingee (Bengali, 1967)

Antony Firingee, starring the Indian Superstar actor Uttam Kumar; is based on the life of Hensman Anthony, a Bengali language folk poet of Portuguese origin. In the screenplay, religious fanatics attack the Christian man who dares to organize Durga Puja in his home. His house is burnt down by them. His wife, played by Tanuja (a prominent actress of the Indian Film World), is grievously injured in the fire. The puja has, however, come to represent religious unity and harmony with communities coming together to celebrate Durga Puja all across Bengal (eastern part of India) and elsewhere in the country. The story intertwines Durga Puja in Films with the ironic fate of Anthony.

Joy Baba Felunath (Bengali, 1979)

Joy Baba Felunath is a Bengali mystery film by Satyajit Ray, based on the adventures of Bengal’s favourite sleuth, Feluda. The mysterious disappearance of a family heirloom and a murder during Durga Puja against the backdrop of Banaras sets the story in motion. The idol of the goddess holds the key to the mystery that Feluda investigates. The scenes of the film where the child actor Ruku is following the idol maker around asking him about the Durga mythology are moments of unadulterated joy. if you really want to witness Durga Puja in Films, then this movie is perfect for a watch.

Hirer Angti (Bengali, 1992)

The widely acclaimed Indian Film Director, Rituporno Ghosh’s debut film and possibly his least known film was based on a novel by Indian renowned novel writer Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay. As the opening credits roll, the voice of Birendra Krishna Bhadra reciting Mahisasuramardini plays in the background. It is the immortalized dawn-radio program that is synonymous with the day of Mahalaya for Bengali people. The craftsman working on Devi Durga’s unfinished idol, the chandelier in the courtyard and the sound of the dhaak – the sights and sounds bring out the festive mood in the house of the protagonist Ratanlal Babu, played by Indian popular actor Basanta Chowdhury. A story about a joint family, an heirloom and dacoits and imposters, a smart kid and a pet dog, the film is reminiscent of Ray’s works for children.

Uma (Bengali, 2018)

The screenplay is inspired by the incredible story of the people of the town of St. George, Ontario, Canada. They had recreated a false Christmas for a terminally ill seven-year-old boy, Evan Leversage in October 2015. The director, Srijit Mukherjee, sets the story up in Kolkata (East India); where the city comes together to fabricate a fake Durga Puja, to fulfil the dreams of a young Bengali Girl, Uma. Uma, by the way, is another name of Goddess Durga.

A director with a failed career creates an alternative reality spanning across the city; cleverly showcasing all aspects of the carnival. The frenzied crowds hopping pandals, illuminated streets, roadside snacks and rituals across the five days of the festival, right up to idol immersion. Though Durga Puja is also celebrated by people living outside India; “if it’s not in Kolkata, it’s not the real thing” – the director’s imagination establishes this efficiently!

Parineeta (Hindi, 2005)

Adapted from legendary Indian writer Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s novel, Pradeep Sarkar’s Parineeta opens with a scene of Durga puja. It shows us the budding friendship between Lolita (acted by Vidya Balan) and Shekhar (acted by Saif Ali Khan). Her concern for him is established as she picks up the burnt coconut shells while he performs the Dhunuchi dance. This is a traditional dance performed in front of the Durga idol to the throbbing beats of the dhaak. Later in the film, Lolita repeats the act for Girish (acted by Sanjay Dutt); leading to an emotional confrontation between the characters that sets up the second act of the narrative.

Lootera (Hindi, 2013)

This Vikramaditya Motwane directorial opens in a traditional zamindar’s mansion celebrating Durga Puja. Villagers are seen to enjoy a folk-theatre where actors are playing out parts from the epic Ramayana. This form of drama was popular during the British Indian times. While the reference to Durga Puja is not intrinsic to the theme of the story; it does well to signify how festivals were seen as symbols of power and prestige in society those days.

Kahaani (Hindi, 2012)

Probably the most rousing depiction of Durga Puja has been in Kahaani. In the film, the story of a pregnant woman searching for her husband is conducted at the backdrop of the festival. Vidya Balan’s (playing the lead role) character reaches Kolkata; at the time when pandals for housing the festival were being put up. Master storyteller Sujoy Ghosh punctuates the thriller with music blaring from the loudspeakers; playing off the dhaak and the traditional sounds of chanting of hymns. Eventually, the climax happens on the day of Vijaya Dashami; as Maa Durga is being taken away for immersion in the River Ganges. While married women in red-bordered white sarees celebrate by playing with vermillion, there is a sense of beauty amidst all the chaos. This is perhaps one of the best amalgamations of Durga puja in Films.

Be it the sensitive iconography of Bengali women to depict Durga in all her glory in Ritwik Ghatak’s Titas Ekti Nadir Naam or the kitschy depiction of the festival in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Devdas; Maa Durga has inspired generations of filmmakers. Durga Puja has been a recurring theme in movies and it will continue to prevail on our screens.

Author

Arko

An honest SCORPIO who is crazy about movies, and overly-passionate about travel.
Believes in immortalizing the moment, either by way of photograph or literal documentation of the journey.

3 thoughts on “Essence of Durga Puja in Films – Indian Diaspora

  • October 21, 2020 at 1:20 pm
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    I am a person who watches ‘Joy Baba Felunath’ every year just before the Durga Pujo. It is a beautiful article where you give people like me a number of choices to resort to just before the Pujo. Movies definitely are a way of virtually living the situation. This is a good list indeed. HAppy Pujo

    Reply
  • October 22, 2020 at 1:10 am
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    I do not know this topic of Hindi and Bengali films, but I read this article with interest, which is related to the shooting of films during the Durga Puja festival.
    Nina

    Reply
  • October 22, 2020 at 5:10 am
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    I haven’t seen any of these movies, and I will try to look for them here.
    The recent movie I watched is called Lunch Box.

    Reply

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