Bengali Film CHAPLIN (2011) - The Back Story

By Shoma A. Chatterji

Editor's Note: Award-winning writer Shoma A. Chatterji provides her in-depth perspective on the Bengali movie "Chaplin", which is in some ways a tribute to the legend. Chaplin is directed by Anindo Banerjee (interview), written by Padmanabha Dasgupta (with contributions by Rudranil Ghosh), and stars Rudranil Ghosh (interview), Mir, child-actor and 5th grade student Soham, Rachita Chauhan née Bhattacharya (interview), Srijit Mukherji (interview) and others.

Chaplin bengali movie: Rudranil, Soham, Rachita
Rudranil, Soham, Rachita in Chaplin - image (C) WBRi

Calcutta, Aug 9, 2011 (Washington Bangla Radio / Databazaar Media Ventures) The immortality of an eternal performer is underscored by the fact that more than a hundred years later, poor but talented young men even today dress up as Chaplin to entertain kids at birthday parties to eke out a hand-to-mouth existence in another part of the world. Another young man who saw a show at his son’s friend’s birthday party and felt inspired to write a story based on this man’s life.  Chaplin is based on this story. It is directed by Anindo Banerjee with Rudraneel Ghosh getting under the skin of the poor man who dresses up as Chaplin. He earns a pittance but has dreams of becoming a star one day. His son dreams of having a big birthday party like the ones his father takes him to.

Rudraneel Ghosh in and as Chaplin
Actor Rudraneel Ghosh in and as Chaplin

Every few weeks, outside a movie theater in any American town in the late 1910s stood the life-size cardboard figure of a small tramp — outfitted in tattered, baggy pants, a cutaway coat and vest, impossibly large, worn-out shoes and a battered derby hat — bearing the inscription I AM HERE TODAY. An advertisement for a Charlie Chaplin film was a promise of happiness, of that precious, almost shocking moment when art delivers what life cannot, when experience and delight become synonymous, and our investments yield the fabulous, unmerited bonanza we never get past expecting.

Charles Chaplin’s tramp grew in depth and complexity over the years to become a powerful icon. Charles Spencer Chaplin the creator was perhaps less celebrated than the screen icon he created. The tramp is both unique and universal, a secular figure who did not speak when he featured in silent films. His language is universal, understood by every man, woman and child across time and space. He is a man every underdog across the world can identify with, love, and carry outside the theater to dream about long after the film is over.

Bangshi Das who doubles up as a very poor version of Chaplin produced by Orion Entertainment, does not come anywhere near the icon he tries to portray. “I had to take great care to be less than perfect because Bangshi, the man who portrays Chaplin, has not had the chance to imitate the original Chaplin. My challenge lay more in portraying Bangshi donning the Chaplin disguise than I, the actor, playing Chaplin,” says Rudraneel.

Collecting a miss-match of clothing from several different comics, Charles Spencer Chaplin toned down the costume to highlight the personality of his new creation. The new character, commonly known as The Little Fellow, or the Tramp, debuted in Chaplin's second Keystone film, the Lehrman-directed Kid Auto Races at Venice (1914). In one masterstroke, Chaplin created the image that would forever be associated with his name. From the earliest appearance, the Tramp would remain fundamentally the same in both appearance and character over the next thirty years.

Raj Kapoor created his individual version of the tramp in Sri 420. He introduced the concept of globalization before the coin was termed to justify the mishmash of the clothes he wore creating the song mera joota hai Japanee yeh patloon Hindustani. The song has outlived the character and the film. The imposed overdose of patriotism in the lyrics and the put-on costume failed to stand the test of time.

Let us pray that this very first Bengali tribute to Charles Spencer Chaplin makes us carry the image and the memory outside the theater long after the film is over.

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