Private Project

Subrata Mitra

In “The River” of Jean Renoir, college-going young Subrata Mitra was an observer.
No cinematographer has ever started his career as Subrata did and suddenly became a Director of Photography overnight at the age of twenty-one without going to a film school or assisting a cameraman or even touching a movie camera before --- and that too a film which was later considered by many to be one of the best films of all times, the “Pather Panchali”! With the available technology and resource of those days, he has done marvelous experiments like bounce lighting and box lighting. He was the first man in India to shoot a feature film with an Ariflex….Aparajito.This documentary portrays in 50 minutes a different untold story on Subrata Mitra through the lens
Tribute to the master of simplicity
A documentary on a cinematographer is a rare tribute. Arindam Saha Sardar’s film adds to the archive of the biographical documentary in India.
Subrata Mitra is an hour-long documentary made by Arindam Saha Sardar. It is a tribute to one of the greatest cinematographers Indian cinema has produced. His life was dedicated to technical innovations with lighting, camera and cinema with an aim to enrich its aesthetics and not to pursue personal gain. The film was screened at the closing ceremony of a photographic exhibition on Mitra’s works by Chalachitra Shotoborsho Bhavan. It offered a glimpse into creations of Mitra frozen with a still camera from films he cinematographed for Satyajit Ray, followed by Merchant-Ivory, Basu Bhattacharya and Romesh Sharma. There were brilliant working stills and stills from their films. Pather Panchali, Aparajito, Apur Sansar, Jalsaghar, Kanchenjungha, Debi, Nayak, etc. captured a wide sweep of his films.
Sardar’s film is a matter-of-fact, historical account of Mitra’s evolution from small boy born in a middle-class Bengali family to his introduction to an actual shooting as an observer when Renoir came to India to shoot The River. The film moves back and forth between talking heads. Veteran and talented technicians who worked closely with him and knew him well like filmmaker Goutam Ghose, cinematographer Purnendu Bose, editor Dulal Dutta and cinematographer Ramananda Sengupta talked about this great genius. Holding the film together is a conversation between Adinath Das, erstwhile Dean and academic head, SRFTI, Kolkata and cinematographer Soumendu Roy who worked with Ray. The footage is intercut with clips from films Mitra cinematographed, working stills with Ray, Karuna Banerjee, illustrations of his experiments with light to reduce shadows for Aparajito and Charulata to bring about realistic yet aesthetic effects. Yet, the National Award bypassed him. He finally got it for his work in New Delhi Times (1985) but it was long overdue.
The film mentions Mitra’s commitment to the sitar he learned as a young man and was asked to play both on screen and off it by Jean Renoir for and in The River. During the fag end of his life, Mitra took on a one-man crusade against the very bad projection qualities in the projection rooms of Kolkata’s theatres. His said that no matter how hard and imaginative a cinematographer’s work for a film is, and how brilliant the outcome might be, bad projection can kill good cinematography and subsequently, the film itself. The crusade died a silent death with his passing away. Adinath Das says that he found Mitra sitting on the steps of Nandan one day with his head buried in his hands expressing the utter despair he felt at the terrible projection qualities in the theatres at Nandan. The film shows how Mitra began to paint towards the end of his life focussing on some of his art works he did not create for public display but was persuaded by friends to do. Soumendu Roy mourns the delay in recognizing the contribution of Mitra to Indian cinematography. But he got the Eastman Kodak Lifetime Achievement Award for Excellence in Cinematography in 1992.
Goutam Ghosh sheds light on the perfectionist. When Ghosh was chairperson of SRFTII, Mitra was a member of the advisory board, looking after the entire cinematography department and had structured the syllabus for cinematography. “He got involved with the canteen. I found him monitoring each and every section weighing the foodstuff bought from the market, judging the quality of the stuff, how it was being cooked, whether it was being served right and so on. This gave me an idea about his deep sense of involvement in whatever he took up – be it the Institute’s canteen, or playing the sitar, or painting or cinematography. His sense of perfection and commitment remained the same in every endeavour.” Adinath Das recounts how Mitra stunned the technical crew of the Hindi film Professor that had gone to Darjeeling when Ray was shooting Kanchenjungha. Dwarka Divecha, D.O.P. of Professor, was amazed that Mitra continued to shoot the film in inclement visual conditions because of the clouds and the mist in Darjeeling while he was left to cool his heels at the hotel unable to take a single shot. Mitra explained that the inclement visual conditions were exactly what he wanted for his film!
Subrata Mitra is an unbiased, honest and straightforward tribute to a cinematic genius the world failed to recognise during his lifetime. The painstaking research is evident in every reel, shot at a staggering ratio of 1:10 on a shoe-string budget of Rs.50,000 Sardar gathered from his personal resources. The film needs to be marketed and screened widely across the world for film buffs, critics, filmmakers and students of cinema. A documentary on a cinematographer is a rare tribute. Sardar’s film will add to the archive of the biographical documentary in India.

  • Arindam Saha Sardar
  • Arindam Saha Sardar
  • Arindam Saha Sardar
  • Project Type:
  • Runtime:
    51 minutes 48 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    June 10, 2015
  • Production Budget:
    3,022 USD
  • Country of Origin:
  • Language:
  • Shooting Format:
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
    Black & White and Color
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
Director Biography - Arindam Saha Sardar

the director
born in calcutta on 7th may 1981
started making documentary in 2006
documentary film
2006 singur darpan
2007 soumendu ray
2007 tarpan
2010 subrata mitra
2012 bansi chandragupta
2013 nadir naam debjani

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