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Third Cinema practices in Bengal

  • Published at 08:30 pm July 28th, 2019
Sangitha Sen
Sanghita Sen takes a master class on Third Cinema at Pathshala South Asian Media Institute on Saturday | Courtesy

Third Cinema, in contrast to the art house cinema, foregrounded politics, decentralizing aesthetics or entertainment as the principal concern of film-making. Many of these filmmakers actively participated in politics, and they used films as a weapon to encourage critical thinking, rather than cheer-leading for a particular propaganda

Indian film researcher and academic Sanghita Sen conducted a masterclass on Third Cinema at Pathshala South Asian Media Institute this Saturday evening. Currently a tutor, and researcher at the Department of Film Studies at the University of St Andrews, Scotland, the scholar compared the Third Cinema practices with films of Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen, and Ritwik Ghatak.

Third Cinema, a film-making practice that emerged from the Third World, is a cinematic movement in developing countries in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. This film form came as an alternative to Hollywood’s entertainment-oriented First Cinema, and European’s art-house Second Cinema. Third Cinema focuses on socio-economic, and political issues such as poverty, hunger, national identity, cultural identity, structural oppression, revolution, colonialism, class, and so on. The term was coined by Argentine film-makers Fernando Solanas and Octavio Getino in their 1969 manifesto Toward a Third Cinema. The duo produced The Hour of the Furnaces (1968), which would later become one of the best-known Third Cinema documentary films of the 1960s.

Heavily influenced by German dramatist Bertolt Brecht, the British social documentary-maker John Grierson, and post-World War II Italian Neorealism, these “anti-auteurist” films were more collective in nature. They welcomed the inputs of the whole cast, and crew. Mrinal Sen even went as far as crediting himself as the “organizer,” instead of “director” in one of his films in the 1970s

According to Sanghita, Ray, although was more of an auteur in his practice, and reception,  demonstrated a brief span on "oppositional practice" in his early 1970s films vis-a-vis the Calcutta Trilogy . The female characters in his films were not as strong as the characters in the films of his other two contemporaries, and he wasn’t as pronounced in expressing a strong ideological position as most of the Third Cinema filmmakers. But his Calcutta trilogy- Pratidwandi (The Adversary, 1970), Seemabaddha (Company Limited, 1971), and Jana Aranya (The Middleman, 1976) bore Brechtian characteristics. From that era onwards, Ray’s films occasionally incorporated political contents. For example,  Hirok Rajar Deshe (1980), Ganashatru (1989), even the glamorous Nayak (1966) had a subtle political responsiveness and undertone that reflected the signs of the time.  

Third Cinema, in contrast to the art house cinema, foregrounded politics, decentralizing aesthetics or entertainment as the principal concern of film-making. Many of these filmmakers actively participated in politics, and they used films as a weapon to encourage critical thinking, rather than cheer-leading for a particular propaganda. 

The emergence of this film form coincided with the Naxalite movement in West Bengal in the late 60s. The Calcutta Trilogy of Mrinal Sen, which includes Interview (1971), Calcutta 71 (1972), and Podatik (1973) reflects our political and cultural baggage, standing out from the western influences in film-making. Ritwik Ghatak’s Jukti, Tokko Ar Goppo, Nagorik, and My Lenin also came up in the discussion as films belonging to this paradigm. 

Sanghita shared some of her conversations with Mrinal Sen.

She told Dhaka Tribune Showtime: “Third Cinema film-makers shared a collaborative spirit, and were in touch with one other even before the existence of internet.”

Mrinal Sen used stills, documentary footage, and newspaper clips  from a number of resources. In one of his films  in the trilogy, he used stills from The Hour of the Furnaces. He frequently met other Third Cinema filmmakers at top film festivals, where such exchanges took place. Paris was a common meeting ground for them, as many of these filmmakers lived there in exile. They not only made films, but also wrote manifestos, and commentaries on films. 

Third Cinema movement continues to influence the filmmakers of the twenty first century. Political turmoil still incites oppositional practice through privately funded cinema.