In 1897, films were shown for the first time in Calcutta. In 1898, the multinational Warwick Trading Co. commissioned ‘Panorama of Calcutta’ newsreel. Couple of years later, Hiralal Sen from north Calcutta started making films at the Classic Theatres. In 1901, Hiralal Sen set up Royal Bioscope, produced scenes and dance sequences from popular Bengali plays. At Calcutta’s Star Theatre, Amritlal Bose screened a package of ‘actualities’ and ‘fakes’ along with plays and variety shows. Back in those days bioscope was added as extra attraction to popular theatres. In 1917, Raja Harishchandra, the first feature film in India, was made by Dadasaheb Phalke. Two years later, in 1919, the first Bengali movie “Billwamangal” was made. This was a silent movie. Several works of popular Bengali novelist Bankim Chandra Chatterjee were adapted into films, such as, Durgeshnandini, Krishnakanter Will etc. The first popular star in Bengali film was probably Pramathesh Barua, who was a director himself too. Debaki Bose, Pramathesh Barua contributed quite a lot to Indian cinema. Debaki Bose directed Chandidas in 1932; this film was noted for it’s breakthrough in sound recording. Sound recordist Mukul Bose found out a solution to the problem of spacing out dialogue and frequency modulation.
Directed by Premankur Atarthi and produced by New Theatres, the first Bengali talkie Dena Paona was released in 1931; Renowned musician Rai Chand Boral composed music for this movie. In 1935, P.C. Barua directed and acted in Saratchandra Chatterjee’s popular novel Devdas and this film became a phenomenon in the industry. Bimal Roy directed the Hindi version of the same in 1955. Kanan Devi was the first star actress in the domain of Bengali cinema. The movie Rajat Jayanti, a popular Bengali comedy was probably the first of its kind. This film was directed by P.C. Barua starring himself and Pahari Sanyal. Another historical film was ‘Biyallis(42)’ based on the Quit India movement of 1942. The film was banned for political reason.
Bikash Roy’s performance in this movie was memorable. Bengali cinema was glorified with the presence of a group of talented actors such as Chhabi Biswas, Bikash Roy, Pahari Sanyal, Basanta Choudhury. And, there never was any shortage of good stories, as Bengali literature in the 21st century was rich with elements all the time. This was accompanied by the musical talents of Bengal. Songs from Bengali films became extremely popular and was used to get aired in radio programs. Bengal film industry was blossomed with successful film directors; a few to mention is Devaki Basu, Nitin Basu, Ajay Kar, Rajen Tarafdar, Bimal Roy, Tapan Sinha, Saroj Dey, Tarun Mazumder – all of whom at times produced fine movies. Some of them moved to Mumbai(Bombay) and made remarkable contribution to Hindi films.
The real stardom in Bengali films started when films starring Uttamkumar and Suchitra Sen gained extreme popularity. This romantic combination brought golden age of commercial Bengali cinema and the duo acted in a series of box office successes like, Sare Chuattor, Saptapadi, Sapmochan, Harano Sur, Pathe Holo Deri etc. Uttamkumar acted with many other actresses such as Supriya, Sabitri, Madhabi, Aparna and others. Suchitra Sen received the best actress award in Moscow Film Festival for her role in Saat Paake Badhaco-starring Saumitra Chatterjee.
There was a group of directors in parallel cinema (art film) who kept on experimenting with this medium of art. The biggest event in Indian cinema was the release of Pather Panchali in 1955, a film directed by Satyajit Ray with his own script based on a novel of Bibhutibhusan Banerjee. This film connected Indian film to the rest of the world. The movie was acclaimed throughout the world, specially in the Western world as a symbol of humanity. Ray made a series of three movies starting with Pather Panchali based on the complete novel of Banerjee, the other two being - Aparajito and Apur Sansar. The three movies are together well known as Apu-Trilogy. Apart from Ray, Mrinal Sen, Ritwik Ghatak directed internationally acclaimed films followed by a group consisting of Budhhadeb Dasgupta, Gautam Ghosh, Utpalendu Chakrabarti, Aparna Sen, Rituparno Ghosh etc.
An introduction to Bengali cinema can not be completed without mentioning one of it’s finest actor, Soumitra Chatterjee. His place in the mind of Bengali movie lovers is established by his performance in the role of Apu and Felu-da in Ray’s movies. Also, Bengali cinema was enriched by the presence of actresses such as, Arundhuti Devi, Supriya Choudhury, Sabitri Chatterjee, Madhabi Mukherjee, Sharmila Thakur, Aparna Sen, Debasree Roy; and, in the recent years – Rituparna Sengupta, Indrani Halder.
Ranjit Mallick, Prosenjit Chatterjee, Tapas Pal, Chiranjit Chakrabarty – are few of the contemporary actors who perform in leading roles in Bengali films. Quite a number of actors created long lasting impression by appearing in character roles; Utpal Dutta, Tulsi Chakrabarty, Gangapada Bose, Rabi Ghosh, Anil Chatterjee, Victor Banerjee, Anup Kumar, Bhanu Bandyopadhyay, Chhaya Devi, Manju Dey, Dipankar Dey, Biplab Chatterjee, Sabyasachi Chakrabarty, Anjan Dutta, Mamatshankar, Haradhan Mukherjee are a few to mention from them.
A number of film and acting talents moved to Mumbai(Bombay) film world(popularly known as Bollywood) and became successful. Here are few of them to mention: Pradipkumar, Sharmila Tagore, Biswajit Chatterjee, Rakhi Biswas(Gulzar), Jaya Bhaduri(Bachchan), Mousumi Chatterjee, Mithun Chakrabarty.