Few Moments with Salil Chowdhury
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S.C (continues from Page 1) :Hindi language movies take the lion's share in Indian film industry. There are about three hundred movies made in Hindi in a year. There are also regional movies, made in the various regional languages of India. Most of these movies are out-and-out commercial. These movies are cheap and vulgar and other than making money there's no reason for them to be made. To that end, some of the producers of these movies wouldn't even hesitate to strip their mothers! This is the attitude prevailing in the movie industry of India. What effect a small play could possibly have on the masses in a cultural climate where millions of people in India are subjected to the vulgar cultural onslaught continued by the producers of commercial movies? How could we fight against such a climate?
K.B: When IPTA became such a powerful organization in the 1940's, how much impact did it have?S.C: It had a tremendous impact. The reason being as the content changed, the form changed as well. Form of our plays had to change along with the change in their content. So we saw that the forms of songs had changed, so had the forms of the theatre. Poster dramas were staged which could communicate directly with the people. IPTA drew a lot of writers and artists in its organization. In fact 80% of the greatest cultural icons of India are the product of IPTA movement. For example, there wouldn't be a Salil Chowdhury if it weren't for the IPTA. I am a product of that movement. This movement gave birth to many artists like myself of whom some are still alive and some are not. IPTA movement spawned and nurtured artists and actors of the stature of Balraj Sahani, Shambhu Mitra, and Utpal Dutt; filmmakers like Ritwik Ghatak and Mrinal Sen; singers like Omar Sheik of Maharashtra. This movement shaped them all. Even in south India, in Andhra and Kerala, the top writers and filmmakers of those regions participated in this movement. So, we can see that there was an impact.
K.B: Now, the IPTA movement attracted mainly the elite class, the intellectuals. But what about the people for whom this movement was meant for, the lower class, dispossessed people? How much awareness IPTA was able to instill among those people?
S.C: It's difficult to gauge this issue now, how much we were successful doing that. But if you look at what reception our artists got among them, you would get some idea. It was quite a lot. For example when our troupe went to Kakdweep, in Sundarbans, to stage a play, there we met a farmer who used to act in Mukunda Das's folk plays ("Jatras"). In his lifetime he was awarded about a hundred medals in recognition for his acting talents. He gave us one of his medals in appreciation of our play. I have never received a greater honor in my life. The medal fetched us about four thousand rupees from an auction we held among the Peasant. I later regretted selling the medal. I had to do it for the benefits of the Peasant of that region. This was just an example of what kind of impact we had over the ordinary people. They realized that our songs and plays were truly meant for them. We had that kind of experience quite a few times. But then what happened? Our groups started splitting up as a result of growing hopelessness in our political lives as well as in the Left Front politics. People involved in the Left politics were targeted and heavily tortured by the police during the Congress rule, and also by the landowners. The Party failed to provide leadership during the crisis period. The United Front, which included other left leaning parties, started to show cracks. All those events generated widespread disappointment among us. But these days I am getting more hopeful.
K.B: Was IPTA directly a cultural wing of the leftists?
S.C: It was clearly led by the Communist Party.
K.B: Did the Communist Party lead all units of IPTA in India?S.C: Yes, all units. Everything was under the leadership of the Communist Party. It was one undivided communist party at the time. P.C. Joshi, who was the General Secretary of the party, led this movement.
K.B: Were those who joined IPTA all communists?
S.C: No. That's what I am trying to say, that although the IPTA leadership consisted of the communists, its goal was to bring all progressive, left leaning writers and artists together on to single platform. Therefore IPTA was not made of the communists although the Communist Party gave the leadership. But there were many artists and singers in IPTA who didn't bother about politics. Sometimes a great actor would join the group, such as an actor like Manoranjan Bhattacharyya, whom we called "Maharshi". He didn't believe in politics in any direct way, but he still joined the IPTA movement. I can recall hundred such names that joined this movement without having any political affiliations to the communist party.
K.B: Did those people join knowing fully that it was an organization led by the leftists?
S.C: Yes, certainly.
K.B: Did it create an ideological conflict as a result?
S.C: Yes it did at times. Let me talk about my own situation. When the communist party began moving towards the ultra-left wing of the party led by Ranadive in a period marked by ultra leftist propensities, it created a split among the intellectuals in IPTA. I was against the split. I was told that unless the ‘Party Cell' approved my songs I would not be allowed to sing them publicly. I refused saying that it was unacceptable, first, because the issuers of such orders did not understand music. Secondly, it is patently wrong to think that just being a worker or a farmer or a student or a member of the communist party bestows one with the understanding and judgement regarding which songs I should be singing or composing. It was hard to believe that even a song like "G(n)aayer B(n)adhu" ["A Village Woman"] could be banned by the IPTA !
K.B: Would you then say that IPTA broke up because its political base was not too strong?
S.C: No. As I said earlier, that the divisions in the international communist movement had an indirect effect on our cultural movement. Along with it came lack of direction and uncertainty, that we were not getting anywhere. Of course we felt disappointed that the movement did not last.
K.B: Were there any personal conflicts, besides other reasons?
S.C: There were some, at times personal and political conflicts overlapped on each other. Then there were purely personal conflicts. For example if I were perceived to have gained some fame, there would be other artists who would lament the fact that they were not as famous.