[Reader-list] Super-8 mm movement in West Bengal

Sanjay Kak kaksanjay at gmail.com
Sat Mar 6 13:35:42 IST 2010

A detailed and fascinating account of the Super-8 mm movement in West Bengal:
apologies if you've already read it.
Sanjay Kak



Saumen Guha is the one person who can be undoubtedly attributed the
credit of introducing the Super 8 mm format among some interested
students in Calcutta. Also to a large extent he initiated the culture
of hands on independent film making in Calcutta in the early 1980s.
Saumen Guha is however better known for following up the historic
Archana Guha case against the former deputy commissioner of police
Ranjit Guha Neogi. This historic legal battle has strangely an
interesting relation to the history of independent film making
movement in Bengal.

After release from jail in 1977, Saumen Guha devoted major chunk of
his energy into fighting for justice for her sister Archana Guha and
also in attempt for her recovery. Archana Guha was severely tortured
for several weeks by police after being picked up on lieu of
interrogating about her Naxalite brother’s whereabouts. The torture
left her severely paralysed from below the waist. It was at this
juncture that Saumen Guha got in touch with Amnesty International and
it was arranged for his sister to be taken to Amnesty’s special
medical facility in Denmark. In Denmark Saumen Guha was exposed to
Super 8, a powerful and affordable technology for recording and
creating cinema! The primary intention was to document Archa Guha’s

The interest in film making was something Saumen Guha nurtured for
quite sometime. He remembers how during his stay in jail (1974-1977)
he saw and thought at length about the sacrifices made by family
members of the activists who were in jails. It was here in jail that
he thought of making a film on Gorky’s Mother in Bengali. After his
release in amnesty, in 1977 after Left Front government came to power,
he pursued this dream for quite sometime. He even applied to the Left
Front government’s cultural department headed by Buddhadeb
Bhattacharya for a grant to produce the film. He went as far as Pune
spent days in the film library to study all the foreign films made on
adaptation of Gorky’s Mother. Today Saumen Guha adds as an
afterthought that he is rather thankful that the government grant
never came.

Without any grant the idea of making a film on Mother was dropped by
Guha. He thought, Mother had to be made properly or not made at all.
He started directing most of his creative energy and the thoughts
surrounding it to Super-8. It gradually sank in that 8 mm could be a
very powerful tool at the hand of the people in general. It could well
stand out as an alternate media. Indeed super 8 was flexible,
comparatively in-expensive and provided an opportunity to make films
completely outside the establishment.

The State of Film societies of Calcutta

Before the advent of this culture of hands on film making, the scope
of discussions and analysis of films were rather limited, most film
clubs and societies confined themselves to screening mainstream films.
And even these groups were banned during the emergency period. The
situation changed somewhat after the restrictions on organisations
were lifted post emergency. Gradually the groups and societies turned
to film making and an entire new dimension opened up, they started
making film and breaking films down. There was also an occasional
‘Film Appreciation Course’ arranged in Jadavpur University in
association with Pune Film Institute. The course attracted several
students who wanted to learn the basic grammar of films.

There were other independent groups who discussed and analysed films
more thoroughly and were very quick in taking up film making once an
affordable and feasible opening came. People’s Film Workshop (PFW),
Jadavpur University Film Society (JUFS), Chitra Chetana (চিত্র চেতনা,
pictures and consciousness) were among such groups. In fact the
magazine of JUSF ‘Kotha-Golpo-Chobi’ (কথা গল্প ছবি, Words Stories
Pictures) became the perfect vehicle to contain the ideas and debates
related to the new independent film making culture.

In 1981, JUFS along with PFW arranged a lecture session for Saumen
Guha along with the screening of his first film shot in 8 mm called
‘Silent Calcutta’. The experience was so novel and unique that before
the lecture, Saumen Guha himself had to prepare and circulated a few
possible questions for the audience to encourage their queries.
Super eight in Calcutta
With growing interest in Super 8, Saumen Guha decided upon setting up
a regular workshop for training interested students. The workshop was
called Workshop on Little Film Making (WOLF). WOLF was a major success
and had three batches with 15-20 students each. This workshop was very
highly regarded and was written about. In Aajkal (আজকাল bengali daily)
06-06-83 an article titled Kolkatai Super Eight (কলকাতায় সুপার-৮,
Super 8 in Calcutta) even carried a picture of the WOLF workshop being
taken by Saumen Guha, even before that Jugantar (20-05-83) carried an
article in the film section of the newspaper titled “Kolkatai Super 8
Workshop”. WOLF was definitely creating a lot of noise which could not
be ignored.

Students of WOLF were taught of basic theory of film making and were
given hands on experience of making a complete film in Super 8. The
Workshop had it’s printed Prospectus, Syllabus and guidelines. The
course work was of 3 months and each student was handed cyclostyled
notes. Each batch jointly completed a film, from shooting, script
writing, editing and finishing, everything was completed by the
individuals of the group. The films made in the three batches were:
Chalachitrakar Sankha Satero (চালচিত্রকার সংখ্যা ১৭, 17 Film Makers),
Anweshan (অন্বেষণ, Discovery), and Kolkata-r Jishu (কলকাতার যীশু,
Jesus of Calcutta). After finishing the course the students pursued
super 8 film making independently and also formed a larger forum,
Forum for Super 8 Cinema (FS8C).

Partha Chatterjee, then engineering student of Jadavpur got in touch
with Saumen Guha in the early 80s and was almost immediately
interested in Super 8 and took it up. He later also became the
convener of JUFS. He along with some friends formed a group called
PIX, who would screen films and also make several serious films in 8
mm. In late 1983, PIX got the proposal of making a film on Junior
Doctor’s movement. The movement had ended but the atmosphere remained
and the memories were fresh. The documentary “Swastho Amar Adhikar”
(স্বাস্থ আমার অধিকার, Health is my Right) came out very well with some
financial support from All Bengal Junior Doctor’s Federation (ABJDF).
It was screened several times to full house audiences at the Muslim
Institute auditorium and in All Bengal Student Association (ABSA)
programmes all across Bengal. The music used in the film was taken
from Ali Akbar, some Saxophone records and a tango score.

With the success of this film, PIX got another proposal to make a
documentary on drug business industry, Upasham (উপষম, Symptom). But
before the film was made, PIX members had to meet and convince Father
Rubesh about their ability to carry out the project. Father Rubesh, a
French, living in Calcutta was quite an authority in films and a known
critic. After watching Swastho Amar Adhikar, Father Rubesh was more
than satisfied and expressed how his feelings about the doctor’s
strike in France changed after watching it. Upasham was an extremely
well made professional work, and a friend of PIX was asked to provide
original music. Upasham was screened in Nandan 2 and was very well
received. Another work of PIX was on parthenium weed, which was not
native to India and with introduction spread far and wide creating
havoc among human and livestock health. This film was also screened in
several places across Murshidabad and Beharampore.

Nilanjan Dutta was another Jadavpur University student who came in
touch with Saumen Guha and took up independent film making seriously.
Like many others Nilanjan Dutta worked with super 8 independently and
under Saumen Guha’s guidance. He documented the devastation of a
cyclone in Sunderbans in a hired 8 mm camera and the footage was
edited with Saumenda’s help and screened in several places. He also
made another documentary Hiroshima Dibash (হিরোশিমা দিবস, Hiroshima
Day)which was also much appreciated.

Debasis Moitra, engineering student of Jadavpur University was also a
student of the second batch of WOLF and pursued film making in super 8
till late 1980s. He completed a full length documentary on adivasis
putting in a lot of research and effort from 1982-89. The film titled
Hool (হুল, Revolt) was later converted to VHS format. Debasish Moitra
bought his own camera, projector and even managed to get hold of an
editing machine by placing an advertisement in a Newspaper.

This method of acquiring necessary hardware was not uncommon. In
Calcutta, Super 8 equipments were available with several Anglo-Indian
families and some wealthy families, who would use it for making home
videos. In fact super 8 is credited with starting the wedding
videography culture, the culture of recording moments within the
family in motion pictures. As these affluent families hopped and
jumped on to superior versions of hardware or even newer technologies
like VHS, they were willing to part with their older Super 8
equipments. Saumen Guha also bought his first editing machine from a
Russle Street auction in Calcutta. In fact the hardware acquired in
these fashions by Saumen Guha and Debasis Moitra were the finest among
independent super 8 film makers of Calcutta of the time. Debasis
Moitra along with other members of FS8C carried out several successful
projects with super 8 sharing these hardware. Their homes with these
machines turned into editing centres of independent films in Calcutta.

Mainak Biswas, then arts student of Jadavpur University was introduced
to Saumen Guha’s workshop WOLF by his friend Nilanjan Dutta and also
pursued independent film making very sincerely. He used Saumen Guha’s
Braun camera and his own Yashica to complete a film Graffiti. It was
more of a collage of images or a retrospective of the fading Naxal
movement. It was a docudrama with the shooting mostly done inside the
Jadavpur University campus. The film had two characters a male and a
female who walks across the University campus separately and looks
back at the turbulent times. The film captured certain remaining
graffiti of Naxalbari movement. The mood and nostalgia that remained
attached to a movement that was falling apart was captured in the
film. Mainak Biswas also documented dialogues of himself with his
father Hemanga Biswas, the eminent Bengali folk singer, in Super 8. It
was in Super 8 that several songs sung by Hemanga Biswas alone in his
home or in programmes were recorded, right up to his demise. The
documentation of Hemanga Biswas was never edited and this unedited
version was screen at several places.
Super-8 Outside Calcutta

The interest and initiatives with Super 8 was not limited to Calcutta
and it’s surroundings. Saumen Guha conducted workshops in places like
Durgapur, Murshidabad and Assam. There were also a couple of students
from Bangladesh Manjrool and Kamran who came in to join workshops in

The super8 really turned into a movement through this workshops. There
were organisations and magazines who took up the cause of super 8,
writing and debating about the new medium. Organisations like Cine
Commune (Jadavpur) and their organ Chitrabodh (চিত্রবোধ); Centre for
Communication and Cultural Action with their organ People’s Cinema,
Abohi (অবহি) published from South 24 Pargana, estd. 1975; little
magazines like Protisrot (প্রতিশ্রোত, counter current) published from
Murshidabad, Cinemabhabna(সিনেমাভাবনা, Thoughts on Cinema) were among
many who wrote and debated on Super 8 and also occasionally invited
Saumen Guha to write for them or arrange seminars.

A group from Assam worked very sincerely with super 8 and made some
extremely important films. The films were based around contemporary
turmoil in Assam, the anti-Bengali Assam-chauvinist movement. Partha
Pratim Moitra from Assam took part in making and screening the films
Ashraf Ali-r Swadesh (আসরাফ আলীর স্বদেশ, Land of Ashraf Ali) and Sagar
Deepak-er der bochor (সাগর দীপক-এর দেড় বছর, One and half years since
Sagar and Deepak). Ashraf Ali-r Swadesh was a fictional film where the
protagonist was a poor Muslim farmer who had come across border from
East Pakistan to Assam. Now during the anti-Bengali movement when the
demand was raised for the Bengali to return to their swadesh, Ashraf
Ali had nowhere to go, East-Pakistan ceased to exist and Bangladesh
would not take him back. The other film Sagar Deepak-er der bochor was
a documentary about two students who died of police firing in
Karimgunj (করিমগঞ্জ). The entire school turned up and so did the
locals, when the film was screened for the first time.

Chitra Chetana (চিত্র চেতনা)

Chitra Chetana was a group of activists who used pictures and films as
a means of communicating their social and political views. Although
the group never directly made any films in super 8 but they played a
huge role in promoting the usage of the medium and also organised
several super 8 festivals. The group was formed in January 1982 and
between 1982-1987 the group made 4 audio visual slides: Sarkari
Santrash (সরকারি সন্ত্রাশ, State Violence), Ashanta Assam (অশান্ত
আসাম, Turbulent Assam), Bobajuddha (বোবাযুদ্ধ, Silent War), and Arwal
A brief History of Chitra Chetana 2

The formation of the group was somewhat directly influenced by certain
necessities and limitations of activism felt by some members. Tapan
Sen, member of Chitra Chetana, remembers how a particular incident
convinced him of the necessity of an independent organisation of
alternate media. And that necessity was perfectly met in Chitra
Chetana. As member of PUCL Tapan Sen and Dilip Bandopadhyay went to
look into the facts of a case of custodial torture resulting in murder
of a villager Nanta Sekh of Nadia. Sekh was accused of being a member
of Second CC. After interviewing villagers a picture of rampant police
torture and illegal detention emerged. PUCL prepared a report and a
press release which was never published by any media. This convinced
Tapan Sen that it was necessary of have an alternate media by which
such suppressed stories could be brought out and propagated. This was
indeed one of the many inspirations for Chitra Chetana which took up
many such important issues and prepared path breaking audio visual
presentations. The motivation and idea behind Chirta Chetana was
essentially the same as the Super-8 movement, although the two
developed independently.

In early 1980s a few lines that Saumen Guha wrote in an article
summarised the thoughts and idea behind such movement and
organisations beautifully:
    “For whom films? If this question is settled, there will be no
problem to determine the themes of the movies and to reach the proper

Chitra Chetana made Sarkari Santrash mostly on the experiences of the
Nadia fact finding. It was screened in Birla Academy and Aajkal
reviewed it as almost as powerful as a film. Ashanta Assam was made in
1983 on the anti-Bengali movement of Assam, specifically on the Nellie
massacre that took place in the same year. Bobajuddha was made on the
plight of workers of locked up factories. The presentation started and
ended with an added commentary otherwise the entire body comprised
interviews of workers. It was screened in several factories in
Burnpur, Brace bridge, Asansole, Chinikal and so on, the presentation
was also successfully screened in workers’ colonies. The members were
often overwhelmed by the response. The workers would themselves
collect money after the shows to support at least the cost for
transportation. Bobajuddha was screened in Nandan 2 and a discussion
was arranged on Trade Union and Film Movement also a book was
published with the same name which included articles and commentaries
of the experiences of the film makers in each factory they visited.

Dilip Banarjee was an inspiration to Chitra Chetana, he was also one
of the founder members. Dilip Banerjee took active part in every
aspect of creating a presentation, from the script writing to
direction, editing, commentary and so on. It was Banerjee who roped in
his friend Dilip Balakrishnan to create the music for the
presentations. Balakrishnan would listen carefully to the themes of
the presentations and would create music for them. He used the popular
raghupati raghav tune in the film Arwal. This film was on the truth
behind 1986 Arwal massacre of peasants by the Bihar police, and the
tune by Balakrishnan was used completely in contrast to it’s meaning
creating a masterpiece. In this film there were interviews of Dr.
Vinay of Mazdoor Kissan Sangram Samiti (MKSS) who then had a price of
one lakh on his head. There were also interviews of Mrinal Sen of
human rights tribunal and Mahasweta Devi.

In Jadavpur, JUSF in association with Chitra Chetana arranged for two
films festivals. The 1983 festival from December 17 to 21 was entirely
a Super 8 festival. It was the first National Super 8 film festival in
The festival was advertised in Screen a national bulletin of films
from Bombay and entries were invited. The response was beyond
expectation and more than 100 films came in from all across India. The
festival was a big success and Bombay based Cine Super 8 came forward
to sponsor the prizes given to best three films. The director of the
company was also present in the festival as a guest. The best picture
was also awarded based on the audience’s selection. Of the 100 films
that came in as submissions, 40 films were selected for screening.

    The films were:
    Apartheid (D Roy Chowdhury, Jadavpur, English colour 8 mins.)
-Discovering ‘Apertheid’ –the symptom of discrimination of
‘colours’–as an allegory of our day to day happenings–as an inherent
concept which may change its type and form but is never totally
eradicated. As it happens, one type of social classification and
discrimination system gives way to another and the cycle is repeated.
    Tehran Times (Vijay Dikshit, Nasik; Marathi Colour, 15 mins.) -The
film is basically on architectural monument in Tehran city with
emphasis on form and movement of the camera, texture, music and other
cinematic possibilities.
    Self Realisation (AGV Rao, Mysore; Silent, Colour, 4 mins.)-A
person becomes interested in self-realisation, renounces his comforts
and becomes a traditional Sanyasi. Through this change he never
reaches his goal. Later he finds that accumulation is self-destruction
and distribution self-realisation.
    Hemalkasa-An Experiment with Tribals (TISS Bombay, English colour,
40 mins.)-A documentary on the work of Dr. Prakash Amte, with the
Madia tribals of Hemalkasa, Chandrapur district on the
Maharashtra-Madhyapradesh border. Dr Amte’s project, which he took
over from the work initiated in the area by his father, Baba Amte,
started off as am integrated health service for Madias, encompassing
treatment and prevention. Prevention covers a variety of areas
including improving food consumption through promoting agriculture,
introduction of new items of food, educating tribal children and so
on. Through interviews with various participants in this process of
development, the film attempts to document and interpret this
experiment with tribals.
    San Vedana (Mukund Samant, Bombay; Hindi, Colour, 25 mins)- A
young girl often dials any phone number and enjoys the irritation of
the receiver. She happens to dial a young man one day. His initial
irritation fades. Her interest becomes serious ans they become
phone-friends. Their phone-friendship is two months ld. They meet–and
it is a turmoil. San Vedana is a comment on the maturity of a society.
    Beattitude (Diptarup Mukhopadhyay, Calcutta;English,Colour,10
mins)- This film tries to present how supernatural and mystic powers
were exercised in Buddhism, after Buddha
    Deyal (Anima Dutta, Hoogli)-Aboy of 12 working in a restaurant,
tries to be free from the drudgery of his life–but in vain.
    Calcutta Oh! (Charles Solomon, Calcutta; Bengali,Colour, 9mins)-a
comic strip based on pedestrian hazards in Calcutta.
    Glimpses of Bhils (Rajesh Rathi, Ujjain;English Colour, 35
mins.)-The film tries to capture the historical background and
preserve the lifestyle of ‘Bhil’ –one of the most primitive Indian
tribes. Their socio-economic structure is also explored. A few
sequences reflect some typical behavioural patterns and habits of this
tribe. It also registers the excitement of some of their exclusive
traditional festivals. Generally a tribe visualised as an uncivilised,
ugly society. People tend to form opinion without observation. This
short offers an opportunity for objective observation of a tribe
called ‘Bhil’. An unknown world of vivid colours come to life! Comes
close to ours!
    The Havenots (G N Murthy, Bangalore; Kannada,Colour, 12
mins.)-Apoor boy is severely beaten up in a police station for theft.
His parents take the boy to a roadside God Anjaneya and force him into
promising that he will never steal again. The boy steals again from a
township shop. He is chased. And as the distance between him and his
chasers is reduced he sees hallucination of Anjaneya.He is finally
caught. His pursuers are disappointed to find that the boy has stolen
a mere piece of bread. The disheartened boy looks at the soiled piece
of bread and throws it on the face of Anhaneya. The boy’s mother with
a little baby in her arms watches them helplessly. As the film fades
out we hear the cry of a hungry child.
    Ekti Kobita (Prabir Mallick, Calcutta; Bengali, colour, 8 mins.)
-A young man receives a letter from his former lady love and goes to
meet her. But after meeting herhe feels that the relationship has
broken down. He comes back.
    Tomra Bhogoponya Nao (Debasis Pathak, Baraipur Bengali,colour
8mins.)-Bikash is married to Deepa. Bikash considers Deepa his
personal property. Deepa can’t bear this miserable life anymore. She
commits suicide.She leaves a letter for the next generation, crying
out against women being exploited by men as their personal product.
    What Can I do (Surendra Chowdhury, Gorakhpur, Silent colour, 5
mins.),-Aprotest against evils of drinking.
    A Tribute to Rodin (Soumitra Ranade,Bombay, Silent Colour, 4
mins.)-In memory of great French sculptor Rodin.An attempt has been
made to bring his famous piece ‘The Thinker’ into reality.
    Three P’s (Bercham Cine Arts, Calicut; Silent Colour, 21 mins.)-An
old man’ the only bread winner of the family lives with his son, a
polio victim, a daughter-in-law and their two children. The old man
goes to fish every day to earn his daily bread. One morning a board is
put up by the authorities prohibiting fishing at the pond. There was
nothing for the family to eat that day. Driven to misery the
daughter-in-law has a sexual relation with the landlord next day and
with the money thus earned bought food. When the old man realises in
the evening how his daughter-in-law procured food, the old man
committed suicide.
    Jahaj Dhora Sohoj Noy (PFW, Jadavpur, Bengali Colour, 7mins.)-
Some observations on the prevailing education system as related to
contemporary politics
    Hiroshima Dibash (Nilanjan Dutta, Calcutta, Bengali, Colour 8
mins.)- A short on the anti-nuclear peace rally in Calcutta, 1982 on
Hiroshima Day, August 6.
    Cyclone (Nilanjan Dutta, Bengali,Colour 8 mins.) A view of the
Taldi area of 24 Parganas district of West Bengal, after the
devastating cyclone on June 11, 1982.
    This Image And That Image (PFW),
    Jal Nahi Mile (Saumen Guha, Calcutta; Bengali, Colour 10 mins.)-
Visual survey of the condition of draught in the area of Kangshabati
river Project in the district of Bankura, West Bengal.
    Kushadweep (Saumen Guha, Calcutta, Bengali,Colour, 10 mins.)-A
visual survey of the rural energy problems in a village Kusadweep in
the Bankura district of West Bengal.
    Vidyasthane Cho (Samir Kundu, 24 Parganas), Unscrupulous
businessmen and some government officials are happy with the
government’s programme of nutrition for primary school students. Due
to the corrupt distribution system, the students are deprived of their
rightful quota of bread. But this is not the only side of the picture.
There are the masses of the people who are not willing to take this
deprivation lying down. They will strike back. Their children are ‘the
people of the future’.
    We Will Smash This Prison (Gail Omvedt, Maharashtra, English
colour 20 mins)-A documentry on the development of women’s movement in
    No (Tapash Purakayastha, Calcutta)
    Behind the Festival (Cine Scope, Calcutta, English, Colour, 18
mins.)-Based on the durga puja festival in Calcutta. The film depicts
the motive force behind the festival and its co-relations.
    Bubai (Burnpur Film Society, Burpur, Bengali colour 11 mins.)-This
short shows the dilemma children go through to get admitted to an
established english medium public school.
    Bundh (Utpal Sarkar, Calcutta, Bengali, Colour, 28 mins)-Rivers
are creations of Nature. While they create civilisation, they also
wrought havoc. In the interest of increasing agricultural yield and
prosperity of the country, the government wants to tame the rivers by
building dams. But increased production does not better the lot of the
toiling masses. They protest
    Anweshan (WOLF, Calcutta, Bengali Colour 10 mins.)-Four friends
start to make a documentary on the Calcutta Metro Rail. They interview
various people including the workers and discover the harsh reality.
    Chalachitrakar Sonkha Sotero (WOLF, Bengali, colour,10 mins.)-
three friends used to live in a world of romantic unreality. One fine
morning they casually began thinking of making S-8 films. They begin
filming and gradually come into contact with reality. They feel what
life is.    A well-to-do young man realises the problem of social
exploitation and takes up the super-8 camera as his vehicle of
expression against exploitation.
    Faces (Subhasis Mitra, Calcutta, Music, Colour, 8 mins.) A
movie-collage of faces on poses and postures of different people of
    Graffiti (Moinak Biswas, Calcutta, Benglai/English Colour, 23
mins.)- Two ex-students of Jadavpur University enter the campus and
take a look back….They feel a pervasive sense of Loss. They have lost
their relationship, their political commitment and their most beloved
teacher and friend.
    The Other Way (Arjun Sengupta, Calcutta, English Colour, 8 mins.)
Scraps, refuse and other leftover of our daily life are dumped by the
city COrporation in a place called ‘Dhapa’. in CAlcutta. There are
people there who make a living out of this waste, even staking their
lives on it. the other way of living is also life.
    Light of Life (Gopa Sengupta, Calcutta, English, Colour 8
mins.)-The film deplores the unhealthy light which prevails over our
    Din Suru (Korak Ghosh, Calcutta, Bengali,Colour, 25 mins.)-A group
of young film makers go out to shoot the dawn in the city. they
harbour and illusion about the tenderness of day break. But what
appears on the rectangular view finder are hard faces. Their illusion
is shattered and they search for a new meaning of dawn.
    Ounmes (Asit Kr Sarkar,Calcutta, Silent, Colour, 9 mins.)-A short
on the neglected talents in our society.
    Prattuttare Atmahatya O Atmahatyar Prattuttar (Prabir Das,
Bausdroni)-The present day man is alienated. So called politics is one
of the many causes of this alienation. As a result of this the young
generation has taken the path of escapism.
    If we can adopt the sincere and untainted ways of our childhood
all our life, then man can be rejuvenated and learn to live in the
next generation.
    Sristichara (Somprokash Banerjee, Calcutta,Bengali,Colour, 20
mins)-Adapted from TAgore’s “Bhul Swarga” (the Erroneous Heaven). The
tale of a misfit who seeks to find creative harmony in a modern World
of mechanical strife. He fails to comprehend the common norms of
labour and is stamped down by society as an idler.
    Let Us Live (Dhananjoy Govardhan, Nasik),
    Om Shanti (PDR Videotronics, Bombay),
    Unemployment and Automation (Atanu Majumder, Calcutta, Bengali,
Colour, 25 mins.)-The film deals with the question of automation in
the Banking industry of India with respect to the high unemployment
    -taken from the Souvenir of Indian Super-8 Film Festival 83, Calcutta

This list clearly indicates how far reaching and diverse the festival
had been, and more importantly there was a large chunk of participants
from the districts outside Calcutta and another section participated
from outside Bengal and all across India. And even for the
participation from within Bengal there were many entries which were
completely untouched by and disconnected from the organisations like
FS8C, WOLF, Chitra Chetana, PFW and other known organisations.
Truly Independent film making in Super 8 had reached the people and
transformed into a movement by this time. And this was neither
unexpected or unanticipated. It had taken place in the Americas and
Europe. Leonard Lipton in an article “The Lowdown on Super-8
Education” had already written by then:

    “…The second major camp emerging in the world of Super-8 film
making favours a more democratic approach….(this) approach is designed
to bring film making to the people–to anybody and everybody….Super-8
has the power to place the film-making medium in the hands of
people–ordinary and extraordinary–who need to tell their story on

The second festival in 1985 was not exclusively for Super 8 but some
slide shows and videos were included. This festival was not as well
received as the first one one and evidently the interest in super 8
was on the decline. But film making in super 8 continued well into the
beginning of 1990s.

Audio Cine and Mannada(মান্নাদা)

The shows of Super 8 that was arranged by small budget groups like
Chitra Chetana, JUFS, FS8C, PIX and others were exceptionally
supported by Audio Cine. Audio Cine was a company managed by S.D.
Manna (মান্নাদা) who became a household name in Calcutta Super 8
movement. Manna would allow these groups to rent the expensive
hardware like projectors, sound equipments at unbelievable low rates
and even for free. In film screenings outside Calcutta, often the Cine
Audio staff would lend the equipments to the organizers without the
knowledge of Manna. For such screenings the expensive equipments would
be carried for hours in trains and buses and then power would be
hooked from overhead wired to make the equipments functional. Often
Manna would himself bring the projectors bound behind his scooter to
the film shows and watch all the films himself intensely. In the end
he would be happy with such a meagre rent for the equipments that the
organisers felt that it will not be sufficient even for his scooter’s
fuel, which was old and quite a fuel guzzler. Many activist of the
movement claim that Manna and his workers were as much of soldiers of
the movement as were the film makers.

International Contacts

During the hey days of Super 8 film making, there were several
international organisations with whom the organisations of Calcutta
got in touch with, mostly through Saumen Guha. The dialogue between
Calcutta Super 8 organisations with their international counterparts
was enriching in the least and occasionally transformed to
participation in serious international projects. In May 1988 super 8
festival of International Forum of Super 8, which took place in Exit
Art auditorium in NewYork, Saumen Guha’s Calcutta: The Promised Land,
Partha Pratim Moitra’s Ashraf Alir Swadesh and another super 8 film on
Tusu festival was screened. Dok Films of Denmark had a lasting
relationship with the Super 8 movement of Calcutta through Saumen
Guha. They even entrusted Guha with making two documentaries on
polluting factories of Bengal and also on the lives of toiling women
in West Bengal. There was even a proposal from National Danish Film
Workshop to Saumen Guha to make a film The Unfair State on the state
and police oppression in Bengal. In 1988 Filmers’ Almanac project Owen
O’Toole of Los Angeles, there was more than one participant from India
and Saumen Guha was among them, filming for the December 31 slot.
There was also regular exchange of thoughts between members of
Calcutta based super 8 movement and the Boston based International
Center for 8mm Film and Video Inc (IC8FV) and they regularly mailed
their monographs for distribution in Calcutta. The IC8FV wrote and
informed about their world wide connection of Super 8 film makers thus
providing an exceptional platform of share and discuss.

Fading of Super-8

With the advent of VHS, it was almost clear that this format would
replace the film format. There were several advantages like recorded
VHS could be played back instantly and there was no necessity to
develop. There was evidently much more data or length of video that
can be held in VHS tapes, than their film counterparts. And the
cartridges could be reused! In an interview published in 1983 souvenir
of National Super-8 Festival, there was a question: “Some say with the
coming of video to India, Super-8 has no chance. Do you agree?” to
which Film Society Activist Subhendu Dasgupta had replied “Ours is a
country of poor people. Video will not be able to reach them. Also the
chance of S-8 basically depends on the objectives and strength of the
organisations who will use this medium.” Indeed, Super 8 could hold
ground for quite sometime, because of some initial disadvantages of
VHS. The cameras were not as portal, editing was entirely different
and so editors or technicians who were used to films could not
automatically migrate at least technologically! Hardware was immensely
expensive, VHS projectors were almost unthinkable and colour
televisions were rare and small-screen, making public screening a
major problem. But still Super-8 was fighting a loosing battle, and
the manufacturers well understood it. As VHS started to replace Super
8 as the main motion picture format internationally, the cost of
cartridges, and other hardware started to rise. The major markets in
Europe and America was quickly adapting to VHS while in third world,
the cost of VHS equipments was a serious impediment. Even as costs
rose, some tried to carry on with super 8 and the most of the people
and organisations attached to the Super-8 movement could not cope.
Debasis Moitra remembered how during the final phases of production of
Hool, the Super 8 cartridge price rose to almost 5-6 times its usual

Even without any competition, Super 8 had several drawbacks from the
beginning. Firstly the film was a reversal film, that is the image
impression was in the positive and so making copies of a film would
require to first make a negative and then make copies. This would both
degrade quality and would be expensive. Further this meant that there
was only one copy of the film made from the footage, and this had to
be physically transported to wherever a screening was arranged. Any
damage to the film at any point of time would be irreparable and
irreplaceable. Besides the films could not be washed locally, the
cartridge price included shipping charge and after recording the
sealed cartridge would have to be taken to a Kodak store in
park-street to be shipped to Germany. However later there was a
facility to wash films nearer, but that too in Bombay. So it took
somewhere between 3 weeks and a few months for a person to see the
results of his shots. The initial Super 8 camera was without a sound
and so were the cartridges, it was a silent system. Later when the
cartridge had provision for sound recording then also switching over
to the new cameras was not immediately possible and so separate sound
addition, often post editing, was the usual practice. Even then sound
quality was poor. Apart from these, the cartridge was capable of
recording for only 2 and 1/2 minutes at 24 frames per second.
Independence in Film Making

In spite of all the draw backs what super 8 brought to the film making
scene was invaluable. It brought much needed independence. There was
also abundant experimentation with techniques and grammar of film
making. When the lap dissolve feature and the fade-in fade out
features were not provided in-camera, there were ingenious experiments
carried out successfully to produce such effects. In some cameras,
there was often a light sensor which would automatically control the
aperture and in early Super 8 cameras this sensor would be separate
from the lens (non-TTL variant), thus while filming, moving a
torchlight towards the sensor created the effect of aperture closing
down and this the fading out effect. Similarly starting a shot with a
glowing torch held near the aperture and slowly moving it away would
create the fade-in effect. Lap dissolve was done as a combination of
these two effects, fade out and fade in, where after fade out the
cartridge was rewound a little, before shooting the fade in so that
the faded out portion and the faded in portion overlapped somewhat.
Then there was the opportunity to conduct animation, especially by the
stop gap technique. Members of PIX while doing their film Upasham
carried out experiments with animation, they tried a simple animation
to show drug tablets forming out of bits of particles. This was done
by using stop motion technique. It was extremely time consuming,
repetitive and to add to concerns the film makers could not see and
rectify mistakes instantaneously, they had to wait for weeks if not
months to see their results and go through the process once again to
rectify in case there appeared any mistake! Yet in end the the
exercise was very fulfilling. Once PIX film makers tried adding sound
to a film shot using the earlier silent variant of Super 8 mm film.
The magnetic material from tape was dissolved and a painting brush was
used to paint the mixture on the silent film and left to dry. After
drying, indeed a magnetic strip was formed on the film but attempt to
record sound on it resulted in too much noise and the result was not
satisfactory. The beauty of all this experiments was that it broke
down the Super 8 hardware and its science before the film makers.
There was nothing that remained sacred. The entire technology was in
grasp and done hands on. Apart from certain minor aspects, Super 8
brought complete independence to film making.

The other magnificent aspect of Super 8 was its portability which
allowed film makers to film in practically any situation and also
screen them in remote places. This aspect made Super 8 an important
vehicle of communications for motivated activists. The organisers of
1983 National Super-8 Festival wrote about the festival in a souvenir
publish on occasion of the festival:

    Super-8 means freedom for the film medium. Freedom because films
can now reach the large numbers through various people-intensive
distribution channels. The small portable sound projector can become
an indispensable item with the large number of club, societies, mass
organisations, trade unions, committees, associations,village
committees which encompass a vast population. Screenings can be
organised for 30 people or even 300…..
    ….While making films on socially relevant issues, they (film
makers) must try to identify themselves with the environment which is
always active. the environment should also react. Mass organisations,
social action groups and other such people-intensive bodies should
recognise the value and impact of film making and extent their support
to the film movement. In fact each of these organisations can with
greatest of ease, own a Super-8 camera and projector, create films in
number and become a part and parcel of the film movement.

True to these words Super 8 film makers of Calcutta carried their
films and projectors to screen them in factories, villages, schools,
colonies and other places untouched by commercial and mainstream
cinema. They made films accessible to people who could not afford a
ticket to cinema halls.

This form of a film movement, an alternate platform of speaking out
and communicating through such a powerful medium as film remains as
essential today if not more. With the growth of a elite class and the
growing economic divide, like all other business film-making is more
and more targeting the section which will yield more profit to them.
It is not just that one class can better afford films, on the other
hand the a large section other class has been driven down to the point
that film is out of their bounds. And obviously films are speaking for
or showcasing the stories of the class they target. Most recently in
an interview Arundhuti Roy mentioned how “Bollywood has completely
walked away from the poor of this country” she pointed out about
Amitabh Bachchan how in “his early films, he was the poor guy who grew
up in the slums….he was a Muslim, a coolie, and a trade union
leader…and..now..in movies, he only lives in villas and is getting out
of helicopters, and those movies are only shown in these little cinema
halls — multiplexes.” Indeed today’s films, funded by international
production houses, are not made for the masses and are doing extremely
well with the exclusive audience who can afford exorbitant ticket
prices at the multiplexes. The displaced national production houses
have somewhat found avenues of expansion in region films. But still
there is a large vacuum that still needs to be filled and only by
Independent films, because only they can address “For whom films?“

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