The Independent Film Movement in Bengal: A History of the Super 8 mm

February 26, 2010

This article appears in Canvas: Films of Movement, A movement in Films

Tracing the beginnings

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. To a large extent, he also 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. Strangely enough, this historic legal battle has an interesting relation to the history of independent film making movement in Bengal.

After his release from jail in 1977, Saumen Guha devoted a major part of his energy into fighting for justice for his sister Archana Guha, as well as her recovery. Archana Guha was severely tortured for several weeks by the police after being picked up for interrogation about her Naxalite brother’s whereabouts. The torture left her 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 Archana Guha’s recovery.

The interest in film making was something Saumen Guha nurtured for quite sometime. 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 prison. It was in jail that he thought of making a film on Gorky’s Mother in Bengali. After his release in amnesty, in 1977 after the 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 and 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 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 circulate a few possible questions for the audience to encourage their queries.

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 taught 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 its 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 convenor 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.

Other efforts in Super-8

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 Saumen Guha’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 the 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 equipment was 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 equipment. Saumen Guha also bought his first editing machine from a Russle Street auction in Calcutta. In fact the hardware acquired in this fashion 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 this 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 walk across the University campus separately and look 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 conversations between 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 screened at several places.

Super-8 Outside Calcutta

The interest and initiatives with Super 8 were not limited to Calcutta and its 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 Durgapur.

The Super 8 really turned into a movement through these 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 in 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

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, 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 (অরওয়াল).

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 members 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 audience.

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, and 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. 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 Banerjee 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 the 1986 Arwal massacre of peasants by the Bihar police, and the tune by Balakrishnan was used completely in contrast to its 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.

National Super-8 Film Festival

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 India.

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-Madhya Pradesh border. Dr Amte’s project, which he took over from the work initiated in the area by his father, Baba Amte, started off as an 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 and they become phone-friends. Their phone-friendship is two months old. 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)-A boy 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.

The Havenots (G N Murthy, Bangalore; Kannada,Colour, 12 mins.)-A poor 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 her he 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.),-A protest 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 Maharashtra.

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 wreak 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 Calcutta.

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 existence.

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.

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 figure.

-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. Most 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 film.“

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 and sound equipment at unbelievably low rates and even for free. In film screenings outside Calcutta, often the Cine Audio staff would lend the equipment to the organizers without the knowledge of Manna. For such screenings the expensive equipment would be carried for hours in trains and buses and then power would be hooked from overhead wires to make the equipment 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 equipment that the organisers felt that it was not sufficient even for his scooter’s fuel, which was old and quite a fuel guzzler. Many activists 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 heyday 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 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 New York, 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 equipment 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 price.

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 on 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 sound and so were the cartridges, it was a silent system. Later when the cartridge had provision for sound recording, 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 thus 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 the end 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. With the growth of a elite class and the growing economic divide, like all other businesses, 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 a large section of the 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.

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… 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 regional 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?

1 Comment »

One Response to “The Independent Film Movement in Bengal: A History of the Super 8 mm”

  1. somnathghosh Says:
    November 12th, 2014 at 02:19

    i went to joint this mivement

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