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This is Kathleen’s Kolkata

This is Kathleen’s Kolkata

East, India, West Bengal

‘Some may say that film-makers romanticise the old world charm of Kolkata and that they are not painting the true real life of the city. I reckon perhaps it’s one way to establish a connection with the city – its past, glory and heritage.’

Believe it or not, Indian films have somewhat influenced my choice of travel destinations in India. I enjoy watching Indian films (with English subtitles, of course) but would like to quickly add that I’m not inclined towards Bollywood masala films. Thanks to a Bengali friend living in Delhi who introduced to me an array of critically acclaimed Indian films that portray vibrant and riveting stories; films par excellence in terms of screenplay, directing and acting that may not necessarily perform well in the box-office.

Over a period of time, I discovered more Indian films on my own, and these films happened to feature the city of Kolkata or Calcutta, depending on the era in which the films were based. The first of which was Kahaani, a mystery thriller film about a pregnant woman searching for her missing husband in Kolkata. The entire film kept me on the edge but it was the frenzied, climactic scene of the last day of Durga Puja festival when the Goddess Durga was carried out in the streets of Kolkata amid music, dance, blowing of conches, ululation and married women smearing vermillion powder on each other’s face, left me spell-bound and captivated. It took a few more Kolkata-themed films (which I will share shortly in this post) and three years later that persuaded me to book a flight to Kolkata to experience the festival myself.

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Larger than life festivals

My real life experience of Durga Puja festival was not as chaotic as the film but more restrained and yet positive. This was because I spent the time pandal-hopping in the suburbs of Kolkata with a local friend. We visited three puja pandals that were walking distance in the neighbourhood, and I was amazed by the creativity and innovation displayed by the communities in building pandal structures of various themes. And the part which I found most interesting, if not, a little poignant, was bidding farewell to Maa Durga. I saw married women wearing red and white sarees, queuing up at the pandals to apply vermillion powder, feeding the Goddess Durga sweets with much love and adoration as one has for her own mother. Devotees worship Durga not only for her victory over evil but as Mother of the Universe as well.

Another mystery thriller film that intrigued me was Detective Byomkesh Bakshy, a Calcutta whodunit based on an adaptation of a dhoti-wearing, quick-witted private eye character who remains one of the most popular figures of Bengali literature. What I loved about this film is that the production set and cinematography depicted the politically volatile era of Calcutta in the 1940s complete with its old world charm of vintage cars and trams, Chinatown, smoke-filled coffee houses, structures of crumbling grandeur, all of which I recognised during my trip in 2015.

During my walkabouts in Kolkata, I saw the decaying red three-storey brick flats with green shutters known as Bow Barracks; walked along the streets of Tiretta Bazar, home to India’s only Chinatown; and drank (bad) coffee in Indian Coffee House on College Street which incidentally was one of the film locations for Detective Byomkesh Bakshy . As I explored the city over a period of three days, I was enchanted by its heritage architecture, quaint charm, confluence of cultures, a city mixed with modernity and old grandeur, and soon I began to understand that Kolkata has become both muse and leading characters for films nowadays, and to some extent, for my travel experiences as well.

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Crumbling grandeur

The last film that I would like to mention is Piku, a comedy-drama about the short-tempered Piku, her grumpy and ageing father who suffers from constipation and the owner of a taxi company, as they embark on a road trip from Delhi to Kolkata. By this time, I was able to identify the familiar icons of Kolkata (even though I hadn’t visited the city yet!) but interestingly, the thing that I detected in the film was the Bengali pronunciation of words. Their accent and pronunciation are fascinating, often dominated by “o” and “osh” sounds. “V” is pronounced as “B”. “Pradesh” and “Vijay” are “Pradosh” and “Bijoy”. I had observed and noticed the same when I was in Kolkata. The popular Bengali sweet “rasgulla” sounds like “roshgolla” as if their mouths are full of rashgulla as they speak ๐Ÿ™‚

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Much romanticised cliches
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Of Kolkata are irresistible

Some may say that film-makers romanticise the old world charm of Kolkata and that they are not painting the true real life of the city. I reckon perhaps it’s one way to establish a connection with the city – its past, glory and heritage. And for those who are returning to their Bengali roots, maybe the past can help them create a new future for the city and its people.
And as for me, the foreigner who passed through Kolkata for a short time, a glimpse into this City of Joy is enough for me to remember and cherish for a long time. And if I do forget Kolkata once in a while, I can always watch the movies ๐Ÿ™‚
About the authorย 
Kathleen hails from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. She blogs at Kat Pegi Mana: Where Is Kat Going (www.katpegimana.com), a travel blog of her adventures mainly in Asia, and other parts of the world. Kat Pegi Mana means “Where Is Kat Going” in the Malay language, and that is the question her friends always ask her whenever they meet. They see the wanderlust in her!
Kathleen still works full-time in the financial industry in Kuala Lumpur but she jetsets every few months and gets immense joy from experiencing different cultures, admiring beautiful landscape and architecture, and eating delicious international cuisine.
Her interest lie in history, heritage, arts and culture. Through her blog and writing, she aims to inspire people to appreciate and connect with various heritage and cultures around the world, as the world is ever more connected now.
Kathleen has travelled to India nine times, and is dreaming of her tenth trip. To continue her connections to the Bengali world, she is currently reading an English-translated omnibus edition of “The Complete Adventures of Feluda, Vol.II” by Satyajit Ray, a book that she found in a bookshop in Darjeeling.

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Kolkata is beyond stereotypes.
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India’s poor man’s
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…Metro city has…
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…Has a lot…
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…Working in…
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…Its favour.
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Crammed with…
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…Interesting faces…
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…Intriguing lifestyles…
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…And colour splashed moments…
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…It is a photographer’s delight…
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…Only if you have time…
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…To discover…
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Its quirks…
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…And often overlooked strong character.

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About the author

Hi! I am Svetlana, a cloud gypsy, a story teller and a Maverickbird. A mother, writer, entrepreneur, traveler, foodie and an animal lover, I am a Super girl from India.

10 Comments

  1. Amit
    November 2, 2016 at 1:50 pm
    Reply

    I would like to add that most of the classic Bengali movies are based on stories or novels from Bengali literature, hence the close and authentic depiction of Bengali culture and thought. Secondly, whereas Hindi and other language movies from India work in two different streams viz, commercial and art, in Bengali cinema you would also find movies on the border of entertainment and art. That means, movies are both entertaining and classic. Here I mean Bengali language movies. You can explore Satyajit Ray and Mrinal Sen movies for excellent depiction of Bengal. The article and the photos are outstanding!

    • maverickbird
      November 2, 2016 at 2:19 pm

      Thank you very much. It is true that most Bengali films are based on Bengali literature, hence the result is undiluted Bengal pleasure.

  2. Nupur
    November 3, 2016 at 6:12 am
    Reply

    Kolkata has been on my list for far too long. Time I make it a priority.
    And Feluda <3

    • maverickbird
      November 3, 2016 at 8:03 am

      Thank you very much. I hope you will have a good time in Kolkata.

  3. spunkybong
    November 3, 2016 at 7:59 am
    Reply

    What a charming essay and even more spectacular photos – ordinary scenes that I wouldn’t take a second look at, but here they seem to come alive and make me yearn ta go back and see all this first hand!

    • maverickbird
      November 3, 2016 at 8:11 am

      Thank you very much. Kolkata is a lot about understated beauty.

  4. Renuka
    November 11, 2016 at 4:35 pm
    Reply

    Interesting photos! I have to agree that bollywood films do inspire travel. And even I would like to visit Kolkata for the way it has been shown in Hindi films. There’s a certain charm about it, I’m sure.

  5. Pooja Bhatt
    November 14, 2016 at 2:14 pm
    Reply

    What an Amazing Collection of Pics which actually is a Virtual Tour to the City of Joy : Kolkatta ! Rightly said looking at the above pics !

    • maverickbird
      November 14, 2016 at 11:00 pm

      Thank you very much.

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