The hullabaloo over the Town hall is not over. All the lefts and rights alike, are too eager to show their concern over this historic building. Remind the days of just a couple of years back. To a passerby it was just another archaic building built by the colonial rulers, in a decaying condition after their departure, some times used as a ration office or office of the Public Service Commission. There were initiatives in between, but all were flashes in the pan. But things changed a bit when renowned artist Sri Bikash Bhattacharya , out of his genuine love made some sketches of the building, which were later auctioned to collect money for its renovation. No doubt, the revamped Town hall has become a pride of Calcutta. But who bothers to go behind the history of it?
Yes, someone dared to do so. Despite his tight working schedules for bread-earning, Filmmaker Dhurjati Prasad took up the cudgel for going through the history of Town hall and came out with a moving film titled ‘ Behind the Doric Grandeur ‘ on 35 MM. format.
In the beginning of the film we see two ladies - one young named Nandita and the other Christian, a middle-aged French, making their strides through thespacious, right staircases of Town hall, Calcutta. Their faces look gleaming with the dimly lit light of the decaying splendour as if they are experiencing the entire history of it. Through their conversations, narrative voices and visuals composed of paintings, enacted actual happenings- one sees the dilapidated Old Court House which was felled down in 1791, to make way for building up a grand architecture in Palladian Neo-classical Doric style. As they walk through the doors, corridors, arches and observe meticulously throughout the building, the scenes become alive: the history of making of the Town hall, formation of the lottery committee that contributed substantially in the making of it.
The film is arranged chronologically, taking into account of the happenings over the years enlivened with the cherished memories of past cultural and political events in and around Calcutta. The first meeting held in the Hall in 1817 was a conversation of the intellectuals of Calcutta. There followed a series of events, one after another like the meeting of the SchoolBook society, European dance parties and quarterly session of the Calcutta Municipal taxes.
The Town Hall had also been used as a court. There are at least two instances. The proceedings of the murder of a Muslim bride and the death of a native Muchiram Das. It is fascinating to see young Henry V. Derozio addressing the public in support of the second petition submitted by East India Co. in parliament and the erstwhile Governor General Lord Metcafe proposing the reformation of the Control of the Printing Press Act of 1823. On the other hand, the opulents of Calcuttas like late Kanailal Tagore, Prasanna Kumar Tagore, Raja Kalikissen and several others are seen forming the ‘Land holders Society’ in the Town Hall.
The film shifts its focus to the heydays of the Bengal renaissance in cultural and political arena. When in May 1873, Girishchandra staged the noted drama ‘ Nildarpan’ and on 30 September of the same year the meeting of the ‘Prevention of obscenity’ was held uner the leadership of Sri Keshub Chandra Sen. It also became the holy-place of the hindu muslim culture and amity. Moulavi Abdul Latif, a member of the legislative council used to organise yearly congregation in the Town Hall. The women of Bengal did not lag behind. They also formed the ‘Bengali Ladies Association’ and attended the meeting arranged in protest of the hill exodus in 1886.
Since the later part of the nineteenth century using the Town Hall as a platform of direct and indirect political activities, particularly against the British imperialist rule was started. So one sees poet Rabindranath Tagore raising his voice against the British tyrannical acts and imperial rules, processions in protest against division of Bengal, a retorting Surenra Nath Bannerjee against Lord Curzon and holding of the 22nd session of National Congress.
The film portrays the other phases of protest movements. A welcome address to Sapurji Sakhlatwalla, the only member of the Communist Party, by Corporation of Calcutta. A protesting Rabindranath Tagore for release of the political prisoners and the formation of the ‘Friends of the Soviet Union’. The committee included Late Bhupendra Nath Dutta, Sri Hiren Mukherjee, Sri Jyoti Basu and others. On 1st August 1942, the Town Hall was decorated with red flags after withdrawal of the ban on Communist Party.
The film ends with the tragic note of converting the historical building into a Ration office in 1943.
The film may seem talkative to the viewers, The reason might be the problem of encapsulating the volumes of information put into it. But it has also nuances of silence enriched with powerful visual imagery. At times the camera seems to be very erratic, particularly in the shots of still photos. But there are poetic moments also. The background music by Swapan Pakrashi helps to create the right mood of the changing periods.
Afterall, the remarkable thing is to mention that it is the first documentary film on Town Hall and the unfortunate incident is the director Dhurjati Prasad is no more to see the fate of his film. So the question remains unanswered regarding preservation of the film.
Is there any taker?
"Film as dream, film as music. No art passes our conscience in the way film does, and goes directly to our feelings, deep down into the dark rooms of our souls."