End of an era

End of an era

Dulal Dutta worked with Satyajit Ray on all his classic films.

Sir Charles Chaplin once said — ‘Just as a script writer is the backbone of a film, an editor is also an integral part of it.’ Alas! Ours is a nation which does not respect and give due credit to its cine technicians for their achievements. Dulal Dutta, Satyajit Ray’s editor from Pather Panchali to Agantuk, passed away recently at his Kolkata residence recently. He was 86.

An unsung hero, Dulal Dutta was interested in editing right from the early 40s when he left Kolkata and opted for Mumbai. He worked as a makeup assistant in Bombay Talkies from 1941 but he was still always interested in the craft of editing and was a frequent visitor to various editing studios. When Dutta met Dr V Shantaram, the filmmaker noticed sparks of talent in him and advised Dutta to return to Kolkata and work there, as his creative pursuits would receive maximum recognition in his home town.

Creativity personified

Taking Shantaram’s advice, Dulal Dutta returned to his roots. He worked for a few years as an assistant to Ardhendu Chatterjee — India’s best editor of the early 50s. His mentor recommended his name to Satyajit Ray for the editing the film Pather Panchali. Dulal created wonders at the editing table and since then there was no looking back for the soft spoken, workoholic, Dulal Dutta.

Then started the association between legendary filmmaker Satyajit Ray and Dutta. He worked with Ray on all his classic films. The sort of rapport, Dulal Dutta shared with Satyajit Ray, no other editor did with any director. In fact Hrishikesh Mukherjee always advised upcoming editors to follow Dulal Dutta’s pattern of editing more than his own.

It was not an easy task working with the meticulous and non-compromising Satyajit Ray. Dulal Dutta understood Ray’s moods, system of working and abided by it to the hilt. One of his excellent edited moments was Sarbajaya (Karuna Banerjee) crying, “Na” after hearing her husband Harihar’s (Kanu Bandopadhyay's) death news in Aparajito. The symbol of the pigeons flying away along with the shrill cry was a master piece example of simple yet taut editing.

Also, no one will forget Uttam Kumar’s wet close up in the Rajdhani Express in Nayak after he washes his face and looks back as the train shifts tracks in full motion. Along with the sound of the running train changing tracks and Uttam Kumar’s silent look, Dulal Dutta created a brilliant contrast through his editing which depicted the internal trauma of Uttam Kumar (the hero). In Jana Aranya when Somnath (Pradeep Mukherjee) faces his best friend’s sister to offer her to a Marwari businessman to receive a business deal, there are a couple of dialogues and inter cuts of the two faces with sharp movements which never jerked — a solid example of accurate editing by Dulal Dutta.

Though, Dulal Dutta was mainly a director’s editor, he did rise to the occasion many times when he suggested to Satyajit Ray certain cuts and other forms of editing. Undoubtedly, Ray did agree to many of his suggestions. Dulal Dutta was to Ray what Gangadhar Naskar was to Mrinal Sen.

It is wrong to compare the abilities of Dulal Dutta to the present league of leading editors like Argha Kamal Mitra and Rabi Ranjan Maitra. Dulal Dutta never worked with technologically advanced equipment and digital backing which the latter
received.

The wonders he created remain unmatched and there are grave doubts if contemporary editors could create equal magic in their work under the constraints Dulal Dutta worked in. It is easy to create story forms for the silver screen with modern hi-tech machinery, but imagination is something which no machine can control; and Dulal Dutta was a perfect testimony to this statement.

Flawless editor

Commenting on his editing in the Apu trilogy, Sir Richard Attenborough said, “Dulal Dutta’s editing had its own rhythm and fluidity. He was at his altruistic best in Devi and Charulata. His chemistry with Ray was fabulous.” Ray’s son, Sandip Ray says, “Dulal da was a paternal figure to me and I learnt a lot about various aspects of editing from him. He edited my films Phatikchand and Target flawlessly. He never compromised when it came to work and always inspired people to think of new and creative ideas.”

Govind Nihalani expressed his shock at the news of Dulal Dutta’s demise and said, “Though I did not know him personally, I hold him in high esteem as an editor. The kind of films Ray directed required sophisticated and masterly handling which Dulal Dutta did with rare efficiency.”

Adoor Gopal Krishan laments, “It’s sad that we never bothered to really honour a master editor like Dulal Dutta. He was as much a part of Ray’s unique team as were Subrata Mitra and Banshi Chandra Gupta. In each of his films Dulal Dutta left the stamp of an editor who was hard to match.”

Martin Scorsese also paid a rich tribute to Dulal Dutta saying, “Each of Ray’s films is an aesthetic delight and his editing patterns varied in each film with almost no similarity to an earlier one. I consider him at par with editors of Europe and Hollywood based on his work in Mahanagar, Charulata, Nayak and Agantuk.”

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