The cinema of West Bengal (Bengali: UwjDW, translit. ṭôliuḍ), also known as Tollywood refers to the Indian Bengali language film industry based in the Tollygunge region of Kolkata, West Bengal, India. The origins of the nickname Tollywood, a portmanteau of the words Tollygunge and Hollywood, dates back to 1932. It was a historically important film industry, at one time the center of Indian film production. The Bengali film industry is known for producing many of Indian cinema’s most critically acclaimed global Parallel Cinema and art films, with several of its filmmakers gaining prominence at the Indian National Film Awards as well as international acclaim. Since the late 20th century, the Bengali film industry has become smaller, overtaken by other regional industries such as Bollywood and South Indian cinema.
Ever since Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali (1955) was awarded Best Human Document at the 1956 Cannes Film Festival, Bengali films frequently appeared in international fora and film festivals for the next several decades. This allowed Bengali filmmakers to reach a global audience. The most influential among them was Satyajit Ray, whose films became successful among European, American and Asian audiences. His work subsequently had a worldwide impact, with filmmakers such as Martin Scorsese, James Ivory, Abbas Kiarostami, Elia Kazan, François Truffaut, Carlos Saura, Isao Takahata, Wes Anderson and Danny Boyle being influenced by his cinematic style, and many others such as Akira Kurosawa praising his work.
The “youthful coming-of-age dramas that have flooded art houses since the mid-fifties owe a tremendous debt to the Apu trilogy”. Kanchenjungha (1962) introduced a narrative structure that resembles later hyperlink cinema. Ray’s 1967 script for a film to be called The Alien, which was eventually cancelled, is widely believed to have been the inspiration for Steven Spielberg’s E.T. (1982). Ira Sachs’ Forty Shades of Blue (2005) was a loose remake of Charulata, and in Gregory Navas My Family (1995), the final scene is duplicated from the final scene of The World of Apu. Similar references to Ray films are found in recent works such as Sacred Evil (2006), the Elements trilogy of Deepa Mehta, and in films of Jean-Luc Godard.
Another prominent Bengali filmmaker is Mrinal Sen, whose films have been well known for their Marxist views. During his career, Mrinal Sen’s films have received awards from major film festivals, including Cannes, Berlin, Venice, Moscow, Karlovy Vary, Montreal, Chicago, and Cairo. Retrospectives of his films have been shown in major cities of the world. Another Bengali filmmaker, Ritwik Ghatak, began reaching a global audience long after his death; beginning in the 1990s, a project to restore Ghatak’s films was undertaken, and international exhibitions (and subsequent DVD releases) have belatedly generated an increasingly global audience. Some of his films have strong similarities to later famous international films, such as Ajantrik (1958) resembling the Herbie films (1967–2005) and Bari Theke Paliye (1958) resembling François Truffaut’s The 400 Blows (1959).
The cinematographer Subrata Mitra, who made his debut with Ray’s The Apu Trilogy, also had an importance influence on cinematography across the world. One of his most important techniques was bounce lighting, to recreate the effect of daylight on sets. He pioneered the technique while filming Aparajito (1956), the second part of The Apu Trilogy. Some of the experimental techniques which Satyajit Ray pioneered include photo-negative flashbacks and X-ray digressions while filming Pratidwandi (1972).