Late Buddhadeb Dasgupta’s Bagh Bahadur (1989) is a masterpiece. Very few can equal its marvel. Written and directed by Dasgupta, the film is about a man who paints himself as a tiger and dances in a village in Bengal. In fact, the movie conveys a powerful message as it illustrates the hardships of rural village life in Bengal.
One of the most haunting scenes one will ever come across in one’s life is that of the final fight scene between a leopard and Bagh Bahadur (played by Pawan Malhotra). Bagh Bahadur is the story of Ghunuram, a labourer who during his off weeks (he takes off from his job every year) comes to his Nonpura. There he keeps entertaining people. In fact, he becomes a ‘Bohurupi’ and also performs the tiger dance.
Tiger dance is an art form, which has been handed over to the sons by their fathers for generations in the village. Unfortunately, it is this tradition that takes away his life. For Ghunuram, the year is special.
He hopes against hope to marry Radha, the daughter of his fellow performer Sibal. But things take a sharp turn when these performers find competition from a circus on wheels. They proudly display that they have a new leopard.
This leopard attracts all. Gradually, people lose their interest in Ghunuram’s performance and antics. He feels threatened. His dance form gets challenged and his tradition receives tough competition. This is indeed an instance of cultural displacement.
Villagers no longer take interest in his traditional tiger dance. Radha also falls for a circus performer, adding insult to Ghunuram’s injuries. To save his face and also dance form, he fights the real leopard, a symbolic move indeed.
Buddhadeb Dasgupta saved the best for the last. The ending scene is not full of gory (since we all know what will be the outcome of a man versus wild fight). A man keeps playing the drums. Musical notes and beats of the drum fill the air when Ghunuram keeps fighting the real leopard.
The theme of cultural displacement against the backdrop of tiger dance and travelling circus makes the movie one of Dasgupta’s best works. Filmmakers like Buddhadeb Dasgupta had gone, never to return.