Father of film studies in India dies

Father Gaston Roberge

Father of film studies in India dies

Kolkata: Father of film studies in India, Father Gaston Roberge, passed away on Wednesday, 26 August in Kolkata. He was 85.

 Father Gaston Roberge, a missionary set up India’s oldest media and film training institute called ‘Chitrabani’ in 1970 at Calcutta. Chitrabani introduced ideas and projects that influenced the study of mass media in India. Fr Roberge, who came to India from Canada as a missionary, had a deep fascination towards Cinema from childhood onwards and had worked with big time filmmakers of India including Satyajit Ray.

Jesuit’s Calcutta province officially informed that father Gaston Roberge breathed his last at 8:20 AM on Wednesday. Father was a senior faculty member of the Department of Mass Communication and Film Studies at St. Xavier’s College, Kolkata. The Jesuit-turned-film academic from French-speaking Montreal in Canada used to live in a room in St. Xavier’s College that had his workstation, complete with a desktop computer and a printer, besides his bed.

On the walls, pictures of Satyajit Ray and Bimal Roy were adorned next to that of Jesus Christ’s portrait. Father Roberge was born on May 27, 1935, and joined the Jesuits in 1956. At his request he was sent to India in 1961. In 1970 he created India’s oldest centre for studies and training in communication media, Chitrabani, to initiate people to the study of films.  In his attempt to set up  Chitrabani, he had the backing from Satyajit Ray and Rita Ray. Father Roberge was director of Chitrabani until 1996.

While moving from India to the headquarters of the Society of Jesus in Rome as secretary for social communication, he said: “I felt I must go after 26 years to make it possible for new leadership to take charge”.  

Fr Roberge lectures and writes on cinema and other communication media. He wrote two books, In the book ‘Films for ecology of Mind’ Fr Roberge proposes a critical approach to the media ideology prevalent in our society. He wrote another book, “To View Movies the Indian Way”,  to strengthen his concept of India needing a media ideology of its own. His other book, ‘The Subject of Cinema’ is a collection of ‘The Rita Ray Memorial Lectures 1987’ by Roberge.

 He used to say that he had been fascinated with films since primary school when cowboy films used to be screened on Saturdays. The first Indian film he saw was the Apu Trilogy in New York on the eve of his journey to India. “I was very impressed, particularly with Pather Panchali (by Satyajit Ray),” he was quoted as saying in an article published on Telegraph.

Father Roberge had done masters in theater arts (film) at the University of California in Los Angeles. After he returned to Calcutta and more specifically to St. Xavier’s College in 1999, he again became involved in teaching mass communication and film studies that he continued until he retired to the infirmary.

The Jesuit educationist, Fr Roberge was inspired by Ivan Illich’s 1970 book, Deschooling Society. He wanted a real film studio, without teachers or students, but with practicing filmmakers and apprentices, that is, masters and disciples. “If the studio is as good as I see it, one would not have to go to Mumbai to work on one’s film. Lastly, if it is a real studio it could make money, and Chitrabani would not have to depend on foreign funding,” he used to say.

Father Roberge was uneasy with the “excessive importance” given to the West. He believed that India can play an immense role in reversing this trend.