On a rain-washed gloomy day in Mumbai when it seemed just right to get romantically nostalgic humming his “Rim jhim gire sawan”, legendary director Basu Chatterjee passed away. Bengal mourned the demise of the maker who made Byomkesh Bakshi a pan-Indian household name and set trends by chronicling the aspirations of the working class with a touch of simplicity, melodious songs and slice-of-life situations.
Despite waiting till 1998 to direct a feature film in his mother tongue, Chatterjee’s Hindi films have been replete with Bangaliana. He cast many Bengali actors, including Utpal Dutt, Ashok Kumar and Mithun Chakraborty in “Shaukeen”, Indrani Halder in “Hamari Shaadi”, Roopa Ganguly in “Kamla Ki Maut”, Moon Moon Sen in “Sheesha” and Moushumi Chatterjee in “Manzil”. Soon after the news of his demise, director Shoojit Sircar tweeted remembering his first job as an assistant director with Chatterjee on the sets of a Bengali TV serial that was shot in New Delhi. Few know that most of his films were Hindi adaptations of Bengali literary works by authors Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay (“Swami” and “Apne Paraye”), Subodh Ghosh (“Chitchor”), Swaraj Bandopadhyay (“Kamla Ki Maut”), Samaresh Basu (“Shaukeen” and “Safed Jhooth”), Ashish Burman (“Manzil”) and Bimal Kar (“Dillagi”).
His Bengali directorial debut at the age of 68 with a rank newcomer as the lead who later went on to become Bangladesh’s superstar was a trend-setter of sorts. More so, since Mumbai-based Bengali directors who worked in Bollywood usually never returned to Bengal after tasting success. “Sreelekha Mitra had recommended me for ‘Hothat Brishti’. Basuda had got Nachiketa Chakraborty to score the music. That was Nachiketa’s debut as music composer,” said Ferdous Ahmed from Dhaka.
Shooting with a sexagenarian can be a challenge but Chatterjee always made it fun, remembers Prosenjit Chatterjee, who worked with him in 2008 for “Hochheta Ki?” “He was fit and had an agile mind. It was an experience working with a legend who had set the trend of giving hits without stars relying on content and music. That’s a trend is followed till date,” he said.
Many remember how Chatterjee made shooting easy with his impeccable sense of humour. “He had already made cult films and I was just out of college. One day while shooting my first film, he asked me about my experience of having to shoot daily while riding a camel in Rajasthan. I told him about the stench. He reminded me that the camel must be 50 years old and had never brushed its teeth in all those ears! Such witty lines made me feel easy.”
“Hothat Brishti”, which was made on a budget of Rs 60 lakh, was a roaring success both in Bengal and Bangladesh. “Back then, other Bengali movies were made on lesser budget. This film set the trend of Tollywood making bigger budget films and also casting newcomers in the lead,” added Ahmed, who had even co-produced “Hothat Sedin” with the director in 2012. “It was the remake of ‘Rajnigandha’,” Ahmed added.
Mitra too has memories of shooting for “Hothat Brishti”. “For me, Basu Chatterjee means ‘Rajnigandha’ and ‘Manzil’. These films were so real. There was a shadow of those works in his Bengali cinema too. But I feel his best films were in Hindi. When he came to work in Bengali cinema, he was past his prime,” Mitra said.
Just for the opportunity to watch a legend had prompted director Atanu Ghosh to work as an executive producer for a Bengali telefilm directed by Chatterjee. “In 1969, two Bengali filmmakers had received box office hits with their off-beat ventures. One was Mrinal Sen with ‘Bhuvan Shome’ and the other was Basu Chatterjee with ‘Sara Akash’. Those paved the way for Indian new wave to get a firm commercial footing. Here was someone who had made such diverse films like ‘Kamla Ka Maut’, ‘Sara Akash’, ‘Shaukeen’, ‘Ek Ruka Hua Faisla’, ‘Chhoti Si Baat’, ‘Baton Baton Mein’ and ‘Chitchor’ and I wanted to see him at work,” Ghosh said. He had approached both Sen and Chatterjee to make telefilms for a Bengali private channel. Sen had refused on grounds of ill-health but Chatterjee was game. “In midst of shooting for the telefilm, we enjoyed the adda sessions, the juicy anecdotes from the film industry, as well as engaging tales from his days as a cartoonist in Mumbai,” Ghosh added.
With Chatterjee, Ahmed went on to work in three more Bengali films – “Chupi Chupi”, “Tak Jhal Mishti” and “Hothat Sedin”. By Ahmed’s own admission, none of these were as successful as “Hothat Brishti”. “Basuda had already set a trend in Hindi cinema. With his first Bengali film, he had set another trend. But Tollywood had started to change by the time he started his other Bengali films. He would say I don’t make films with action scenes or ones where the hero flies abroad at the drop of a hat. Once he had attended the premiere of a commercial film of mine and said: ‘ebar maramari chhere amar cinemae dhoko (now drop your fight scenes and come to my sets)’. I guess Tollywood had moved to a space where films of other kinds were working. Basuda, who had always been a trend-setter, refused to change himself to fit into this space,” Ahmed said.
In fact, he was also in talks with Ahmed to adapt a short story titled “Biyer Phande”. According to Ahmed, the script too was ready. But destiny had other plans. Before he could do that, Chatterjee passed away on a rain-swept morning while the world was blissfully humming “Rim jhim gire sawan/ Sulag sulag jaaye mann/ Bheege aaj is mausam mein/Lagi kaisi yeh agan”.
Source: Times of India