My father was born on September 14, 1928; he joined the film industry in July 1957 and passed away in March 1972. He spent only 14 and half years in the industry—a very short time—however during this brief period he had the opportunity to do some excellent roles and had the good fortune to work with some of the best directors of the industry.
Amongst these directors, the late Bimal Roy—his mentor—obviously featured on top of his list of favourite directors. Incidentally the letter which he received from Bimal Roy Productions calling him for a screen test was dated June 8, 1957; Bimal Roy passed away on January 8, 1966; and dad passed away on March 8, 1972. But then this is not about numerology, it is about Mr. Roy. Sometimes there is a communication gap between the actor and director. In one scene from a film for instance (if memory serves me right I think it was “Chhoti Bahu”) dad had to deliver his dialogue and laugh. The director was not satisfied with dad’s laughter but at the same time was unable to communicate what he wanted. Finally dad offered a solution: he laughed in different ways and the director chose the one he found suitable. With Bimal Roy however there was no such communication gap; dad just knew what he wanted and Roy was able to convey his needs very clearly. For a scene in “Sujata” for instance he insisted that dad should look up. When dad asked him “Why do I have to look up?” he replied, “Just do it”. When dad saw the scene on screen he saw its impact and realized why Roy was so insistent. I unfortunately do not know which scene this was, for I was very young when dad used to talk about this and I never thought of asking him. My father used to always say that it helps a lot when a director is also technically qualified. Bimal Roy was a cinematographer before he turned director, and likewise Hrishikesh Mukherjee—also a favourite of dad’s—was an editor before he became director.
Hrishikesh Mukherjee was considered one of the best editors in the industry. Dad did two films with him, “Anupama” and “Satyakam”. Being an editor, dad said he just edited the scenes in his mind before shooting them. He just knew how far to go. I think if you see “Guddi” you will see his excellent editing. I am digressing a bit but mentioning “Guddi” brings back some memories. There is a scene in “Guddi” where the camera focuses on a section of Mohan Studios which was gutted by fire and Dharmendra says that he had started his career right there. Watching this scene, dad told us that he too began his career on that studio floor.
Coming back to Hrishikesh Mukherjee, what dad liked about him was that after explaining he left it to the actors to interpret the scenes the way they wanted to. But he too like Roy was very sure about how he would shoot a scene. For the last scene in “Anupama” for instance, Mukherjee took dad to a railway station outside Bombay. I had the opportunity of interviewing him for a publication and he told me (he did not know he was being interviewed by Tarun Bose’s daughter) that just for one single shot of dad he took him all the way to the station because he was sure of what he wanted and the kind of impact that scene was going to have on the viewer. Needless to add, that scene continues to make a strong impression on the audience.
Another director with whom dad loved working was Dulal Guha. Some of Guha’s noteworthy films are “Dushman” (Rajesh Khanna-Mumtaz), “Dharti Kahe Pukar Ke” (Jeetendra-Nanda-Sanjeev Kumar), “Dost” (Dharmendra-Hema Malini-Shatrughan Sinha) and “Do Anjaane” (Amitabh Bachchan-Rekha). Dad did quite a few films with him (“Chand Aur Suraj”, “Dharti Kahe Pukar Ke”). Dad enjoyed working with him and marveled at his ability to extract good performances from even those actors who were not very talented.
Asit Sen was another director whom dad appreciated and what he liked about Asit Sen was his shot taking: the way he framed his shots, the placing of the camera at a low angle, and the close ups. The shot of “Annadata” that you see here is a typical Asit Sen shot composition. “Anokhi Raat”, “Annadata” and “Anokha Daan” were the films which dad did with Sen. “Anokha Daan” was based on the classic novel “Inspector General” which was made into an English film featuring Danny Kaye. Several years later there was a Bengali film based on this story featuring Uttam Kumar. “Anokha Daan” had Kabir Bedi, then a newcomer, in the lead. My father played the role of a corrupt politician, but unfortunately Asit Sen the maker of such sensitive films as “Mamta”, “Safar” and “Khamoshi” had lost his touch and the film was a flop. Although it did not matter to dad since the film had released after he passed away, I feel it was quite unfortunate because he was very happy with this role and had worked very hard to give an excellent performance.
It is quite sad but every actor at one time or the other has seen his or her performance wasted in a flop film. Another such noteworthy performance of my father was that of a drunkard in “Jyot Jale”. This film was about how a man’s (my father) addiction to alcohol ruins his family compelling his wife (Nirupa Roy) to throw him out of the house. Dad’s performance of the drunkard was so authentic that most people asked us and dad whether he came home completely drunk during the film’s shooting. Dad laughingly answered, “If I were really drunk I would not have been in my senses to give my shots.” This performance was wasted because the film flopped. I am not surprised because I found the film quite preachy, and to make matters worse there were no stars to attract the audience. Interestingly one of dad’s weaknesses came to the fore while making this film. The director Satyen Bose wanted dad to lip synch to a sad song (‘Aur Kitne Gham Uthaye Aadmi’) after he is thrown out of the house. Dad was not at all comfortable either lip synching to a song or doing a dance sequence. After the song was picturised dad was not happy with the result so the song was re-shot, this time with the song playing in the background. The still from “Jyot Jale” is from that song sequence.
“Jyot Jale” brings to mind Abhi Bhattacharya, who played the role of a teacher who takes the drunkard’s wayward son under his wing. Abhi Bhattacharya had an interesting trait—more about that, some more incidents and last but not least a puzzle in my last post.