The Torchbearer of Middle Road Cinema

Filmmaker Basu Chatterjee, known for chronicling the tales of ‘common man’ on the silver screen, right from ‘Sara Akash’ and ‘Rajnigandha’ to ‘Triyacharitra’ to ‘Kuch Khatta Kuch Meetha’ passed away this week. NT BUZZ pays tribute to this screenwriter and film director, who told the audiences their own stories


When legendary filmmaker, Bimal Roy passed away in 1966, he left behind a group of disciples like Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Basu Bhattacharya, Gulzar, and others, who could take ahead his kind of middle-of-the-road cinema. When Basu Bhattacharya made his directorial debut with the Raj Kapoor-Waheeda Rehman starrer ‘Teesri Kasam’ in 1966, he was assisted by another Basu – Basu Chatterjee, who was an illustrator and cartoonist with Blitz weekly edited by Russi Karanjia. Soon the die was cast and Basu Chatterjee was moulded into the Bimal Roy school of filmmaking.

Basu da as he had been fondly called, was a very active and strong supporter of the film society movement, and arranged screenings of films from around the world, in Mumbai under ‘Film Forum’ during the late 1960s. During the screening of these films he would get totally involved in them, and one of the films he screened, ‘Romance for Bugle’ (1967) – a Czechoslovakian production – haunted him for long. He later produced and directed a Hindi film, ‘Us Paar’ (1974) based on it.

Chatterjee began his film career with the 1969 film ‘Sara Akash’ based on the first part of novel of the same name by well-known Hindi fiction writer, Rajendra Yadav. This film, along with ‘Uski Roti’ and ‘Bhuvan Shome’ released the same year, is regarded as one of the films which started the Indian New Wave in cinema.

Basu da soon directed ‘Piya ka Ghar’ (1972) for Rajashri Productions based on the Marathi film, ‘Mumbaicha Jawai’ and went on to direct ‘Chitchor’ (1976) for this banner.

The films of Basu Chatterjee presented the audience with the slice of everyday life, with which they were well accustomed. His heroes travelled to work in buses, romanced women in office canteens and local trains, as also had problems like procuring leave from the office and arranging money to take their beloved one on a date. The characters in his films never had a larger-than-life image, even if they were enacted by actors like Amitabh Bachchan in ‘Manzil’ (1979) – inspired by the Bengali film, Akash Kusum (1965) directed by Mrinal Sen – and Dharmendra in ‘Dillagi’ (1978).

The decade of 1970s witnessed altogether 17 films directed by Basu da, while he directed 12 films in 1980s. Most of his films were unoriginal and based on outside sources. ‘Rajnigandha’ and ‘Jeena Yahan’ were picked up from stories by Manu Bhandari namely ‘Yehi Sach Hai’ and ‘Ekhane Aakash Neyi’, respectively, while ‘Swami’ and ‘Apne Paraye’ were based on the novels by Sarat Chandra Chatterji. His ‘Chakravyuha’ was a remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘39 Steps’; ‘Man Pasand’ was derived from ‘My Fair Lady’; ‘Chhoti si Baat’ was loosely based on the 1960 British movie, ‘School for Scoundrels’; ‘Lakhon Ki Baat’ had the same plot as ‘The Fortune Cookie; and ‘Ek Ruka Hua Faisla’ was a remake of the American motion picture, ‘12 Angry Men’. The much loved ‘Khatta Meetha’ directed by him was based on the 1968 American movie, ‘Yours, Mine and Ours’.

“I make films from all sources that appeal to me,” Basu da had told NT BUZZ in an exclusive interview in 2011. “You see, I live in the Indian milieu and cater to Indian sentiments, and therefore, adapt all such sources to Indian settings,” he had observed, pointing out that his ‘Ek Ruka Hua Faisla’ had a different treatment in the Indian context, and he even changed its ending to suit the setting for Indian audiences.

During his illustrious film career, Basu da also directed the highly popular television serials, ‘Rajani’, ‘Darpan’, ‘Kakaji Kahin’ and ‘Byomkesh Bakshi’. “Television is no different from movies,” he had told NT BUZZ, “Television however confines the director to a certain extent and requires a closer treatment for the production; otherwise the basics of both mediums are same.”

Basu da followed the thought process of Bimal Roy, as also was influenced by films such as ‘Bicycle Thief’ and Billy Wilder’s socio-romantic comedies. It is the good fortune of the audience that the films of Basu Chatterjee carried the best from all these sources. The ‘common man’ will definitely miss his films, which reflected the joys and the struggles in

his own life.

Interview at dawn

Basu Chatterjee was attending the International Film Festival of India in 2011, when I met him. When requested for an interview, he expressed his inability stating that he was leaving next early morning to Mumbai.

“If you can make it to my hotel at 6.30 in the morning, maybe we could chat,” he said, hoping that I would give up my efforts to interview him. I was however prepared to interview the filmmaker, whose films I had been watching all through my childhood, with my family.

Next day, when I reached his hotel room, he was ready for me. Basu da however put a condition that he will pack his bags, have his breakfast and even comb his hair while speaking to me. He carried humour in his everyday life!

And then the interview happened, with Basu da answering the last question just as the intercom informed about the arrival of his taxi at the

hotel door.

A disciple speaks

Anil Dalvi, a Goan who assisted Basu Chatterjee in five films – ‘Pasand Apni Apni’, ‘Lakhon Ki Baat’, ‘Ek Ruka Hua Faisla’, ‘Chameli Ki Shaadi’ and ‘Sheesha’ – besides some episodes of the television serial, ‘Rajani’, recalls that Basu Chatterjee was a hard taskmaster.

“He was very good as a friend, but not as a boss,” adds Dalvi, remembering that he himself had been interested in all areas of filmmaking including editing and production, and would always be busy on the set of Basu da’s films. “Basu da was very much impressed with me due to my penchant for learning and would trust me a lot,” he noted.

Dalvi, the alumnus of National School of Drama (NSD), first met Basu Chatterjee when the director had arrived in Goa to shoot his 1982 film, ‘Shaukeen’ and was the chief guest at an event of the Vision Film Society, a Panaji-based film club.

“Soon I went to NSD and from there to Film and Television Institute of India for six months, as a part of the NSD curriculum,” states Dalvi, adding that when he arrived in Mumbai in the mid-1980s, he met Basu da, who promised to take him in his unit, whenever his next film went on the set. And he kept his promise.

“Basu da was meticulous in using his film budget and would even avoid repeated supply of tea on the set,” maintains Dalvi, remembering that once during the birthday party of Basu da some unknown men visited his house with bouquets and while leaving took away some money from his house. “When Basu da came to know about the theft, he said that he has lost all the money he had saved through limited supply of tea on the set,” recalls Dalvi, while remembering the inherent humour carried by the legendary director.

Remembering the family-like environment on the set of Basu da’s films, Dalvi informs that Basu da had decided to cast Padmini Kolhapure in the title role of his serial ‘Rajani’, but when the actress did not give her dates after her film, ‘Pyar Jhukta Nahin’ became a hit, Basu da went ahead and signed Priya Tendulkar instead. “Basu da used to shoot his films at a tremendous pace and sometimes his two to three films went on the floor at a time,” he added.