A Homage to Basu Bhattacharya

Basu Bhattacharya was one of the most well-known exponents of ‘middle cinema’ in Bombay. Whatever the quality of his films might have been critically his own individuality was reflected in his films. He tried to connect the mainstream Bombay films to the more artistic and socially aware cinema. In this article, BHASKAR SEN looks into the life of Basu Bhattacharya, his own growth as a filmmakerand his place in the middle-of-the-road cinema.

The Early Years

Basu Bhattacharya (1934 - 1997) was born into a Brahmin family in Murshidabad in West Bengal. From his family came the priests to the royal family of Cossimbazar and that would have been his future as well. After being educated in Berhampur and Calcutta, his interest in films took him to Bombay. In 1958, he started his movie career as an assistant to Bimal Roy in Madhumati and Sujata. Soon a rift followed as he married his mentors daughter against his wishes.

Teesri Kasam

His first independent directorial venture was Teesri Kasam (1966) produced by the poet-lyricist Shailendra. Shailendra had a highly successful career in Bombay teaming up with the composer duo Shankar - Jaikishen and together they provided evergreen hits for most of Raj Kapoor’s musicals. But the creative artist and sensitive poet remained artistically dissatisfied he chose a very beautiful subject, a story Teesri Kasam by the Hindi author Phaniswarnath Renu. Together with Basu Bhattacharya he wanted to present a refined and a redefined entertainment.

Hiraman, a simpleton bullock-cart-driver after two misadventures and the two initial vows is forced to transport a nautanki dancer to a remote destination. In the course of the journey, he gets acquainted with the dancer Hirabai, forming a relationship as ‘mita’ or namesakes. Simple and uncomplicated Hiraman sees her as a pure and virtuous woman and she in turn is charmed by his innocence and lack of guiles. Their relation, their world is short lived like the journey. Hiraman, on reaching the fair comes into conflict with almost everyone including his friends who sees the ‘dancer as an object of lust. This initially angers Hirabai but she starts understanding Hiraman and his pure devotion. She sees herself with Hiraman’s eye and starts dreaming of a life with him and an escape from her own tinsel life. He deposits all his savings with her and she cooks and feeds him. The local lecherous landlord lusts after Hirabai and her refusal angers him. This endangers Hiraman’s life and Hirabai chides him and sends him away. The disillusioned and heart-broken Hiraman takes the final and third vow to not to trust or transport in his cart another nautanki dancer. Meanwhile Hirabai leaves that nautanki and sends a message to Hiraman as she wants to return his savings. Hiraman does not turn up at the railway station where she waits for him in vain and them boards a train to perhaps to go to another nautanki.

Waheeda Rehman was perfectly cast as Hirabai but it was difficult to imagine the fair- complexioned Raj Kapoor as the rural Bihari cart-driver. But he insisted on playing the role and to conceal his complexion the film had to be made in black and white and shot by Satyajit Ray’s early cameraman Subroto Mitra. Inspite of the critical acclaim in garnered and memorable music by Shankar Jaikishen the film was a box office disaster. A financially ruined Shailendra died very soon.

The Influences

Though Basu said he was influenced by Ray’s Pather Panchali, the influence of his mentor Bimal Roy was more than evident. Bimal started as a cameraman in the New Theatres, Calcutta. Later he moved to Bombay and successfully adapted literary themes like Parinita, Kabuliwala, Sujata and Bandini. He took stars and made them act effectively. He also understood music well and blended many beautiful songs composed by Sachin Dev Burman and Salil Chowdhury into his films. The soft tone and lighting of his films were matched by his delicate story-telling and refined sensibilities. Along with Guru Dutt he made lyrical and poetic films and were the major icons of the sixties. Directors and writers like Gulzar, Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Nabendu Ghosh and Basu Bhattacharya learnt their ropes under him.

Teesri Kasam was most Bimal Royish of all Basu’s films but despite its excellence and President’s Silver Medal, Basu was to move way to a new kind of cinema. Basu would never touch a literary theme again, despite his affinity and familiarity with them.

The 70s’ trilogy

The middle of the road cinema was resurgent once more in the early 70s with Hrishikesh Mukherjee and Gulzar at the vanguard of the movement. films like Anand, Guddi, Abhiman, Parichay and Koshish were liked both by the critics and the masses. Basu was now to explore the world of man-woman relationship with Amar and Manasi, the eternal man and woman at its epicentre. Basu was now to venture on the Amar-Manasi trilogy which would take a look at modern, urban marriages and its fragile nature and its inherent contradictions.

Anubhav (1971) was the first one of the trilogy with the lead pair Sanjeev Kumar and Tanuja. In between moments of love and understanding, there is a conflict which arises out of ego- clashes between two assertive individuals. The husband expects his wife to play a subservient role in the marriage while the wife opposes the egoistical male dominance. The haunting songs were rendered by Geeta Dutt and Anubhav was her swan-song. The next film Avishkaar (1975) had in lead the then successful star-pair Rajesh Khanna and Sharmila Tagore who played a couple very much in love and marry against all odds. After the initial happy years, they are discounted and disillusionment sets in as they have a wider view of each other’s shortcomings and flaws. The husband tries to befriend another woman but then returns to his wife. They realise they had not understood each other in totality and fully and they accept each other with their short comings. Rajesh Khanna won the Best Actor trophy at the Filmfare awards. The third film was about an extramarital relationship. Uttam Kumar was to play Amar in Grihapravesh (1977) but he left the project after a difference of opinion with the director and was replaced by Sanjeev Kumar. Sharmila Tagore was to play the wife (Manasi) and Sarika the other woman (Sapna). The wife remains content with her humdrum middle class life and penny pinches to save in order to buy a new house and move out of the rented one. The husband is pursued by his attractive and younger colleague and finally gets seduced by her after his initial aloofness. After the painful realisation, wife gets the act together by painting the peeled off walls and dolls up glamorously. She invites the girl over to her home and assuredly presents a picture of a happy and a working marriage. The girl is confronted by this facade and becomes unsure whether this awkward and domesticated man is the person she loved and turns back. The intrusion is soon forgotten and couple re-enacts their set part once more.

Apart from the main characters played by different actors, named Amar-Manasi, the songs were penned by Gulzar and composed by Kanu Roy, an assistant to Salil Chowdhury. This trilogy is about claustrophobia in a marriage and reconciliation emerging from growth and maturity and a sense of responsibility. The trilogy would be remembered inspite of its inherent superficiality as it explored urban middle class marriages against the changing nature of consumerist society. All the three films were made under his banner of Aarohi films.

In 1975 Basu wanted to make Asampt Kavita based on the life of the Bengali poet Sukanta Bhattacharya. He cast Sharmila Tagore with Gulzar as Sukanta. But the project had to be abandoned. He then made a breezy comedy Tumahara Kallo (1975) set in the rural milieu with a fresh pair in the lead. Most of his later films like Panchavati did not get a theatre-release or he himself did not release the final product as in Anand Mahal. He produced Sparsh, a film directed by Sai Paranjape with sensitive performances by Naseeruddin Shah and Shabana Azmi. He made a T.V. serial Anweshan and a documentary on the Jnanpith award winning Punjabi writer Amrita Pritam, sponsored by the Sahitya Akademi.

Astha (1997)

After a long gap Basu returned to films, but had to conform to declining audience taste. It is about an acquisite housewife played by Rekha who is sexually repressed and dissatisfied in her relationship with husband Om Puri. She take to part time prostitution to buy trifles. The film lacked depth, substance or any convincing psychological probe. It became an instant hit due to its explicit and voyeuristic love making scene. Astha was a follow up to the Amar – Manasi trilogy.

Soon Basu passed away in Bombay.Basu Bhattacharya served the filmindustry in various capacities – as the Vice-President of the Federation of Film Societies of India, President of the Indian Film Director’s Association and was on the board of NFDC.

The impact of Film Society Movement on the Spectators of Mosabani

PRANAB MUKHOPADHYAY in an interesting case study searches the sociological impact of a film society on its audience.

Mosabani Cine Society was formed in 1981. To find out the impact on movie-goers, a review is necessary to how the entertainment/ amusement activities enlightened them in this industrial pocket away from the Metro culture.

Pre–Nationalisation Period of Indian Copper Complex

The author’s observation in the 1960s goes like this –

Limited number of officers are club member and social character is based on typical colonial industrial culture. There was only one officers’ club, a forum for amusement of officer–community, but mainly it was bar-club with little bit of space for entertainment. The status in officer-society is again controlled by the status of the officer in the shop-floor of the organisation.

There was a cinema hall accompanied by the bar-club where Sunday-English movie, and Saturday Whist Drive, Tambola and other gambling items, was the regular routine. In the English movie-shows, officer and his wife is allowed. In the market area, as welfare measure, every Sunday one Indian movie was exhibited in the open air. Sometimes a few Indian officers were also interested and used to carry chair from their quarters to that open air cinema. Two clubs mainly controlled by non–officers are also existing in this locality, mainly to maintain a typical Indian club.

Post-Nationalisation but pre-Cine Society Period (1972 –1981)

Gradual change in officer culture, work culture, and finally social culture was observed. Four English film show were replaced by two Indian and two English films. Finally since 1980s onwards all the films, shown in the hall, were Indian films. But most of these films contain cheap entertainment elements. Outside the cinema hall – the old, colonial, industrial work-culture was changing rapidly, in the meantime.

The cinema hall atmosphere, initially meant for a matured spectator have now been a social gathering forum with the presence of all members of family. The author, in particular did not like this hall-atmosphere which did not allow to visualise, to study a film from its realistic angle. Unexpectedly some officers, themselves start demanding this family forum as their right to watch the film show. Ultimately this resulted a typical suburban cinema hall atmosphere of matinee show where the standard of the picture and taste and culture of the Cine goers are mostly controlled by the commercial-sentiment. These facts have been observed by some enlightened officers of the company who came forward to found the Cine Society, Mosabani in 1981. The idea behind this is to develop a refined taste and modern culture to review a realistic picture of society through cinema.

First decade after the formation of the society, 1980-1990

Anything newly formed create sensation either to develop or to demise. In this case it created a high demand or response for collection of membership among the officers for various reasons. A good majority of them, expected a scope for seeing uncensored films in a censored hall, some tried to find out some special motive, clue or smell of communalism in the activities of the society. Though in less numbers, but definitely some enlightened officer were interested to see good films and creations of world famous and renowned filmmakers. A small number of course was interested in replenish their knowledge by sharing the taste and social culture of other states as well as foreign countries.

Cine Society, Mosabani performed its duties properly and sincerely. They, not only arranged for exhibition of famous films created by renowned film makers of the world but also arranged a number of seminars, lectures, and discussions. The members got the scope of discussing various social and art systems with a number of renowned film directors and critics of the country, in this remote Mosabani cinema hall. The film makers explained various social parameter of the film, the musical and other aspects of film direction and their relevance with the existing and past societies of our country as well as foreign countries.

Some members were even encouraged to make a film based on the rural and tribal society. Some organisations were also developed in nearby Ghatshila area, who are engaged in production of this kind of films.

Finally, let us summarise the total impact of this Cine movement, obviously in this Mosabani officer culture.

1. With nationalisation Indian Copper Corporation all on a sudden a great jump in the financial status changed the whole society culture and a sudden change in industrial relation had a great impact on society.

2. The work culture and officer society discipline experience a rapid change

3. Even in the family life of each and every person realised the change in taste, culture and the moral values of society.

4. The items of entertainment/ amusements are becoming available at Mosabani and the people are ready to purchase them at any cost. Video parlour, VCP, VCR and the uncensored low-taste films are available in plenty. Along with narcotic drugs this kind of films are part of the culture now a days.

5. Lastly, the inevitable result of public sector culture was available and the company at present is passing through its bitter financial crisis and facing the wall writing of closure.

6. The theatre witnessed a lot of low-taste commercial entertainment items with an equal standard of spectators or participants.

At this point when we are moving towards twenty-first century, specially when Dr. Amartya Sen received the Nobel Prize and his famous theory/ hypothesis on social choice are very much relevant.

The conflict between these terms - liberty, unanimity and right are again coming to picture. A so called commercial hit film with low taste full of sec and violence may be acceptable to majority of the spectators but in the name encouraging human liberty should we encourage these films, should the officer demand for his legitimate right to see these films with his teenaged son or daughter.

Initially the authors expectation was a bit broader sense change in the outlook, taste, and culture of Cine goers. Probably, his expectations were not totally irrelevant, as the sincerity and efficiency of the society - office bearers encouraged this impression. For example, the society has arranged seminar/ discussions with film–critics who explained a number of film-sequence with demonstration of that scene – a part from a renowned movie. The author was enlightened with a similar film-discussion regarding Art–Direction. The situation was that of drawing-cum–dining hall/ room. The Art-director is to study the following social parameters of the society-under reference –

The Drawing-cum–dining room

Number of family members,

The time of the sequence,

Family is from Elite-class, lower Middle class

1A The number of family members is important regarding of the drawing room

2A Time is very important. Whether it is ancient times or mediaeval ages or present time. Them pre-independence or Post-independence.

3A Status of the family – Elite, Middle Class etc.

Second Set of Parameters

If it is a small family – husband, wife, and one children

Then – (i) Age of husband and wife

(ii) Profession

(ii) How marriage was performed

Negotiation, Indian Style

Love Marriage

Rural youth and Urban girl or vice versa

From modern progressive family style or old conservative type.

All these factors will decide the

Furniture – Sofa sets etc

Utensil

The wallet, calendar etc.

The newspaper, bookshelf – the standard and quality of books and papers.

And there are so many other parameters – which automatically suggest the nature of the hero/ heroine or other characters.

The dialogues and the background music will come later, because by that time the character is already established.

To study a film from this angle will definitely need a proper hall atmosphere – the audience/ spectator nature and finally the serious mood of the film. All these are necessary to visualise a film.

On the contrary, now a days, we find a copying tendency from "Yes, Minister" etc. where a laughter–casette is played as a particular interval of time, making the issue a "noisy fun".

Unfortunately in both social cultural field experienced in the last fifteen years a great changing atmosphere and that is the reason the society’s achievement could not reach that expectations. However last but not the least, the Mosabani Cine Society is one of the few film-societies who could publish such review-film-magazines every year till date and the society got recognition for its cultural and literary activities. The author expresses his gratitude to the society pray that it still engaged itself to continue all its positive activities.

 

 

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