Capturing the ordinary life

Veteran speaks

Capturing the ordinary life

Clad in a simple attire, 84-year-old Basu Chatterjee is seated on the sofa of his living room.

The framed poster of his film Chitchor hangs above him on the wall, underscoring the simplicity of the posters of the 70s. Numerous film awards lined on the shelves stand testimony to his illustrious career in which he directed over 50 films, including classics like Choti Si Baat, Rajnigandha, Chitchor, Shaukeen, Ek Ruka Hua Faisla and TV serials such as Rajani, Byomkesh Bakshi and Kakaji Kahin.

Most of Chatterjee’s films were based on literary works and portrayed the trials and tribulations of a common man — a far cry from the crass comedy, gory violence and over-the-top acting in most of today’s films.

Even if they were low-budget films, they were high on the entertainment quotient and left the audience much wiser. One could even discover his films’ characters in one’s neighbourhood, office or in a local bus! Here is an excerpt from an interview with the celebrated filmmaker, who gives his views on present-day cinema and why he stopped directing films.

How did you become a filmmaker despite having no connection to Bollywood?

I was born in Ajmer and my father worked in the railways. While studying in Mathura and Agra, I got hooked to watching films. After my graduation, I came to Mumbai in 1948 and I landed a librarian’s job in a military school. For some years, I contributed political cartoons to the Blitz magazine. At this time, I was drawn into the Film Society movement and watched many acclaimed foreign films that strengthened my desire to make films.

In 1966, I got a chance to assist Basu Bhattacharya in Teesri Kasam. After assisting in another film, the Film Finance Corporation gave me a loan of Rs 2.25 lakhs to make my first film, Sara Aakash. It was based on Rajendra Yadav’s novel by the same name. Rajshri films undertook the distribution of the film. Later they asked me to direct Piya Ka Ghar. From then on, there was no looking back.

What do you think about the present-day movies?

Filmmaking has become pure business now — there’s little creativity left in it. Considering the hundreds of second-rate films being made every year, it’s a huge waste. I guess, the public’s taste has also deteriorated, otherwise how one can explain bad films making profits. At the same time, the success of Udaan, Paan Singh Tomar and Lunchbox proves that there is space for good cinema. Such films may not make hundreds of crores, but will surely provide creative satisfaction to their makers.

How did you conceive ‘Shaukeen’?

The film is based on Samaresh Basu’s short story Raam Naam Kevlam. The story deals with old age when one is expected to retire from the affairs of the world and remember God. The film turned out to be a hit because of its story, good music, fabulous acting by the trio of Ashok Kumar, Utpal Dutt and A K Hangal, and its good screenplay. The story of any film is important, but more important is its screenplay.

What do you think about the remake of ‘Shaukeen’?

It’s an age of remakes (smiles). Most of the remakes are made for quick money. There is no art involved in them.

Most of your films portray the aspirations of the middle class. Why is that?

I come from a lower middle class family and wanted to show the world what I had seen. I got a few offers to make larger-than-life films. It was tempting at times, but I turned them down.

Melodious songs were an essential part of your films. I was fortunate to work with gifted musicians like Salil Chowdhury, R D Burman, Ravinder Jain and Rajesh Roshan. The credit for composing my songs goes to them — and to the equally talented lyricists of those times.

Why did you stop making films?

I didn’t stop making them, rather the producers stopped coming to me. Perhaps they thought my kind of cinema wasn’t saleable anymore. To make films requires a lot of money. If someone is unwilling to put money, how can I make films?

You made some popular TV serials. How did the switch from films to television happen?

Unlike now, TV viewers had only one channel to watch in the 80s and it was Doordarshan. The government-run channel invited me and a few other filmmakers to make TV serials for them. Before joining films, I was a cartoonist and my knack for humour and satire helped me conceive both Rajani and Kakaji Kahin.

Was there any rivalry between you and Hrishikesh Mukherjee?
He was my senior and I have lots of respect for him. He made some very memorable films. There was rivalry between us.


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