Happy birthday, Basuda

I am sure most of us have fallen in love with Mumbai’s transient lifestyle and damp chawls; a shy co-passenger on the bus who has a golden heart but is jittery when you talk to him; or the bickering siblings of a Parsi family with a loving matriarch and a patient father. That is the magic of Basu Chatterjee, who wove stories around commoners and their lives, their aspirations and dreams, with a gentle sense of humour.

Today the veteran turns eighty, with a long innings in both cinema and small screen. But that is not the sole reason for writing this piece. Chatterjee, like Hrishikesh Mukherjee and Gulzar, has been a landmark in my life (I am sure there are many like me out there, but from another generation). Chatterjee made a mark on my dad’s generation, too. Chhoti Si Baat was the first film he watched with my mom. And, my mom who barely follows hindi, recollects  vividly watching Rajnigandha.

As I write this post, I am listening to Kayeen Baar Yunhi Dekha Hain, yeh jo man ki seema rekha hain man todne lagta hain .The song celebrating hopes and aspiration, puts in simple terms, the spirit of Chatterjee films. He delved deep into the lives of ours, others and fished out simple stories. If Piya Ka Ghar brought to the fore the problems of Mumbai through the story of newly wed Malti and her trials in the teeming metropolis, Baton Baton Mein was the sweet saga of a Christian couple caught between love and the attempt to consummate it into marriage again with Mumbai and local trains in the background.

Piya Ka Ghar vaulted him into the league of top directors and he again came up with an equally refreshing Rajnigandha, adapted from Yehi Sach Hain, a short story from Manu Bhandari. In fact, the story runs for just a page and a half, but Chatterjee conjured it into a delightful story of a woman who is in love with two men, complemented well with melodious music by Salil Chaudhary. Even today, the topic would have raised many brows. Flashback: almost thirty-five years ago, the film must have been way ahead of its time. Swami was a shift in paradigm as he moved on to a more serious topic, with the story of a married woman who struggles to forget her old flame.

The greatness of a film director is measured by the risks he takes and his willingness to experiment. By those standards, Chatterjee was a master; he touched upon the intricacies of a judicial system with Ek Ruka Hua Faisla, and Kamla ki Maut that spoke about society and guilt , after the protagonist’s suicide. It was in the same period that he made Shaukeen, a light-hearted comedy about three old men who take off on a vacation to Goa and indulge in all vices including women. Shaukeen was perhaps his high point, when he skilfully narrated the stories of  men and their desire for companionship that doesn’t die with age.

Hrishikesh Mukherjee too belonged to the same genre of film making, yet they were not the same. Chatterjee’s films bore a unique stamp, be it his earthy characters, or his knack of making film stars look like one of us. Amol Palekar, who was a regular in both their films, once said, “They both did the same kind of films, but their films were entirely different. Their narrative style varied, though both spoke about the hopes, ambitions and problems of the common people.”

Bengali filmmakers have done a great service to the Hindi film industry, if I may take the liberty to speak a little on regionalism, at a time when the topic has run riot in our country. However, my intentions are noble. I am only saying that these directors have made an indelible mark in Bollywood that their absence from Bengali cinema has easily gone unnoticed. But, that is no crime, I salute them for that. Bollywood is proud of them, I am sure. And, it takes even more pride in the fact that Chatterjee made innumerable flicks that remind us to love the simplicity and practicality of life, when we developed a fascination for all things fancy and complex.

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4 Responses to “Happy birthday, Basuda”

  1. Victoria Says:

    Nice peace…a good write up.

  2. Anonymous Says:

    BEAUTIFUL…it jus brings bakk the nostalgia of the old DD days wen these movies were actually telecasted and we were glued to watch them….
    but somewhere its just lost in the time and you hardly get them anywhere
    Besides I guess that time was such that everybody was earthly in character..
    For a generation who started their day with RK Laxman’s satire…i guess it came natural…Being an addictive newspaper, I would definitely blame TOI’s shift in paradigm from the ‘common man’ to its increasing obsession of covering flesh…Dead or Alive..for it, and for a changing society.

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