Filmmaker Basu Chatterjee, best known for films like Choti Si Baat, Rajnigandha, Baaton Baaton Mein, Ek Ruka Hua Faisla and Chameli Ki Shaadi passed away today on June 4, 2020, in Mumbai, following age-related ailments. He was 90 years old.
He was born on January 10, 1930, in Ajmer and started his career as an illustrator in Blitz before turning to films. He assisted his namesake Basu Bhattacharya in Teesri Kasam (1966), starring Raj Kapoor and Waheeda Rehman. His first film as an independent director was Sara Akash (1969) based on the novel Sara Akash by Rajendra Yadav.
The film, starring Rakesh Pandey, Madhu Chakravarty, Manu Kaul, AK Hangal, and Jala Agha was about the incompatibility between a married couple and was reportedly shot at Rajendra Yadav’s own house in Agra. The film kind of set the tone for his future films, as most of his offerings revolved around the lives of the common people and their problems. Cinematographer K. K. Mahajan won the National Film Award for Best Cinematography for his black-and-white camera work in the film.
Most of his films revolve around marriage. Piya Ka Ghar (1972), starring Jaya Bhaduri and Anil Dhawan, was based on Raja Thakur’s Marathi film Mumbaicha Jawai and talked about space crunch and the lack of privacy in Mumbai experienced through the eyes of a young couple. Swami (1977), starring Shabana Azmi, Girish Karnad and Vikram was a more serious film revolving around a woman’s choice between the man she gets married to and the man she likes.
Priyatama (1977), starring Jeetendra, Neetu Singh, Rakesh Roshan and Utpal Dutt was about how young lovers find marriage stifling. Khatta Meeta (1978) was about a middle-aged widower (Ashok Kumar) marrying another middle-aged widow (Pearl Padamsee). Both have children from their former marriages and the youngsters find it hard to adjust to each other.
He made pure rom coms as well but here too his milieu was middle class. Rajnigandha (1974), based on a short story by Mannu Bhandari, starring Amol Palekar, Vidya Sinha and Dinesh Thakur, was about a woman’s dilemma about picking a life partner. Chitchor (1976), starring Amol Palekar, Zarina Wahab and Vijayendra Ghatge, was a romantic comedy involving mistaken identities. Chhoti Si Baat (1976), starring Amol Palekar, Asrani, Ashok Kumar and Vidya Sinha had Palekar playing a man lacking in confidence who hires a life coach to teach him how to propose to a girl.
Baton Baton Mein (1979) had a Christian setting and was all about the courtship of Amol Palekar and Tina Munim, assisted by her Uncle, played by David. Man Pasand (1980), starring Dev Anand, Tina Munim, Girish Karnad and Mehmood was based on George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion.
Shaukeen (1982) was perhaps his most bold comedy. Starring Ashok Kumar, Utpal Dutt, A.K. Hangal, Rati Agnihotri and Mithun Chakraborty, it was about the misadventures of three old men who want to have a good time in Goa. Chameli Ki Shaadi (1986), starring Anil Kapoor and Amrita Singh, was about an ex-wrestler trying to marry a rather feisty girl and caste politics becoming the villain of the piece.
He didn’t just take up comedy but touched upon thrillers as well. Tumhare Liye (1978), starring Sanjeev Kumar, Vidya Sinha and Neelam Mehra was about reincarnation. Ratandeep (1979), starring Girish Karnad and Hema Malini, had Karnad masquerading as the dead husband of Malini in a bid to loot her riches.
Chakravyuha (1978), starring Rajesh Khanna, Vinod Mehra, and Neetu Singh was a James Bond kind of an espionage thriller. Sheesha (1986) was a thriller around rape charges starring Mithun Chakraborty, Moon Moon Sen and Mallika Sarabhai.
There was a serious streak to his filmmaking as well. Manzil (1979), starring Amitabh Bachchan and Moushumi Chatterjee, was based on the hit Bengali film Akash Kusum (1965) and had Amitabh pretending to be a rich man in order to impress Moushumi. Jeena Yahan (1979), starring Shabana Azmi, Amol Palekar and Zarina Wahab was a film about women empowerment. Ek Ruka Hua Faisla (1986) was a gritty courtroom drama based on the American hit 12 Angry Men (1957).
Kamla Ki Maut (1989), starring Pankaj Kapoor, Supriya Pathak and Roopa Ganguly was a hard-hitting drama about the suicide of an unmarried girl who was pregnant which forces her neighbours in the chawl to reexamine their own lives.
He had the knack for casting big stars into small-budget films. He worked with Mithun Chakraborty in Shaukeen, with Vinod Mehra in Us Paar, Jeetendra and Neetu Singh in Priyatama, Dev Anand and Tina Munim in Man Pasand, Rajesh Khanna and Neetu Singh in Chakravyuha, and Dharmendra and Hema Malini in Dillagi as well as with Amitabh Bachchan in Manzil.
He directed the TV Series Byomkesh Bakshi and Rajani) for Doordarshan both of which were hugely successful. He’s survived by his daughter Rupali Guha is also a film director.
Filmfare Best Screenplay Award: Sara Akash, Chhoti Si Baat, Kamla Ki Maut
Filmfare Best Director: Swami
Filmfare Best Film Critics’: Rajnigandha, Jeena Yahan