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Hark back to Bimalda's days

The new Devdas created immense interest in the old Devdas of Bimal Roy. PRIYADARSSHINI SHARMA captures a word picture of the legendary director through his daughter, Aparajita Sinha, who was holidaying in Kochi last week.

DEVDAS TOOK the whole nation by the heart. Nearly half a century ago, Bimal Roy's Devdas had done much the same thing in a subtler, softer and more distinguished way, quite like the man himself.

" My father was a very humane, kind and handsome man," said his daughter, Aparajita Sinha, while on a holiday to Kochi.

It was plain modesty that made her, the daughter of one of Indian cinema's greatest ever directors, Bimal Roy, express surprise about her father's films being popular `here too!'

Aparajita recalls, "I lost my father when I was very young. He was 57 and had reached a kind of pinnacle in his career. There is one clear memory of him that I have, and it is of him being mobbed by villagers on a visit to a rural area. His best films were about their lives.

We lost all our ancestral zamindari or land in East Bengal and moved to Calcutta. So he knew the feudal set-up and felt the pulse of the people under us. Industrialisation was eating away their livelihood, a pain, which he so sensitively portrays in the closing scene of Do Bigha Zameen. In the film, which won an award at Cannes, Shambu loses his land to industrialisation; commerce wins and the peasant loses. The whole theme of migration of labour and the sense of displacement felt by them on moving to the cities is depicted with feeling. Shambu and his family come back to the village only to see a factory on their `do bigha zameen'. The sense of loss is heart rending. It was a landmark film and till date remains a touchstone in Indian cinema.

When he came to Bombay, there was a big divide between the out and out commercial films and the offbeat ones. Guru Dutt was ahead of his times, Raj Kapoor's films were outright commercial cinema, but my father brought in the radical or the slightly leftist trend in his works. At the same time these three directors were making very different kinds of films. My father's films were progressive and reformist. The women in his films were women who had reached a crisis in their life. Bandhini deals with a woman prisoner who is pushed by life to murder, where she gets punishment but deliverance too. Sujata, deals with social ostracism.

It was Ashok Kumar who asked him over to Mumbai to direct Maa, but after its success, my father stayed on and went on to make Parineeta, Devdas and the two most beautiful films, Sujata and Bandhini with Nutan.

Perhaps the biggest legacy gifted to Indian cinema, by him is in the form of Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Gulzar, Basu Bhattacharya, Salil Chaudhary and so many others. These people made films and music on very Bengali themes, chose stories that questioned social norms and problems facing post- independent movement. My father inspired them all and they acknowledge it.

He began his career as a cameraman under Nitin Bose, of New Theatre, Calcutta. Guru Dutt and Raj Kapoor were influenced by the west in their directorial techniques. In their films, there was a play between dark and light, for effects, at times sets were very lavish but if you notice my father's camera was always at eye level, very down to earth, very realistic. The Indian element was foremost in them.

I feel my father never left his roots. The rivers of Bengal, Baul music, closeness to nature all find expression in his work and most importantly, he chose the works of Sarat Chandra as the stories for his film. One can clearly see that there is a very liberal approach to woman and that he was never judgemental on her. That is what is so impressive, for at a time when women were facing all kinds of social prejudices, his films gave her a very powerful voice, even in her helpless situation.

When I moved to Hyderabad, I knew very little about South Indian Cinema and thought that it would be the same with people here. They would not be able to place me as Bimal Roy's daughter. But I was surprised. A woman came up to me and said that Bimal Roy's films had a shaping influence on her life. In fact I now realise that his movies were defining in more ways than one to a whole generation of the 50's and 60's.

Three years ago, I organised a retrospective of his films in Calcutta and his first directorial venture, a Bengali film, Udayer Pathey(1944) was loved by the present generation. It was a milestone film, about an author's fight against exploitation. So inspired was Satyajit Ray, after seeing the film, that it is said, he decided to make movies, after that. It is only very recently that I learnt that he had done the camera work for a Tamil Movie, `Nalla Thangal'.

His film footage is all in the archives, but I have plenty of photographs. DVDs of his films are out abroad but not in India, though VCDs are available but unfortunately, of poor quality.

"It is difficult to choose one single film of his as my favourite, for as a daughter, I like all his works. When I was younger, it was the sentimentality of Sujata, which enamoured me, but as I have matured, I find, the complexity of man-woman relationship of Devdas very thought provoking. As of now I like his Devdas very much.

Kochi reminds me of parts of Bandra, where I grew up. Some of the old streets and bungalows are like the Bandra of my young days and that is why I keep coming to Kochi. This is my second visit. Presently I am working on a script for a film and am looking at projects in television too.

Earlier under Girish Karnad's behest, who is a family friend, I made a documentary on the freedom fighters of Andhra Pradesh, on the 50 years of Indian Independence.

Filmmaking is in our blood, but I am resting on my father's laurels," rounds off Ms. Sinha modestly.

And suddenly one is left with a strong desire to sit back and watch all of Bimalda's evergreen works where life comes real, truly real.

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