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The icon Tapan Sinha considers Satyajit Ray as the best.
The icon Tapan Sinha considers Satyajit Ray as the best.

RANJAN DAS GUPTA

Tapan Sinha finally gets his due in the shape of the prestigious Dadasaheb Phalke award.

Satyajit Ray scolded me for making the Hindi version of ‘Khaniker Atithi’ as ‘Zindagi Zindagi’

Tapan Sinha has won the coveted Dadasaheb Phalke Award. Though his name was recommended for the award a number of times earlier, the recognition has come only now. The octogenarian, now in frail health, says he is happy but not overwhelmed by this belated recognition.

Says Tapan Sinha, “I left film-making after my last film ‘Ajab Gayer Ajab Katha’ about a decade ago. My health was deteriorating and I was unable to compromise with the low standards of Bengali cinema. Even the present-day films create no impact on the audience. They are either slick films for the multiplexes or cheap potboilers for the rural audience. The present directors have no respect for their viewers. Not a single director today has the ability of Satyajit Ray, Ritwik Ghatak, Rajen Tarafdar or Ajay Kar.”

The director whose versatility is well visible in films like ‘Kabuliwala’, ‘Atithi’, ‘Hate Bazare’ and ‘Ek Doctor Ki Maut’ is nationally known for respecting his audience. Says Rituparno Ghosh, “Take any film of Tapan Sinha. Each film is deep rooted in social concerns, narrated simply yet effectively by brilliant scripts, music and performances.”

Tapan Sinha elaborates, “I have been greatly influenced by Rabindranath Tagore. So I made three films on his masterpieces, ‘Kabuliwala’, ‘Atithi’ and ‘Khudito Pashan’. For the last one Satyajit Ray personally sketched the Fatehpur Sikri fort to give a rich dimension to my script. Ustad Ali Akbar Khan composed fabulous tunes which matched the Tagore gharana too well.

“For the shooting of ‘Hate Bazare’, Ashok Kumar and Vyjayantimala literally got into the skin of their characters. Similarly Tanuja was so inspired that she gave one of her most subtle performances in ‘Adalat O Ekti Meye’. I thoroughly enjoyed working with truly gifted actors like Pankaj Kapoor, Shabana Azmi and Jaya Bachchan in ‘Ek Doctor Ki Maut’ and ‘Daughters Of The Century’. They are real professionals. I equally enjoyed working with stalwarts like Uttam Kumar, Soumitra Chatterjee, Madhavi Mukherjee and Chabi Biswas.”

Big challenge

Perhaps the greatest challenge for Tapan Sinha was to direct Dilip Kumar in ‘Sagina Mahato’ in 1972. Dilip Kumar always says, “Tapan virtually brought out an unknown aspect of me as an actor in this film.” Tapan Sinha smiles, “Even Uttam Kumar personally admitted that Dilip Kumar was the best choice for ‘Sagina Mahato’. Similarly Dilip admitted several times no one could do ‘Jatugriha’ like Uttam did. Both are mind blowing actors, handling whom are experiences I cherish.”

Not all his films have been that well acclaimed. Tapan Sinha recollects, “Satyajit Ray scolded me for making the Hindi version of ‘Khaniker Atithi’ as ‘Zindagi Zindagi’. I could not make ‘Sagina...’ in Hindi as good as the Bengali version. Some other films of mine like ‘Antardhan’ and ‘Ajab Gayer Ajab Katha’ are not of that standard.”

Tapan Sinha considers Satyajit Ray the best ever director of Indian cinema. According to him, “Mrinal Sen, Asit Sen, V. Shantaram and Bimal Roy were outstanding filmmakers. I also liked the earlier films of Raj Kapoor and the latter films of Guru Dutt.” He pins high hopes on Goutam Ghosh, Sandip Ray, Aparna Sen and Rituparno Ghosh to revive the lost glory of Bengali films. Music played a very important role in each of his films. Tapan Sinha admits, “Yes, music is the soul of a film. I give due importance to it but use it only within limits. The language of cinema and that of music is very different.” Nirjan Saikete, Apanjan and Ekhone show Tapan Sinha’s mastery over music.

Actors like Shubendhu Chatterjee, Ajitesh Banerjee, Sharmila Tagore and Dipankar Dey gave some of their best performances under the direction of Tapan Sinha. Says Sharmila Tagore, “Tapanda is very specific about what he wants from his actors. He moves in the line of his script and does not improvise on the sets.” Shabana Azmi says, “In ‘Ek Doctor Ki Maut’, Tapanda’s observation was very strong and meticulous. He never allowed me to go overboard.”

Tapan Sinha’s main inspiration was his wife Arundhuti Sinha. He sighs, “I am like a ship without an anchor in the absence of Arundhuti. She was a true human being and a powerful actress.”

Commenting on the award, his contemporary Mrinal Sen says, “It is a sheer tragedy that a filmmaker of Tapan’s calibre has been recognised so late. In western countries he would have received recognition long ago. I cried whilst watching his ‘Khaniker Atithi’ which I consider his best film.”

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