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The master of storytelling

 SOCIALLY AWARE: Dharmendra and Nutan in ‘Bandini’

SOCIALLY AWARE: Dharmendra and Nutan in ‘Bandini’

When Hindi cinema is struggling to find content that could appeal to different sections of society, it is time to learn from the master screenwriter Nabendu Ghosh, whose birth centenary was celebrated recently with a documentary on him. Directed by his daughter Ratnottama Sengupta, And They Made Classics captures the bonding between Ghosh and Bimal Roy whose association resulted in the making of timeless gems like Parineeta (1953), Naukri (1953), Biraj Bahu (1954), Devdas (1955), Yahudi (1956), Sujata (1959) and Bandini (1964).

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The hour-long film, screened at New Delhi’s India International Centre recently, is based on an interview of Ghosh which was conducted by Joy Roy in 2005 when he was making a documentary on his father. “He could use only two minutes of his two-hour long conversation. He offered the footage to me and I thought it would be a fitting tribute to him during the centenary celebrations,” says Sengupta, a seasoned film journalist and curator. The film gives us an insight into how the famed team of Bimal Roy came into being and worked. Roy, an avid reader, saw in the visual quality of Ghosh’s literary writings the making of a screen playwright. And in the post-Partition years, when the Kolkata-based books and films market suffered a setback, the director invited the writer to join his team when he set out for Bombay. “It also tells you interesting details as to how the casting of Devdas was decided and how there was lot of drama around the ending of Bandini . Or for that matter the concerns of Dilip Kumar before starting the shooting of Devdas .”

On the first day of shoot of Devdas , Dilip Kumar was loitering around the sets anxiously. When Ghosh asked the reason, the actor said, “Woh teeno mere kandhe par baithe hain (all three are sitting on my shoulders),” referring to Pramathesh Barua and K.L. Saigal who had played the iconic character before, and Sarat Chandra Chatterjee, who wrote the novel. “He buried all three ghosts and painted a picture of Devdas that even today when we talk of Devads, we think of Dilip Kumar.” In Madhumati , the original story was written by Ritwik Ghatak but when he had to go back to Calcutta, Ghosh had to step in. “Dilip Kumar was very particular about the script. So when Ghosh took over, he wanted every detail to be explained.”

Beyond Roy

Putting his contribution in perspective, Sengupta says Bimal Roy passed away in 1966 while Ghosh lived for another 40 years. “During that era Indian cinema moved out of Bimal Roy, Mehboob and Guru Dutt kind of films and a new wave emerged.” Ghosh was instrumental in its generation. “He was a guest lecturer at FTII and was a member of NFDC’s script committee. What he learnt from Bimal Roy, he would discuss with his students. He was the connecting link between the two waves. He was active till the very end,” recalls Sengupta.

Ghosh became for Bimal Roy what Niranjan Pal was for Himashu Rai and Khwaja Ahmad Abbas was for Raj Kapoor but unlike the other two, reminds Sengupta, Ghosh worked with a number of other leading filmmakers as well. “He had had a fruitful partnership with Guru Dutt, Phani Majumdar, Asit Sen, Dulal Guha, Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Raj Khosla and many more.” A literary figure in Bengal, Sengupta says, Ghosh’s always drew from literary sources and humanism was the running motif in all his writing starting from Sujata and Bandini to Teesri Kasam.

Unique role

Having grown up in Patna, Ghosh knew Hindi but Sengupta says he used to write his script in English and basic dialogues in Hindi. “When Filmfare Awards started there was no category for screenplay. As my father was the president of Writers Association, he insisted that dialogues could not exist without screenplay. The Awards committee agreed and offered to do away with the best dialogue writer category but he said that dialogue writer plays a unique role in Hindi cinema and the category should also stay. He said the dialogue writers come from different parts of the country to Bombay and write lines in a language that is understood across the country.” Bimal Roy brought Paul Mahendra from Bengal and Ghosh used to provide him raw material to write the dialogues.

Interestingly, Ghosh was writing films when the phenomenon of Salim Javed came into being. “They became stars. Before them writers were not stars,” observes Sengupta. During this period, Ghosh wrote his own version of ‘angry young man’ with films like Krodhi and Ganga Ki Saugandh. According to Sengupta the idea of angry young man existed in Hindi cinema since Ashok Kumar played a morally ambivalent character in Kismet. “ His generation had its share of frustration and social pressures which reflected in his writing in films like Naukri . Later it took the form of violence but there also his narrative presented a social study of the time.” In Ganga Ki Saugandh , Jeeva is thrown out of the village when he fails to give a satisfactory explanation of the death of a cow. “If you see the poster of Ganga Ki Saugandh , it has Amitabh Bachchan with rifle while in Pratiggya , Hema Malini is holding a rifle.”

Over the years, many tend to believe that Abhimaan was based on the real life story of Amitabh and Jaya Bachchan. Sengupta differs. “I didn’t speak to my father or Hrishikesh Mukherjee about it but the circumstances prove that it could not have been the case as they got married when they were shooting for the film. Also, if you remember, Hrishikesh kaku was close to Ravi Shankar as well. He composed music for Anuradha . Probably, the film was based on the relationship between Ravi Shankar and Annapurna Devi with elements of popularity of Kishore Kumar weaved in. Kishore also parted ways with his first wife, Ruma Ghosh, who was a good singer.”

Few know that Ghosh wanted to direct a film for a long time but somehow circumstances didn’t allow him to. “In the early ‘60s, he tried to make Prem- Ek Kavita with Ashok Kumar and Indrani Mukherjee,” recalls Sengupta. After he had a fall out with Guru Dutt over the credit for the story of Kagaz Ke Phool , the director offered Ghosh to helm a project with Geeta Dutt in the lead. “But it didn’t materialise either because of Guru Dutt’s death.” In the mid 70s, he adapted Phanishwer Nath Renu’s “Maila Aanchal” as Dagdar Babu but it had to be shelved after 70% of the shooting was complete because of the difference between the producer and distributors. “It had beautiful compositions by R. D. Burman but nothing is left now,” laments Sengupta. Finally, it was in 1988 that Ghosh’s dream of directing a film came true when he made Trishagni after winning a writing contest organised by the National Film Development Corporation. Based on a short story of written of Saradindu Bandopadhyay, it dealt with human desire. “Anupam Kher was the original choice for the part played by Alok Nath but he was not in a condition to shave his head,” reveals Sengupta. Ghosh, who had a keen interest in exploring Buddhist philosophy, wanted the actor playing the monk should shave his head. Alok Nath agreed and did a good job.

Talking about his legacy, Sengupta refers to the observation made by his students, who used to call him Dadu. Saeed Mirza says he was the best they had as he allowed them to think on their own. “Shyamal Sengupta, who scripted Anataheen, says in the ‘80s, as student of cinema at FTII, he used to think the medium is about images, lighting and sound.” Ghosh brought them back to reality. “He told them if something is not well-written, it is very difficult to put it to imagination.” He used to say that take the social context out of Guru Dutt’s film and his taking and lighting would get reduced to maudlin self pity. “Shyamal says they were very disdainful of mainstream and Dadu primarily did mainstream films. He instilled in us respect for it. He used to say when so many people like something there has to be something in it. It is not easy to write something that will appeal to so many people. Even when Tagore was writing, Sarat Chandra was more popular,” sums up Sengupta.


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Printable version | May 19, 2022 7:32:49 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/the-master-of-storytelling/article22375548.ece