Tribute | ‘Basu Chatterjee was probably the most underrated director in Hindi cinema’

Basu Chatterjee (right), at the 60th National Film Awards, in New Delhi on Monday March 18, 2013.

Basu Chatterjee (right), at the 60th National Film Awards, in New Delhi on Monday March 18, 2013.   | Photo Credit: SHANKER CHAKRAVARTY

Amit Khanna - poet, lyricist, writer, director, and journalist - remembers the late filmmaker-screenwriter Basu Chatterjee, who passed away recently

I met him [Basu Chatterjee] in the early ‘70s and he directed the first film I produced, Man Pasand which was released in 1980 even though shooting had started much earlier. The delay was because of the Emergency and it took four years to make. I wrote songs for a number of his films like Swami (1977). Some of them are still popular like ‘Uthe Sabke Kadam’ from Baton Baton Mein.

Also read: Basu Chatterjee, torchbearer of Hindi ‘middle-of-the-road’ cinema, passes away

I was in touch with him till recently. We had a warm relationship and he was a very simple man. He started his career as a cartoonist in Blitz in the ‘60s and he had that brevity of wit of a cartoonist and the keen eye which a cartoonist has for details, for leading myriads of lives.

Although a Bengali, he was born in Ajmer and brought up in Mathura, so he was very familiar with Hindi literature and being a Bengali, also familiar with Bangla literature. Like [Satyajit] Ray, he was a product of the film society movement. He was also familiar with world cinema. In fact, he was one of the founding members of new wave cinema in India. What an oeuvre of work he had.

Besides Hrishikesh Mukherjee, he has worked with all the big stars of his time. He’s also worked with the entire artistic brigade. It’s a very, very wide canvas he had and the range of his films! Some of them were effervescent comedies, the kind of cinema that is being made today like Bareilly Ki Barfi and Hindi Medium. He was making this kind of cinema in the 1970s and he got great musicians to work on his films, so he had lovely songs. Alongside, he was making stark films too, like Kamla Ki Maut (1989). It dealt with a complex subject for its time, with premarital relations and suicide.

Also read: Basu Chatterjee: The quintessential family man

He was the probably the most underrated director in Hindi cinema. Unlike his contemporaries he has won many National Awards and half a dozen Filmfare Awards. It’s a remarkable body of work, and he was one of the most successful directors of the 1970s and ‘80s with one hit after the other. They were made on small budgets and made a lot of money.

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He was a very quiet person and not very social but very warm. I remember very clearly one evening Girish Karnad and I spent with him in 1975. It was such an enriching evening. We talked about all sorts of things. I remember our time spent on this committee that was set up during Indira Gandhi’s time, when the import of films was restricted. It was our job to watch every film that was coming to India and we used to curse our jobs but that’s how the law was and films were not allowed to be freely imported. We used to see ten films each week and this crowd was very interesting and we could sit and talk about films for hours.


He was very a frugal filmmaker and he knew the medium. A lot of so-called new wave directors of his time were very self indulgent. Basu Chatterjee was not. This was his budget and he never exceeded it, in fact he saved money. A lot of people would have said, “Basu to kanjoos hai” (Basu is miserly). But look at the pioneering work he did in television: Rajani (1985) and Byomkesh Bakshi (1993/97) and he was one of the earliest guys to get into television.

He was hospitalised last month and I was in touch with his daughter. He had recovered and was home. He wouldn’t come to the phone so his daughter said she’d call me when she visited him next. I missed that call. But such is life.

(As told to Deborah Cornelious)

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Printable version | Jul 4, 2020 10:40:34 PM |

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