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Akaler Sandhane

What were Mrinal Sen’s first impressions of the legendary Smita Patil? In his memoir, Sen wrote that the look in her eyes was that of his actress wife Geeta Sen. The look was what he described as a beautiful blend of being coy and expressive.

Smita played the lead in Akaler Sandhane. In his words, she was “extraordinarily ordinary” – someone who was too grounded to ever seem like an actress in real life. Yet it was the same Smita who transformed magically to be in sync with her character of that of an actress. Stories hark back to the time of the shoot when Smita would cook her own vegetarian food on a stove while rest of the unit survived mostly on fish. Many don’t know how Smita would get intensely involved during shooting. Once, shooting was in progress for a scene that didn’t even require her. Yet, she came and stood behind Mrinal, her hand placed on his shoulder to watch what was happening. The shot involved a newly-widowed woman, counseled by two others, crying profusely and saying: “Aami aar oghore jete parbo na (I will never be able to return to that room”. Mrinal suddenly noticed that Smita, moved by the scene, placed her hand on his shoulder and wept inconsolably.

It was almost a similar reaction during the briefing of a scene that involved Smita herself. A day before the shoot, Mrinal explained the shot to her. It came to pass that Durga (the character played by Sreela Mazumdar) would not accept the wages Smita had offered to her after hearing that her son was ill and advised her not to step out of the house. But Durga’s paralysed-yet-self respecting husband didn’t endorse taking money that way. This scene had the two women meet where Durga would return the money to her saying she wouldn’t come back to work.

Smita just went numb while listening to this. Her eyes welled up. Then, she started picking at her lunch plate. Lowering her head, she softly asked: “Can’t I meet Durga once?” So moved was she that she couldn’t even finish her lunch that day. The film foreshadows how a film actor is finally affected by the reality of what she portrays. Truth and fiction melded into each other that one day.


What's in a name you might ask? Evidently plenty. It so came to pass that Satyajit Ray did not retain the title of Tagore's Nashtanirh when he adapted the novel for his Soumitra Chattopadhyay-Madhabi Mukhopadhyay film. And thereby hands a tale. It's not that Ray didn't want that title. Problems arose during the title registration. The story goes that another banner, MP Productions, had already released a film with the same title Nashtanir, at Uttara, Purabi and Ujjala theatres on August 24, 1951. Directed by Pashupati Chattopadhyay, the film had Uttam Kumar, Kamal Mitra and Sunanda Devi in the cast. So, Ray decided against the same film name. He toyed with the idea of calling it Amal and Bhupati. Finally, he hit upon Charulata and that stayed as the film's title and in our cinematic legacy.

The entire film, including the iconic scene where Madhabi flits from window to window while watching the world pass by, was shot at a Kolkata studio. Those who love the movie can't get over cinematographer Subrata Mitra's unforgettable work that captured the lonely Charulata’s long walk along the windows through which she spied on the passersby with her lorgnette. But the by-now famous swing scene where she hums Phule phule dhole dhole was not shot there. If it was not filmed at the studio, where did Ray go for the shooting? In one of her recollections, Madhabi had mentioned that it was filmed at an engineering college. The unit had travelled all the way to Shibpur's Indian Institute of Engineering Science and Technology to shoot it. Most of the students of the institute today are perhaps not aware that their campus had once served as a shooting location of such a cult Ray film. Charulata released 13 years after Nashtanirh on April 17, 1964, at Sree, Prachi and Indira. The rest as they say is his and her story. Or should we add, history.


You might wonder if a film campaign can forge a lasting relationship. You bet, it can. It so happened when a young Tarun Majumdar who was just a rookie in Tollywood had accompanied his uncle to meet veteran director Debaki Bose at his residence. Apart from being a columnist of Amritabazar Patrika, his uncle had tied up with Sushil Bandyopadhyay of Anandabazar Patrika to run a film publicity firm named Anushilan Agency.

Either work pressure or simple amnesia had led to a blunder and not a single publicity layout for Debika Bose's Pathik was ready before the scheduled appointment. No commercial artist agreed to do multiple layouts at such a short notice. Left with no choice, the entire responsibility of coming up with something – or rather anything ― fell on Tarun Majumdar. The only brief was the campaign for the film starring Sambhu Mitra and Tripti Mitra would run for a week in the newspaper. Scanning through the film ads published in the newspapers, Tarun hit upon an innovative idea. Though both Sambhu and Tripti were stalwarts were stage, he decided not to have their photos in the campaigns.

He took out a sheet of paper and cut it in the size of a long single column. The idea was to have a blank single column on the first day of the column. No names. No photos. Just a blank space that would arouse the readers' curious. The next day there would be a photo of a person with a bag, turning his back and walking away from the readers. His face would not be visible. The third day would have him walk a little further away. A few footsteps would be visible in the foreground. As the days progressed, the person would recede so much so that on the sixth day, the figure would diminish in size and be visible at the top of the column. On the seventh day, the figure would disappear completely. At the bottom would be the lines:
Produced by Chitramaya
Directed by Debaki Kumar Bose

The innovative campaign didn't go down well with his uncle and his partner. Tarun was instructed to hide them. Under no circumstances should they come to Bose's notice. It was decided that a layout done reluctantly by a commercial artist would be shown to Bose.

As expected, Bose didn't like this layout at all. But what was unexpected was his reactions when Tarun's layouts had accidentally tumbled out of his pocket while he was searching for a handkerchief. A curious Bose immediately spotted the name of his film in the layout and wanted to see the design. More surprises were in store when he shared that he was looking for a layout like that! Before Tarun's uncle and his partner could recover from the shock came Bose's order: "Don't disturb the artists. Send Mr Majumdar over to me regularly. And give him full freedom".

The publicity design of Pathik created quite a ripple. The film released on May 15, 1953 at Sree, Purna and Chhaya. Not only did it get more clients for Anushilan Agency, these designs also paved the way for a lasting relationship between two icons of Bengali cinema.

Padi Pisir Barmi Baksa

Often long names can be tongue twister. This was clearly evidenced during an on location shoot in the year 1972. A unit was shooting in a remote village in a Bengal. It was for the long winded title, Padi Pisir Barmi Baksa. The eager onlookers repeatedly asked about the film's title - "Kiser shooting dada, kon chhobir?" The cast included Bhanu Bandyopadhyay, Jahar Roy, Rabi Ghosh and Chinmoy Roy. It turned out quite an exhaustive procedure to utter such a long movie title. So actor Bhanu Bandyopadhyay came up with a solution - "Next time, someone asks the name of the film, we'll divide the labour. He said, "I will say 'Padi', Jahar will restrict himself to 'Pisir', Rabi will utter 'Barmi' and Chinmoy will complete it all with 'Baksa'! No sooner did the four spell out just a word each, than the requests dwindled and eventually stopped altogether! Clearly breaking up the words of the film had a slightly risqué and comical effect, much to the chagrin of the name seekers. The unit was left to peacefully work on the film.

Atal Jaler Ahwan

This is what happens if you have a true guide in the film industry. The story goes that Chhabi Biswas was so fond of Soumitra Chatterjee that the veteran actor ensured that his junior got opportunities to hone his acting chops wherever and whenever possible. Once Star theatre's owner Salil Mitra took Soumitra to a room in the backstage where Chhabi Biswas used to sit. Inside, he spilled the beans about how Biswas had insisted that he get Soumitra to join his theatre. The reason? Well, the move would not only benefit Star Theatre but also help Soumitra to learn something.

Soumitra himself had got an idea about that when they were shooting together for Ajay Kar's Atal Jaler Ahwan (1962). The duo was playing father and son and had to do a 60 ft long shot. Something went wrong and Soumitra just didn't get his act right. After numerous tries, an helpless Soumitra went up to the veteran actor, rubbed his paunch and surrendered to him saying: "Can you please show me how to do it correctly?" Chhabi looked him in the eye and asked: "So, you have understood that you aren't getting it right?" Soumitra was more than eager to admit his lacuna. "Of course. That's why I am asking you to guide me," he said. An arrangement was made that Soumitra would say Chhabi Biswas' lines while he would do the former's part. While enacting, he paused at the point where Soumitra was going wrong, corrected his mistake and asked: "Did you see?" Soumitra nodded and was asked to rehearse the entire portion. Once Soumitra rectified his act, all that Chhabi Biswas had told him was: "Shikhe nao, shikhe nao. Aar kobe shikhbe? (Learn now. Otherwise, when will you learn?)" The film released on May 25, 1962 at Sree, Lotus and Indira. Little did the viewers who raved about the father-son scenes know what went behind getting them right.

Chaoa Paoa

Call them trio with brio. Around 1959, three youngsters ― Sachin Mukherjee, Dilip Mukherjee, and Tarun Majumdar ― passionate about cinema, formed a group named Jatrik. Their debut venture, Chaoa Paoa toplined Uttam Kumar, Suchitra Sen, and Chhabi Biswas. When the trio approached Chhabi Biswas, who reportedly charged a dizzying sum of Rs 500 per day those days. A hectic amount for the neophytes who were making their first film on a shoe string budget. They waited with bated breath  before the old thespian, afraid to bring up the issue. "Well, you are young people making your debut film," Chhabi said after a long silence, "I will make concessions." And then he paused for a sneeze! "Give me Rs 250 per day," he said. The trio looked grim and didn’t respond. So thick was the eerie silence you could slice it with a knife. Eventually, Chhabi retorted tongue firmly in cheek- "Let me know what you are waiting for. Another sneeze?" The rest as we all know is their history.