Basu Chatterjee: Master Chef of Timeless Cinema

There’s something common between an action movie and a comedy movie, a romantic film and a drama film. Can you think what it is? Okay, let’s picture this. The heroine has been kidnapped. The best friend has been killed. Police are after a man. The man has been framed in the wrong case by a bad cop. The man has to save the heroine, fight 249 goons at the villain’s whereabouts. Kill all 249 goons but spare the main villain for the police. Yes, whatever! And at the end of it emerge as a hero while making everything happy at the end.

Now picture this too: The boy’s father hates the girl’s father. The girl’s father hates the boy. The boy loves the girl. But the girl loves her father too. The boy then woos the girl’s father, does some comedy and singing, and later gets into a verbal duel with his own father. Mother steps in. Makes the boy’s father realize he is being a pain. Boy’s father accepts the girl and also the girl’s father. Boy becomes the hero and brings a happy ending to the story.

Yes, you get it right and congratulations your grey cells are still very much intact. Happy Ending! That’s the common point in almost all of the movies whether made in India or that is what we want, in life and in movies. Not really an ending in real life but more of a happy ending to different chapters in our life. Phew! Moving on, we all want a good happy ending to even the most tensed movie we see. Take Conjuring as a case. Yes, they showed Annabelle at the end. Yes. Yes. But hey the girls were safe. That’s the point.

We watch movies for not to know what we already are but to know what could have been, what might be, what if. Cinema is an expression. It makes us go through a journey of emotions and how we are able to relate to those unknown characters in those unseen places and situations is because cinema talks human emotions and this is where cinema is also a mirror. It is also a reflection.

Cinema although reflects the society but think about it when we look into the mirror we want to look good, we want to look at our better self than what we might be. And that is what the cinema does. It takes bits and pieces from the real-life, adds some flavour and makes a recipe we all like.

Basu Chatterjee was the master chef who made tasteful cinema (read timeless cinema) with the human ingredients of emotions, all relatable. He made his class of movies, the middle of the road movies, the movies with lifelike characters and situations going through the rigmarole of life when on one hand over the top romantic/ action drama was drawing the crowds and on the other hand there was a wave of movies that were hard-hitting social stories. This was also the time when Amitabh Bachchan was slowly taking away the limelight from Rajesh Khanna and, Desai was introducing a new style of film making to Bollywood with the help of writer duo Salim-Javed.

Looking back, those were quite interesting times when the audience for the first time was getting introduced to different genres in Hindi cinema. Art was going parallel with commercial potboilers and the audience was enjoying it all. However, there was still a gap. The audience was enjoying the melodramatic dialogues by Bachchan on the big screen as if he was expressing their own emotions at the same time they could relate with Om Puri and Naseeruddin Shah in their avatars as downtrodden village dwellers in many of the movies of parallel cinema.

Yet the gap was there, the gap which reflected the realistic aspects of the growing middle class. The rich were being spoken about and more than the rich the poor were. But the seats were empty for the middle class. They also had their own fights, their own struggles, emotional crossroads and winnings. But there was a reflection on the big screen. Basu Da either identified this gap or his kind of cinema intrinsically had a middle-class reflection, whichever is the case it worked in his favour.

Whether it was Khatta Meeetha or Baaton Baaton Mein or any other of his movies, Basu Da spoke about human emotions through different situations and common characters. He could magically reveal to the audience the unspoken one-sided love of Arun (Amol Palekar) in Chhoti Si Baat and what a shy character like that of Amol Palekar’s goes through to get the love of his life. He used light-hearted humour in most of his movies to even show some otherwise traumatic situations as if to tell the world that doesn’t worry this too shall pass thus enjoy while it lasts.

Homely settings, real-life locations, common names and uncommon situations with some real-life emotions faced by common people, such was the screenplay Basu Da worked on. He did not create a dreamland but worked on realistic crossroads. Rajnigandha dealt with a very real emotional crossroad any human can reach at and very beautifully revealed the dilemma faced by Deepa (Vidya Sinha) as she is caught between her past and present.

His movies had a strong presence of women. He did not create strong women characters but he showed women as they are with their own struggles and wins. None of his characters was over the top. Even with some uncommon settings like in Khatta Meetha, the characters did not show any knee jerk reactions to problems they faced in the movie. The character sketch of all his people in the stories he created had been always detailed with no actor ever going out of character even in the most dramatic of scenes.

A man can be called a master when he can create magic anywhere with any tool and this was shown skillfully by Basu Da when he created Byomkesh Bakshi for DD. This was also his second innings. His last commercial success came in 1986 through Chameli Ki Shaadi. Byomkesh Bakshi was a huge success. He showed his cinematic prowess through television as well and in a setting which was tight and did not have any leeway to play with. Having successfully directed Byomkesh Bakshi, Bashu Da proved that he could adapt to different screenplays and yet create magic.

Cinema is incomplete without music and whether it was Raj Kapoor, Yash Chopra or Subhash Ghai all great filmmakers have had a penchant for music. Basu Da was no different. All his movies had hummable music and songs that are soulful. To know what he created through music one should listen to the songs of Chhoti Si Baat or Rajnigandha on a rainy day- the word ‘Soulful’ would be experienced firsthand. Even the background score of Byomkesh Bakshi was true to the story and setting.

Basu Chatterjee mastered the art of middle of the road cinema. He created characters that are still relatable. He reflected emotions that still hold value. He narrated stories that people still live through. His cinema can still be watched and would still create the same expressions as in those days. He created a cinema that is timeless. And now, gods must be discussing their Chhoti Si Baat with him. Om Shanti.

All the images are from Google.

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