The 1970s were perhaps the heyday of star power in Hindi films. In the era of the ‘angry young man’, two directors, namely Hrishikesh Mukherjee and Basu Chatterjee, made the ‘middle-class’ the centre piece of their stories. In the passing away of Babu Chatterjee on Thursday, it is the end of the road for what came to be known as the middle-of-the-road cinema in Hindi film world.
Basu Chatterjee’s entry into the film world was rather late in life. Born in Ajmer in 1930, Basu Chatterjee worked as an illustrator and cartoonist with the weekly tabloid Blitz, run by the charismatic Russi Karanjia, for 18 long years. His first brush with filmmaking would happen only in 1966, when he assisted Basu Bhattacharya in the Raj Kapoor and Waheeda Rehman starrer Teesri Kasam. Then in 1969, he made his directorial debut with Sara Akash.
Basu Chatterjee gave us gems such as Vidya Sinha’s Rajnigandha; Amol Palekar’s Chhoti Si Baat, Chitchor and Baton Baton Mein; and Ashok Kumar, Rakesh Roshan and Bindiya Goswami’s Khatta Meetha, among others. The heroes never punched villains black and blue, the heroines mostly wore saris, the homes shown in these films were happy and sunny but minus any fancy trappings. The stories were always those of the common men and women, with their everyday concerns.
Basu Chatterjee, of course, did more – his characters were real people – they had both the good and the bad, like in all of us. They had their egos, vanity, their quarrels but also their large hearts, their intrinsic niceness and it all showed in his films. Nothing was black and white, but various shades of grey. In Rajnigandha, for instance, Vidya Sinha’s character is torn between her two lovers, her present Sanjay (Amol Palekar) and her friend from the past, Navin (played by Dinesh Thakur). She likes them both for different reasons, but must pick one.
Basu Chatterjee worked with almost all the big names in the industry dominating the industry in that era — Amitabh Bachchan, Dharmendra, Hema Malini, Rajesh Khanna, Mithun Chakraborty, Jeetendra, Neetu Singh, Dev Anand, Mousumee Chatterjee and Tina Munim to name a few. However, his best works happened with the troika – Amol Palekar, Vidya Sinha and Zareena Wahab. With these actors fronting his stories, he could explore middle-class the way he liked.
His most successful films include Us Paar (Vinod Khanna and Mousumee Chatterjee), Chhoti Si Baat (Amol Palekar, Tina Munim 1975), Chitchor (1976); Rajnigandha (1974); Piya Ka Ghar (Jaya Bhaduri and Anil Dhawan, 1972), Khatta Meetha, Baton Baton Mein (1979), Priyatama (Jeetendra, Neetu Singh, Rakesh Roshan, 1977), Man Pasand (Dev Anand and Tina Munim), Hamari Bahu Alka (Rakesh roshan, Bindiya Goswami, Utpal Dutt), Shaukeen (Rati Agnihotri and Mithun Chakraborty, 1982), and Chameli Ki Shaadi (1986).
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