Learning and Creativity pays a humble tribute to the legendary filmmaker Tapan Sinha with the reproduction of an exclusive interview, one of the lengthiest interviews of the maestro, which was first published in Desh Magazine in 1991.
In continuation of the 1st and 2nd part of the interview, we reproduce the 3rd part, and will be followed by reproduction of the concluding part.
Interview of film director Tapan Sinha by Robi Basu
Translated into English by Suchandra Roy Chowdhury
(Part – III)
(The Tapan Sinha interview text and all pictures of film stills and memorabilia used in this article are courtesy art presenter and independent curator Sounak Chacraverti. In 2008, Sounak had curated Sensorium’s debut exhibition – a unique and first-of-its-kind exhibition on photographs, films stills and memorabilia on the film maestro ‘The World of Tapan Sinha’, in Kolkata’s Indian Council for Cultural Relations ICCR.)
Robi Basu: After Kalamati you began filming Khoniker Athiti (Guest of a few moments) didn’t you?
Tapan Sinha: Yes. This was the first film where I was working on my own story. Before this I had only worked with published literature. Only in three or four of my twenty-nine films have I used my own stories; all the others are by established writers. Khoniker Athiti, however, does not have my name as the writer. I had given the name of Nirmalendu Sengupta. The theme contained certain traces of a foreign story.
Robi Basu: Have you ever written stories or novels? Or poems?
Tapan Sinha: Never. I
have the courage. Even the stories that I’ve used for my films were directly written as scripts.
Robi Basu: Khoniker Athiti was a favourite film of mine. The audience also received it very well, didn’t they?
Tapan Sinha: Yes, it was hugely appreciated by the masses. My personal opinion is that the Bengali audience is the best audience in the world. Their devotion to literature, their love for films, music, and theatre is perhaps unparalleled by any other peoples of the world.
Robi Basu: Then why do some say that the quality of viewership in our country is steadily declining? They fail to respond to noble ideals?
Tapan Sinha: That’s not true. We provide the viewers with bad material, and that is why they see it. I wonder if you can really provide me with an instance when the audience has summarily rejected a good movie. But if you cheat them in the name of art and ideology, then they are bound to reject it. That they rejected my Baidurya Rahashya (Mystery of the Electric Gem) did not really grieve me overmuch, I wouldn’t have respected them if they did otherwise.
Robi Basu: Khoniker Athiti, and nearly all of your films are intensely poetic in their appeal. What is the source of such a poetic sensibility?
Tapan Sinha: The source is Rabindranath. One who has been immersed in the sea of his poems and his songs will inevitably be poetic in his creations. After seeing Khoniker Athiti Hemanta Mukherjee [Hemant Kumar] in order to make the background score had been of the same opinion. He was the music director of the film. He told me that the entire film was poetry in motion; he would only use Rabindra sangeet in the background. The song that he used as the central theme was “Pathe jete dekechile more” (You called me to travel down the path). Surprisingly, that was also the first song that Arundhati Devi had recorded for H.M.V. Only I didn’t know it!
Robi Basu: What was your next project?
Tapan Sinha: After Khoniker Athiti I was wondering about what kind of film to make next. Many producers were approaching me with their ideas when suddenly one day, a gentleman called me up from the Grand Hotel. Over the telephone I got to know that his name was Hemen Ganguly and he wanted to make a film with me. He invited me to meet him at the hotel if I approved of his choice of story…and the story was Rabindranath’s Khudito Pashan (The Hungry Stones). The very mention of the name created a flood-like ripple in my heart. While putting down the phone I managed to mutter somehow that I was coming immediately.
Robi Basu: The film bears evidence to your dexterous handling of the topic. Did you have to work very hard for it?
Tapan Sinha: The labour I put in was mental rather than physical. Khudito Pashan [This brilliant short story of Rabindranath was later adapted in celluloid by Gulzar as Lekin featuring Vinod Khanna, Dimple Kapadia & Hema Malini] was one of the best stories by Rabindranath. I spent many a sleepless night. This was the first time I framed my script according to the demands of the graph of the sets. The imaginary picture of the house was already there in my mind. My friend & colleague, Satyajit Ray helped me greatly by suggesting the use of Fatehpuri latticework. During those days the directors were respectful of each other’s works…we never hesitated to lend a helping hand.
Robi Basu: The film required expensive sets, it was also shot outdoors; the final expenditure must have been quite stiff?
Tapan Sinha: I don’t exactly remember the cost. If Hemen babu were alive he might have been able to answer your question. Haripriya Pal and Dhiren babu, owners of cinema houses like Minar and Bijoli had paid in advance twenty five percent of the budget amount. By this time I had been able to create goodwill for myself, which ensured that distributors were willing to advance their money in my films.
Robi Basu: Arundhati Devi and Soumitra babu had excelled themselves in the film. Besides this Radhamohan babu’s acting and Bimal Mukherjee’s photography made the film unforgettable.
Tapan Sinha: Yes, Radhamohan babu displayed an immense aptitude for adaptability. He worked tirelessly to get into the skin of the character. Days on end he used to visit the Islamia College to be trained in Arabic and Farsi. And Bimal babu had created a surprisingly effective mood-lighting for the film…his death has been an irreparable loss for me. We used to share an excellent understanding. Baidurya Rahashya, for instance, was a failure, yet even in this film Bimal babu’s photography was a pleasure to watch.
Robi Basu: Did Khudito Pashan receive any awards?
Tapan Sinha: It received the National Award for the second best film. It also won an award in the Ireland Cork Festival in 1960. I’d have been happier if Ali Akbar Khan was awarded for his music… his music score in the film was praise worthy.
Kaise Kate Rajani (Pratima Banerjee & Ustad Amir Khan in Khudito Pashan)
Robi Basu: And after that?
Tapan Sinha: After that it was another different world…a world of murder, mystery and conspiracy in Jhinder Bandi (The Prisoner of Jhind) written by Saradindu Bandopadhyay [This Bengali novel is an adaptation of Anthony Hope’s famous historical thriller The Prisoner of Zenda]. It took me only ten days to write the script. I was visiting London at that time to make the subtitles of Khudito Pashan, I was there for ten days and the script for Jhinder Bandi was complete within those ten days.
Robi Basu: You took a lot of risk in casting Soumitra in the character of Mayurbahan.
Tapan Sinha: I don’t think so. And I’ve already told you that I cherish a thrill for adventure. Soumitra was foremost in my mind while working on the script. When offered the role, he accepted immediately and even learnt horse riding and fencing for his role. Uttam Kumar also put in extensive effort for portraying his character in Jhinder Bandi.
Robi Basu: Where was the outdoor location for the film?
Tapan Sinha: Udaipur. The film was a resounding success with the audience. However, I was somewhat unhappy because I had altered the original ending by Saradindu. Perhaps that was not the right thing to do.
Maito Hogayi Diwani (Pratima Banerjee)
Robi Basu: And the next film?
Tapan Sinha: For my next film I moved from the palaces of Rajasthan to the remotest of villages in Birbhum. Tarashankar Bandopadhyay was delighted that I wanted to transfer his Hansuliabanker Upakatha (Folk Tales of the River Bend) into film. He took me to the actual location where the story was set. He showed me the exact point where the river Kopai curves around like a hansuli (neck ornament shaped like a horse shoe) and even introduced me to the main characters. All of this inspired me to shoot the film in the very houses where they lived. Tarashankar pointed out Nasubala, the character who despite being a man dressed up like a woman. In my film, however, a woman has portrayed the character of Nasubala. I had doubts whether the audience would be ready to accept a man dressed up as a woman. Now I think I was wrong, it would have been better if I had cast a man.
Robi Basu: Was Tarashankar babu there with you when you were shooting for the film?
Tapan Sinha: Indeed, he was present throughout. He put in an unimaginable amount of effort in looking for the proper location. There were times when I was absolutely tired, but never did he show any signs of tiring. Once, while we were resting under a tree, I saw that his line of vision seemed to penetrate and disappear beyond the distant horizons. He sat as if in meditation, and then just as suddenly breaking the silence he began to speak: “Do you know Tapan, I can tell you the exact number of trees in Labhpur and five or six of the neighbouring villages”. I was amazed. That day I realized that it is not enough to love your fellow man; you also have to be a lover of nature to become a true littérateur.
Robi Basu: Bibhutibhusan Bandopadhyay was also a keen worshipper of nature. I don’t think you worked on any of his stories?
Tapan Sinha: No, I didn’t have that chance. But I’ve heard and read about his love for nature.
Robi Basu: Kali Banerjee’s acting in Hansuliabanker Upakatha was perhaps the best acting of his career.
Tapan Sinha: Yes, I also think so. Even Anubha has acted rather well.
Robi Basu: But I have a complaint regarding this film. The music seemed sophisticated.
Tapan Sinha: The songs were by Tarashankar; he composed the music too.
Robi Basu: But the vocalists who sang under the direction of Hemanta were all from Calcutta, they couldn’t entirely free themselves of sophistication.
Tapan Sinha: Maybe, at that time my ears were unable to discern any such nuances. But now that you mention it, it may well have been there.
Robi Basu: Did this film receive any awards?
Tapan Sinha: It received an award in 1962 in the San Francisco festival. I happened to be a jury member that year and the Mayor honoured me by handing over a key to the city.
Robi Basu: So you traveled all the way from the palace of Jhind to banks of the Kopai, and then…?
Tapan Sinha: And then, from the river to the sea. While working on the riverbanks my mind drew me ceaselessly to the sea. I nursed an intense desire to work on Samaresh Basu’s Amrita Kumbher Sandhane (In Search of the Eternal Kumbh) written under the pseudonym Kalkut. But Bimal Roy had already bought the rights of the story, so I couldn’t do it. In the meantime, B.N. Sarkar and S.N. Sarkar, the brothers’ duo from New Theatres were asking me to do a film for them, but the choice of a satisfactory story kept eluding me. And then, quite suddenly, Arundhati Devi suggested Samaresh babu’s Nirjan Saikate (On the Solitary Shores). I immediately made up my mind and approached Samaresh babu. He was very happy with my choice and refused to talk about money until later.
Robi Basu: From Narayan babu to Samaresh babu you had been blessed by the company of a generous set of writers who never wanted to discuss money matters. Can you account for this curious phenomenon?
Tapan Sinha: (smiling) I don’t think even I know the true reason. But all the writers that I’ve worked with shared good relationships with me; I never had any kind of dispute with them.
Robi Basu: Did you write the script for Nirjan Saikate in Calcutta itself, or did you have to go to Puri?
Tapan Sinha: I went to Puri and stayed there for fifteen days, accompanied by my mother. The main objective was to decide about the location and gain some insight into the living experience of smaller, less affluent hotels. Prior to this I’ve never been to such hotels, and I needed the experience for the film.
Robi Basu: The mood depicted in the film is acutely intense, isn’t it?
Tapan Sinha: Thanks to my five widows…Chaya Devi, Bharati Devi, Ruma Devi, Renuka Roy and others had poured their very souls into the film. Nirjan Saikate was awarded the Golden Peacock in the Indian International Film Festival in 1963. More importantly, the five widows jointly won the best actress award. I wonder if ever there has been such an instance in the history of film awards. Satyajit Ray was the chairman of the jury that year. The producer of the film, Mr. Sarkar, did us all a good turn; he arranged for five replicas of the award to be handed over to each of the five actresses. The film also bagged an award at the Sidney Film Festival in Australia.
Robi Basu: Did the home audience appreciate the movie?
Tapan Sinha: Yes, I receive innumerable felicitations. In a letter a certain engineer narrated to me their near fatal brush with death when they were saved from drowning by the local nulias (lifeguards). Ever since he had been mortally afraid of the sea. But after seeing my film he had been able to exorcise this and had fallen in love with the sea yet again.
Robi Basu: Speaking of love, you have not explored that theme overmuch.
Tapan Sinha: If you consider love in its all-encompassing universal term, then nearly all of my films, excepting maybe some four or five of them, deal with love. I have always tried to put forward the message that one should love one’s fellow man; one should love the earth we all inhabit. But if you are talking in terms of the love that exists between a man and a woman, I have made relatively few films on that topic…one of them is Jatugriha.
Robi Basu: Personally, I consider Jatugriha to be your finest achievement. What do you think?
Tapan Sinha: Jatugriha is indeed one of the four films that I consider to be my personal favourites.
Robi Basu: And the other three?
Tapan Sinha: Khoniker Athiti, Hansuliabanker Upakatha, and Athiti.
Robi Basu: Did the idea of making Jatugriha [This film as later re-made into Hindi by Gulzar as Ijaazat; the writer Subodh Ghosh received a posthumous Filmfare Best Story award too] strike you post the completion of Nirjan Saikate?
Tapan Sinha: I was deliberating to work on Subodh Ghosh’s Jatugriha for quite some time. There were times when I almost started working on the project, only to withdraw at the last moment. After the seascape of Nirjan Saikate, when I thought of retracing my footsteps back to the familiar atmosphere within the four walls we call home, Jatugriha was the foremost theme in my mind. As providence would have it, Uttam Kumar wanted to do a film with me at this time, and I asked him to read Jatugriha. He told me that it was not necessary for him to read it as he relied entirely on my judgement. However, I convinced him to go through the story, because as a producer he should be aware of the seriousness of the theme. I told him that I desired to cast him and Arundhati Devi as the protagonists. Uttam Kumar was more than convinced after reading the story and asked me to go ahead with the shooting. Both Uttam Kumar and Arundhati Devi poured in their heart and soul into their characters and their efforts were duly recognized when Jatugriha received the award for the best Bengali film of the year.
Robi Basu: Did Subodh babu see the film?
Tapan Sinha: Yes, he was very pleased. I had read out the script to him, he had liked it even then.
Robi Basu: What was your next film?
Tapan Sinha: Arohi (Ascender) by Bonophul. The tale revolves around the impossibilities that can be surmounted by man through sheer strength of mind.
Robi Basu: Bonophul was also from Bhagalpur, was he an acquaintance of yours?
Tapan Sinha: No, we were never acquainted with each other. I knew him though. He used to go regularly to the Bhagalpur station and browsed through the books in the wheeler stalls. He stood there flipping through the pages of various magazines, sometimes buying one or two. I stood watching him from afar, never having the courage to approach him.
Robi Basu: Arohi [This Bengali novel was later filmed by Hrishikesh Mukherjee as ARJUN PANDIT starring Sanjeev Kumar] inspires man to attain near impossible heights of stature and vision. It restores faith in the capacity of man; did this idea stimulate you to do the film?
Tapan Sinha: Indeed, it is a story of ascension. Kali Banerjee came up with a fine piece of acting. In this film I had cast Ajay Ganguly, who used to act for group theatres and Nandikar. The person who surprised me most turned out to be Chaya Devi; in merely two or three shots she proved her mettle as a great actress. Roxy cinema had arranged for a special screening of the film. After seeing it, on the street outside, Gourkishore Ghosh had bowed down before Chaya Devi, to touch her feet in respect. She also received the B.F.J. A. Awards for this film.
Robi Basu: Were you long acquainted with Gourkishore?
Tapan Sinha: We were old friends. It was Gour who inspired me to read the works of other writers besides Rabindranath. He used to get rare foreign books for me or informed as to where they could be found. In fact, he does that even now. He himself is an extraordinary writer; just a few days back a story of his appeared in Desh. It was superbly crafted; I was taken by surprise, as I had not come across such a wonderful story for quite a long time. Truth to say, he had been my friend, philosopher and guide in the realm of literature.
Robi Basu: Did Arohi win any prizes?
Tapan Sinha: Yes, it received the President’s Silver Medal for the best Bengali film of the year. Later it was also awarded in Lucerne Film Festival in Switzerland and received certificate of merit in the London Film Festival.
Continue reading the fourth part of this interview I Am A Worshipper Of All Things Beautiful: An Interview With Tapan Sinha (Part-IV)
More to read
An interview with Tapan Sinha published in 4 parts
Never Have I Made the Same Kind of Film: An Interview With Tapan Sinha (Part-I)
I’d Never Allow My Mind To Gather The Moss Of Stagnation: An Interview With Tapan Sinha (Part-II)
I Cherish A Thrill For Adventure: An Interview With Tapan Sinha (Part-III)
I Am A Worshipper Of All Things Beautiful: An Interview With Tapan Sinha (Part-IV)
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