In an interview with Joy Bimal Roy and Aparajita Sinha, actor Jagdeep had recalled his experience of working with his mentor Bimal Roy, providing rare insight into the master’s personality and his creativity. Following his recent demise, Ratnottama Sengupta rewinds to the year 2005 interview.
In 2005, when Joy Bimal Roy and Aparajita Sinha embarked on Remembering Bimal Roy, the hour-long documentary that marked their father’s Birth Centenary in 2009, they wanted to interview people who had worked with the celluloid master. The number of such persons had dwindled by then: most of the associates had joined him in the other world. Among those who could speak about the learning experience that was working in a Bimal Roy Production were screenwriter Nabendu Ghosh, lyricist Gulzar, actors Dilip Kumar, Vyjayantimala, Kamini Kaushal, Dharmendra – and comedian Jagdeep, the inimitable shoeshine of Do Bigha Zamin – the very first venture of Bimal Roy which gave Hindi films a new stature worldwide.
Joy and Aparajita tracked down Jagdeep to Andheri in Mumbai where he then lived with his second wife. Jagdeep not only recalled in graphic details the 50-years-old incidents with crystal clear clarity: he provided rare insight into the master’s personality and his creativity. It showed how much impact the maestro had on people who came into his orbit – and on the celluloid art itself.
Some years later, Ratnottama Sengupta joined the junior Roys and trancreated the interviews for readers, film lovers and students of Cinema. Here’s the outcome that shows, above all else, why Roy was par excellence in drawing out scintillating performances from child actors in Baap Beti, Parineeta, Biraj Bahu, Devdas, Sujata, Kabuliwala…
I was a nine-year-old when I saw Maa. I was already in films, having acted in the theatre scene of B R Chopra’s Afsana. So I knew that Bimal Roy was a director from Calcutta who had moved to Bombay to make films for Bombay Talkies.
Bimalda had seen the rushes of Phani Mazumdar’s Dhobi Doctor where I had played the junior Kishore Kumar and Asha Parekh had played junior Usha Kiran. I played a rather tragic role where I had to shed tears all through the film. Bimalda decided then and there to cast me in Do Bigha Zamin. It was his first production, and he called me to his office. I greeted him and asked him what sort of role he had in mind for me. He said, “It’s a happy role where you laugh and make others laugh.” I was taken aback.
Later, when we were shooting, I asked him, “Dada, you saw me in a weepy role, but you have cast me in a light-veined role. Why so?”
“Jagdeep,” he replied, “one who can make people cry can also make people laugh, because his comedy will have a lot of depth. He is bound to succeed.”
What an insight! And such an accurate prediction! His words had marked a turning point in my career where I ultimately came to be identified as a comedian.
Once we started shooting for DBZ, Bimalda asked me to go and pick up a much used, worn out shirt from Chor Bazaar or some such place since I am a shoeshine. The production manager must have thought to himself, why go so far, why not pick up a shirt from Andheri itself. Bimalda did not lose his cool, he never did. He simply called Hrishikesh Mukherjee, perched himself on the stairs, and supervised the act of scrubbing the collar with a stone so as to give it a worn-out look. That was my first lesson in realism in cinema, and I was hugely impressed.
On the first day he asked me, “Do you know how children polish shoes?”
I said yes, I do know, and I gave a quick demonstration.
And then he said – he usually spoke little, he’d only give the finishing touches to a dialogue! – “Have you noticed how a shoeshine indicates to his customer, who might be reading a newspaper, that he has finished polishing one shoe? He taps with the brush to indicate that the other foot should be placed on the box. Just do that same thak thak thak.”
The eye for detail humbled me – who was I trying to impress with my knowledge? A man who transplants a character into your mind and heart!
This same eye for detail came out on a day I was watching Balraj Sahni on the sets of DBZ. He was required to get angry, and Balrajji boldly lifted his arm to slap his child.
“No no no,” Bimalda intervened, “you are a farmer, a helpless human being. His hand would remain low like this, he can never raise his arms in an aggressive manner.”
Since Balrajji was playing a rickshaw puller, every morning he practiced rickshaw pulling with a fat person sitting in the cart. Bimalda would constantly check on his actions, his costume, his carriage. Let alone Balrajji, he took as much care even for the guest appearance Meena Kumari put in. She was a housewife singing a lullaby for her infant. Bimalda went up to her and checked, “Where are the keys given to you? Please tie them to the far end of your sari, and don’t forget to put the pallav over your shoulder, this way.” She had actually forgotten, but not he.
And yes, he was open to suggestions. If you had some suggestion to offer, he welcomed it and even gave you a free hand to try it out. We were in Calcutta, shooting on the pavements in natural light. I had this idea and I told Bimalda, “Instead of a straight forward ‘Come, get a polish done’ or ‘Give your shoes a good shine’, why don’t I sing out a line to that effect?”
He said, “How would you do that?”
So I sang out in the tune of an extremely popular song of the times: “Kalkatte mein aiy ke, Polish na karai ke, Chale nahin jaana, Babuji chale nahin jaana…”
Bimalda simply hugged me and said, “Yes, you will definitely do this, exactly as you’ve thought of it.” So this was Bimalda, who was never on a high horse. He respected suggestions even from a spot boy.
And then, his oeuvre of films based on novels – which other director in his time had the courage to do this? In that post-Partition period, filling up their stomach was people’s only concern, who cared for literary writings? Bimalda did a yeoman service by bringing the wisdom of these novels within the pale of everyman’s contemplation. Parineeta, Biraj Bahu, Devdas, Sujata, Bandini, Kabuliwala – he took literary heritage to the viewers. He sourced his stories from the world of letters and turned them into cinema. So his visual art always had a humanitarian message. It was a task no one dared to do. In the true sense of the word he was a teacher who taught the entire nation.
And what timeless vision he had! Today the spotlight is trained on farmers who are losing their land or committing suicide. In Do Bigha Zamin, the farmer picks up a fistful of earth from his ancestral land, and leaves without uttering a word. Through that one shot Bimalda told the nation, “If this comes to pass, the farmer will be devastated. Don’t be a silent witness to his destruction!”
In Calcutta we worked day and night. All night we were up scouting locations, checking which direction the sun would shine from, noting what other source of light would be available. This was something he was very careful about. All the close-ups of Vyjayanthimala in Madhumati were taken indoors since you couldn’t get enough light to be glamorous. But just note how well he has matched the lights – and this he could do because he studied the lights so well. But there was no need for such an exercise in Do Bigha Zamin. We were dumbstruck when we realized we were going to shoot without any make-up. How is it possible? It was possible because he was himself such a masterly cameraman. So all that the make-up man did was stick whiskers on some of us in the cast! As a result, the public did not recognize Nirupa Roy, who was a known face, when she gave the shot where she gets off a bus and is hit by a car.
There’s another thing about Bimalda that I will never forget. He could share his success with all his team members. Do Bigha Zamin was the first film of Bimal Roy Productions, everyone wanted to make a memorable film, so the expenses had to be kept to the bare minimum. I was contracted for Rs 250, Balrajji was to get Rs 5,000. And we all – screenplay writer Nabendu Ghosh, music director Salil Chowdhury – the whole unit travelled by 3rd class and reached Calcutta after three days.
When he commenced work on Naukri, he told me, “Jagdeep, you will be a guest artiste in this film.”
“What’s that?” I asked, unaware of the term.
So he explained, “Just as Meena Kumari had played the zamindar’s wife in one scene, you will make an appearance.”
But Meena Kumari was a major actress, she was a star! When I said this, Bimalda said, “To me you are a major actor. Have you ever travelled by air?”
“Then we will go by air,” he said.
I got promoted from 3rd class to aeroplane – that too for a one-shot appearance! Along with Kishore Kumar I was getting my shoe shined.
“Not a morsel in the stomach, how can we get our shoes polished?” – that was my entire dialogue.
Once the shot was okayed, he gave me an envelope of Rs 2,000, and I boarded the return flight.
No thought of hoarding what he earned, Bimalda spread happiness. He taught us things, he took care to explain things, he was an inspiration to us, and he inspires us to this day.
Perhaps more than the others it applies to his child artistes. Apart from me he has drawn out performances from a number of young actors – Baby Tabassum, Asha Parekh, Naaz, Master Ratan, Baby Farida, Sona – in Baap Beti, Parineeta, Do Bigha Zamin, Devdas, Sujata, Kabuliwala… However, not once did he let a child artiste feel she or he was merely a child. He treated them like an equal, a grown up person. Like every other actor Bimalda would explain the nuances of the scene to the child artiste and leave it to him or her to delineate the character. If you don’t dominate a child or suppress his imagination, he will express himself with great confidence. That was the key to Bimalda’s success with child actors.
In 1953, besides DBZ I was seen in Footpath and Papi while Naukri came the next year, with Munna and Aar Paar. Ab Dilli Door Nahin came later, in 1957 – the same year as AVM’s Hum Panchhi Ek Dal Ke and Bhabhi, which made me a hero, against Nanda. I was a permanent artiste at AVM for seven years. When I returned to Bombay Bimalda invited me to play the central role in Prem Patra. I was very keen to do the role but my prior commitment with AVM did not allow me to work with another banner. That was my failing – Bimalda had not failed to keep up with our relationship. When a child artiste had grown up to become a hero, he accorded him that status too! Where have such filmmakers gone?
(Edited and incorporated: 5 July 2009) : Final – 30 December 2011
(Pictures used have been provided by the authors)
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