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I Am A Worshipper Of All Things Beautiful: An Interview With Tapan Sinha (Part-IV)

December 2, 2014

We pay 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, 2nd and 3rd part of the interview, we reproduce the concluding 4th part.

Interview of film director Tapan Sinha by Robi Basu
Translated into English by Suchandra Roy Chowdhury
(Concluding Part – IV)

(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.)

Continued from strong>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)
Robi Basu: Which film was next in line?

Tapan Sinha: After the release of Nirjan Saikate  Mr. B. N. Sarkar had requested me to do another film with him. When at last I got some breathing space I offered to do Rabindranath’s Athiti (The Runaway) with him.

Robi Basu: By now you were a much-established filmmaker churning out back-to-back box office hits, wasn’t it a bit of a gamble to work on Rabindranath at this point of time?

Atithi - 1965Tapan Sinha: Indeed it was, but then I’d always had a predilection for adventure. But I always had faith in Rabindranath. Reading Atithi [Rajshree Productions’s Geet Gaata Chal is a loose adaptation of this short story by Rabindranath] I had the feeling that the protagonist of the story, Tarapada, was Rabindranath himself. Deep within his heart he has always nurtured a certain fascination for baul-like (the bauls were the wondering minstrels of rural Bengal) aloofness and escapism. This desired state, which he himself could not attain in his physical form, I suspect, has been transplanted into the being of Tarapada.

Robi Basu: Atithi displays an innate lyricism of temperament. What is the origin of such lyricism?

Tapan Sinha: Undoubtedly Rabindranath…the lyricism existed in the story itself, I merely transferred it to celluloid.

Robi Basu: Almost all of your films depict a fascination for nature, whether it is the seas or the mountains. What is the reason behind this?

Tapan Sinha: I love the world we inhabit…I love its soil, its people, its nature. I am a worshipper of all things beautiful, and this is a recurrent theme in my films.

Robi Basu: Atithi or in later times Harmonium made me feel that you have a weakness for people belonging to the aristocratic classes of the society. Am I right?

Tapan Sinha: Yes, I do have this inclination. However, aristocracy is not synonymous with wealth, rather it is synonymous with a refined sense of culture. In this regard I consider myself to be an aristocratic individual.

Robi Basu: What is your opinion about the zamindars (land owners or landed aristocracy), as you yourself belong to this class?

Tapan Sinha:  Not too favourable, I’m afraid. Just as I’ve sometimes witnessed the nobility of some men hailing from this particular stratum, I’ve also seen instances of torture and tyranny.

Robi Basu: Did you never feel the inclination to work on them, like Satyajit Ray did in Jalsaghar [The Music Room]?

Tapan Sinha: No, never did I experience such an urge…and perhaps never will.

Robi Basu: Atithi did not have much of a star cast to boast of, were you concerned about this?

Tapan Sinha: Making films sans stars has never been my prejudice or pretension. I’ve worked with Dilip Kumar and Saira Banu in Sagina Mahato; I’ve worked with Ashok Kumar and Vyjayantimala in Haate Bajare (In the Flea Markets). My only lookout has always been to assemble a perfect cast.

Robi Basu: Partha Mukherjee in the role of Tarapada was just the right choice. From where did you get him?

Tapan Sinha: I had to interview some two hundred and fifty lads and selected him from the crowd. I already had a mental portrait of Tarapada…he should be a fair complexioned Brahmin with beautiful eyes. When Partha came for the interview, I saw him from afar and realized that I had finally found my Tarapada.

Robi Basu: Had he ever acted before?

Tapan Sinha: Maybe not, but I’m not very sure. I made him rehearse extensively for nearly two months for my film. I also made Basabi, Bhanu Bandhopadhyay’s daughter, rehearse with him, and both of them acted beautifully.

Robi Basu: Didn’t Atithi collect quite a few awards?

Tapan Sinha: Atithi won the National Award as the second best film of the year, and also went on to win a prize at the Venice Film Festival. The greatest achievement was the hearty felicitations of millions of people…both from the intellectual circles and the common man.

Robi Basu: So what was your next step?

Galpo Holeo Satyi – 1966

Galpo Holeo Satyi – 1966

Tapan Sinha: For quite sometime I’d been thinking of making a comedy. I had not handled the genre since Tonsil. I didn’t believe in slapstick comedy, and while I was thinking about it an idea suddenly took hold. It was to be based on the daily travails of middle class family life…a serious theme with a comic treatment; and was how Galpo Holeo Satyi (A Story that Nevertheless is True) was conceived.

Robi Basu: Ravi Ghosh had essayed a fine role in the film.

Tapan Sinha: Actually, his role was more of an idea than a character. He emerges from an elusive mist and disappears into one. Between this phenomenon of appearance and disappearance he obliterates all thoughts of hatred, selfishness and envy from the minds of the family members. As such it conceptualizes an ideal society seen through the nucleus of an ideal family. The film was greeted warmly by the audience and also went on to become the best Bengali film of the year [Hrishikesh Mukherjee purchased the rights of Tapan Sinha’s screenplay of Galpo Holeo Satyi and made Bawarchi with Rajesh Khanna in the title role]. 

Robi Basu: Did you start working on Haate Bajare next?

Tapan Sinha: Yes, Ashim Dutt of Priya Cinema approached me with an offer to make a film for him. The concept of Bonophul’s Haate Bajare was already there in my mind… and I had had already visualized Ashok Kumar in the leading role. Four decades ago, Ashim’s father, Nepal Dutt had cast Ashok Kumar and Kanan Devi in Chandrasekhar directed by Debaki babu [The famous Bengali film director, Devaki Kumar Bose]. After talking to them I wrote a letter to Bonophul. Within a few days he came to Calcutta. The very first question he asked me was how could I ever conceive of making such a film, it would be tantamount to suicide. Somehow I managed to assure him and set about the task of writing the script. As soon as the script was ready, I went to Bombay to meet Ashok Kumar.

Robi Basu: Did you know him before this?

Tapan Sinha: No! He was rather surprised when he met me and said, “You are Tapan? The fame that precedes your name had made me expect a robust, somewhat elderly person of an eminently serious disposition.” I couldn’t help smiling hearing that description of his…and we’ve been friends since then. We still talk over the telephone to catch up on all the details of our lives. On that particular day he listened to the script for nearly three hours. He liked the script, and asked me to call him up after seven days. He promised to provide me with an unbroken chain of dates. At the same time he requested to keep this piece of information well away from the knowledge of his secretary who could mess up things by giving away the dates to some Bombay filmmaker.

Robi Basu: What about Vyjayantimala? Tapan Sinha: When he came to know of my desire to cast Vyjayantimala for the film, it was Ashok Kumar himself who rang her up to fix an appointment with me. In fact he insisted that she should work for me. She liked the script; the only impediment now was that she could not speak Bengali. I did not want to dub her voice, so, on returning to Calcutta, I recorded her dialogues in two cassettes; one in slow speed, the other in medium speed and sent them to her.

Hemant Kumar, Dr Bali, Vyjayantimala, Tapan Sinha & Ashit Chowdhury

(L to R) Singer-composer Hemant Kumar, Dr Bali, actress Vyjayantimala, film director Tapan Sinha and Ashit Chowdhury Pic: COPYRIGHT PROTECTED

Robi Basu: In this film you cast many artists from the group theatre?

Tapan Sinha: Yes, …Ajitesh, Rudraprasad, Chinmoy, Ajay, to name a few. Ajitesh once mumbled that he had doubts whether he would be able to act in a film. I reassured him and asked him to be courageous enough to break away from established patterns. Ajitesh did just that and went on to win his fair share of accolades for his character. The suggestion to make the characters speak the local Manbhum dialect was also his.

Robi Basu: The film was largely shot outdoors. Where did you shoot it?

Tapan Sinha: It was shot in Shamchi, Bhutan. For the location we needed a small clearing surrounded on all sides by the mountains where the haat would take place. Dinen Gupta had come up with some wonderful photography. We had shot the film during the months of February and March, and it was still very cold. Ashok Kumar fell ill while shooting; he has a tendency for asthma. We had a doctor with our team, but the then Chief Minister of Bengal, Prafulla Sen, sent Dr. Mani Chettri to attend to Ashok Kumar.

Robi Basu: The audience received the film with extreme enthusiasm.

Tapan Sinha: Yes, it was very popular. The film conveyed a rather ennobling message…within one’s limited options; one can still try to work for the greater good of mankind It was awarded the president’s gold medal for the best Indian film of the year. It was also honoured with the Royal Cup in the Cambodian Asian Festival.

I had bought the rights of Indra Mitra’s Apanjan with the intention of making a family film. The work on the script was already in progress, when suddenly one morning two or three local goons came to see me. They approached me in the hope that I would somehow fix up Hemanta Mukherjee to sing for them in a local musical programme. I informed them that it never have I fixed up such matters, and it is not possible for me to request professional singers to sing for free. Hearing my words they promptly pulled out some three or four thousand rupees from their bag; they were ready to pay whatever amount it was required to bring Hemanta. They just needed me to request Hemanta not to decline their offer. I was rather surprised to see the amount of money they were carrying with them and couldn’t help but ask how they came by so much money. They laughed and informed me that the elections were just around the corner, and it was all a huge game of money. They mentioned the name of a certain politician who was showering them with money to make them work for him in the elections. I was doubly surprised; all this money to work for the leaders in the elections…but where did all this money come from? I asked them what exactly was their function during the elections? This made them hang their heads in shame; they replied that they could not answer my question, such questions should not be asked at all. I understood the implications. Trying to sympathise with them, I asked that it was all very well that now they were being inundated with money, but what would be their fate after the elections? Their eyes reflected the void inside…the politician has promised them jobs, but they very well know that after the elections the very same politician would fail to even recognize them. What will be, will be…for now they needed me to write Hemanta a letter. I said it was really not necessary for me to write the letter as they were offering enough money to hire the singer. Rather disappointed, they went away at last.

Robi Basu: And then?

Tapan Sinha: After they went away started thinking that that what were all these unemployed youth going to do once the election was over, drawing a closure to the source of their income? By then they would have developed a taste for money, yet the money would be missing…and then they will resort to all kinds of antisocial activities. Maybe this is how all the antisocial elements are created in society…they are the creations of the politicians or any such person who wants to benefit by their services. I thought for an entire day and then I decided to add this angle as a subplot to Indra Mitra’s story. This opened up an entirely new dimension to the film. Robi Basu: I suppose the film created quite a furor at the time? Tapan Sinha: Yes, two new actors emerged from this film, Swarup Dutt and Shamit Bhanja. Shamit, however, had also essayed a minor role in Haate Bajare. The audience liked the film, but I became an eyesore for some politicians. They began spreading the rumour that I had been financed by the C.I.A. to do the film. The only exception was Jatin Chakraborty…he went about singing my praises to all and sundry. The film went on to be awarded the President’s silver medal for the second best film of the year.

Robi Basu: And then?

Sagina MahatoTapan Sinha: Those were the days of political unrest in Bengal…for certain reasons my mind was also not entirely free from ire. At this time Hemen Ganguly came with an offer for a film. I had read Gourkishore Ghosh’s Sagina Mahato a long time ago…the story was based on trade union movement. It was an extremely well written story and I really hadn’t thought of making it into a film. I never had the urge to make films on political affairs…but the contemporary turmoil inherent in that realm made me think otherwise. I told Hemen babu that I wanted to film Sagina Mahato. He immediately gave his consent. While discussing the film we felt the need to cast an actor who was not Bengali for the role of Sagina. Hemen babu suggested the name of Dilip Kumar and after the work on the script was completed we went to Bombay to the actor.

Robi Basu: Dilip Kumar had already acted in a Bengali film before this?

Tapan Sinha: Yes, he had worked in Padi, but he had a very small role in the film. In my film he was to be the protagonist. Dilip listened to the script and asked us to meet him at his house the very next day. To me he murmured to come alone and not to bring my producer with me. The next day we discussed the nitty-gritty of the script in details. Dilip put in quite some effort to get into the skin of the character. He expressed his approval to essay the role and was extremely happy when I suggested the name of Saira Banu opposite him. While shooting for this film we became very close friends. Robi Basu: Did you have any difficulty to make him speak in Bengali? Tapan Sinha: Not a bit…he is an exceptional actor and acts almost intuitively. I liked the style of his acting. However it was after the completion of the shooting that a problem cropped up.

Robi Basu: What kind of problem?

Tapan Sinha: In the midst of the shooting we began to receive threats from certain political parties. At first I did not bother unduly about it, but then, after censoring the film, I heard that they would not allow the release of the film and were planning on picketing in front of the halls. In the interest of the producer I arranged a special screening of the film for the members of some political parties. Boys from the extremist groups, about whom I had my doubts, surprising told me that it was a wonderful film. According to them, I had successfully unmasked the hypocrisy inherent in the trade union movement. They asked me to release the film and promised to lend me their support in case of any political troubles.

Robi Basu: Did the film eventually encounter the troubles expected?

Tapan Sinha: Absolutely not…not only was there no trouble, as saw some boys following me around like shadows on the day the film was released. Everywhere I went, the same eight or ten faces accompanied me. When people came up to congratulate me during the interval, these boys created a ring around me to keep the crowd at bay, whispering in my ears that I should not let anyone come near me as I did not really know their actual intent. Robi Basu: What award did the film win? Tapan Sinha: That another strange phenomenon. While the so-called communists of Bengal were rather suspicious about the film, it won the Afro-Asian Award in the Moscow Film Festival.

Robi Basu: Was it directly after this that you went to Bombay to work on Sagina, the Hindi version of the film?

Tapan Sinha: No, that was a little later. Before that I had worked on a film based on Ramapada Chowdhury’s Ekhoni (Just Now). The theme centered on the frustrated youth of Bengal, whose future, despite having passed out of schools and colleges, was one big question mark! Aparna Sen acted for me in this film and it went on to receive the National Award for the best screenplay. After this I went to Bombay to shoot for Sagina and Zindagi, Zindagi. I have already mentioned that I was not very happy with these two remakes. Those two years in Bombay were not too fruitful. Even after returning to Calcutta, I failed to recreate the old mood. I made a film with Madhavi based on Prafulla Roy’s story Andhar Periye (Crossing the Darkness). I was not satisfied with the film.

Robi Basu: So when did you get back the old mood?

Tapan Sinha: While working on Shankar’s Ek Je Chilo Desh (Once Upon a Time in a Country). It was a satirical science fiction dealing with the concept of the discovery of a drug which, when consumed, would make people speak the truth thereby shaking the very foundations of so-called society. The treatment of the theme was somewhat different.

Robi Basu: Wasn’t your next film Raja, for which you were severely criticized?

Tapan Sinha: Yes, and I knew that it would be criticized. The story was by Prafulla Roy, but with it I had added the theme of the spiraling problem of illegal prostitution in our city. I had read about this problem in an interview published in Anandabazar. Due to certain economic causes unrest is increasing in society, old moralities are disintegrating rapidly and young girls are regularly falling prey to perverted desires. It was difficult to stomach such a bold theme, but that really doesn’t entail that we turn a blind eye to the vices of society…and I, as a filmmaker, am also responsible for the welfare of society. After the release of the film I received flak even over the telephone!

Robi Basu: What was your next choice of subject?

Tapan Sinha: For my next film I chose to stay well away from the stinging heat of any socio-political controversies and decided to make a musical entitled Harmonium. Incidentally, you must add the name of Harmonium to the list of my favourite films, which I had mentioned earlier. Our society is fissured by differences of religion, caste system and the rich and the poor, yet music transcends all such rifts. The song that delights the hearts of the rajas and the zamindars is the same song that drives the vagrant baul to soulful ecstasy. The film was picturised in a totally different mood.

Robi Basu: Why did you suddenly take on yourself the task of music direction for the film?

Tapan Sinha: Nearly all the great names of the musical world…. Ravi Shankar, Ali Akbar, Hemanta, to name only a few…had worked in my films. They had created some memorable music and been awarded for their talent, but somehow I could not be completely satisfied. The theme of the story was not aptly voiced through the background music. Maybe it was to assuage this desire that I took to music direction.

Robi Basu: You gave music to some songs also?

Pankaj Kapur & Shabana Azmi in EK DOCTOR KI MAUT [Death of A Doctor]

Pankaj Kapur & Shabana Azmi in EK DOCTOR KI MAUT [Death of A Doctor]

Tapan Sinha: The credit is not entirely mine…I have merely worked on the limitless resources of our local music. I cannot ever claim to have created any tunes as sublime as the ones composed by Satyajit Ray. Yet, I had to put in considerable effort for the background score…I had to work tirelessly, days on end, with Aloknath Dey. Arundhati Devi was a great help during these times. Let me narrate an incident…I was at my wits end to create the theme music for Ek Doctor Ki Maut. I was in a state of intense mental torment, when one day I sat down with some children to watch an animated film. Its theme was evolution; the music was decidedly different and kept changing through the various phases of evolution of our planet. My ears immediately caught on to this formula. I made one of my son’s friends, who dealt in science related jobs and had a way with instruments, to listen to the cassette and asked him to compose the music for me. This boy from Kerala actually took down the notations and recorded it on a cassette within the span of a day. The next morning, when I listened to the music, something was still missing…the score needed for the film was still eluding me. Arundhati Devi was listening to the music from the balcony of our room; suddenly she said that she was hearing of the Malkauns (a raga) in the music. Immediately, the problem was resolved. On that very day I discussed Malkauns with Alok and found that it was eminently suitable for the film.

Robi Basu: Harmonium received critical acclaim for its music; did it win any other awards?

Tapan Sinha: It received the best music award in the Seoul Film Festival.

Robi Basu: Do you also sing?

Tapan Sinha: No.

Robi Basu: But I’ve heard you sing once. When we were returning from Tamluk in an empty first class train compartment you sang the Jai Jayanti raga oblivious of your surroundings.

Tapan Sinha: There was indeed a time when I practiced singing…sometimes it emerges rather unexpectedly…but that’s not worth mentioning.

Robi Basu: What was your next film?

Ashwani & Airavat in Safed Haathi [The White Elephant]

Ashwani & Airavat in Safed Haathi [The White Elephant]

Tapan Sinha: I made Safed Haathi  (The White Elephant) for the children. In this I had cast nine children from the Pune Film Institute.

Robi Basu: The child who essayed the main role was remarkable. From where did you get him?

Tapan Sinha: He was from Kurseong.

Robi Basu: The locations were fabulous…where was it shot?

Tapan Sinha: It was shot all over India…Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Bandipura Forest, Nefa Jungles and Bomdilla Hills. Twenty-eight lakhs of rupees was spent for this film.

Robi Basu: Oh, my…doesn’t that just sound like an adventure?

Tapan Sinha: It was indeed an adventure. Making films for children can be rather exacting, especially with so many locations to work on. After the completion of the film I suffered a massive heart attack. Arundhati Devi was alone in the house that morning, but within twenty-five minutes she got me admitted to the intensive care unit of Woodlands. I was released after eight weeks. Barely had I been home for two weeks when Arundhati Devi suffered a cerebral attack and the right half of her body was entirely paralyzed. What a terrible state we were in {after a few minutes of silence} I sometimes think I’ve been so very cruel…so very selfish!

Robi Basu: What makes you think so?

Tapan Sinha: After we both fell ill we had to take medication regularly…I had to take one tablet and Arundhati Devi had to take eight. Every morning at the breakfast table she used to keep my tablet ready…I never even bothered to see if she was taking her tablets regularly, nor did I ever try to find out whether all was well with her health. I was that selfish. Now that she is no more I think of my carelessness and I feel such heart wrenching pain…I feel her absence every day, every minute of my life. It was a relationship of thirty years; now I’m all alone, so very alone. Seeing the state I was in my son wanted to come and stay with me. I asked him not to.

Robi Basu: Why?

Tapan Sinha: I did not want Anindya to forfeit his career for me. After completing his doctorate in molecular biology from T.I.F.A. Bangalore, he has now joined the Indian Institute of Science as a research assistant. He has a bright future ahead.

Robi Basu: You said you spent an estimated twenty-eight lakhs for Safed Haathi, were you able to recover the sum after the release of the film?

Tapan Sinha:  Indeed, the film proved to be a good earner. It received the Golden Lotus from the President after being judged the best children’s film of the year. It also won several awards at various film festivals throughout the world.

Robi Basu: When did you start working again after recovering from your illness?

Tapan Sinha: Nearly one year passed away in illness, I thought that my career was well and truly over, never again would I be able to work. It was V. Shantaram who redirected my steps back to the world of cinema.

Robi Basu: How exactly did he do this?

Tapan Sinha: At that time I was one of the directors of the Film Finance Corporation and had gone to Bombay to attend a meeting. It was here that Shantaram called me over the telephone. After raving about the success of Safed Haathi, he asked me to meet him at five in the evening as he had something very important to discuss with me. 

Robi Basu: Did you keep the appointment?

Tapan Sinha: Yes, but at seven in the evening and not at five. He was waiting for me and requested me to do a film for the Children’s Film Society. He had no problem if I wanted to do it in Bengali. I replied that I had suffered a massive heart attack and my health no longer permitted me to embark on a new film. After hearing me out he revealed that whereas I had suffered one heart attack he himself has suffered three and was still working. He urged me to quit thinking about my health, assuring me that I would definitely feel better if I went back to making films.

Robi Basu: Did you acquiesce?

Samit Bhanja & Arunava Adhikari in Sabuj Dweeper Raja [The King of The Emerald Island]

Samit Bhanja & Arunava Adhikari in Sabuj Dweeper Raja [The King of The Emerald Island]

Tapan Sinha: That I did, though I let him know about my consent only after I came back to Calcutta. I had liked Sunil Gangopadhyay’s Sabuj Dweeper Raja (The King of the Green Island) set against the backdrop of Andaman Islands, at the very first reading; so much so that a second reading was simply not necessary.  I informed Shantaram of my choice and within a few days he sent a man from Bombay with two tickets for the flight to Port Blair. On returning from Andaman I immediately framed my script.

Robi Basu: In the story Santu and Kakababu (uncle) had reached Andaman by plane. Why did you make them travel in a ship in the film? 

Tapan Sinha: I wanted to make matters more interesting. Sunil had made the revolutionary of his story come back to Calcutta to witness her wretched state; this was also changed in the film. I did not make him come back; instead I concluded my film with a soulful rendition of Bande Mataram to inculcate national feeling the children of this land.

Robi Basu: Like so many other commercial films, wasn’t Sabuj Dweeper Raja released simultaneously in quite a number of halls?

Tapan Sinha: Yes, I had managed to convince Shantaram on this issue. Dhiresh Chakraborty was at the helm of distribution. The most important fact was that I had signed a contract to make a film of eight thousand feet; I had made a film of ten thousand feet with the same amount of money. It was the technicians of the film who had lent me their unstinting support in making the film. I will never forget their sacrifice for making a film for the children.

Robi Basu: What was your next venture?

Nirmal Kumar, Manoj Mitra & Dipankar De in Banchharaamer Bagan (The Orchard of Banchharaam]

Nirmal Kumar, Manoj Mitra & Dipankar De in Banchharaamer Bagan (The Orchard of Banchharaam]

Tapan Sinha: Bancharamer Bagan (The Garden of Bancharam). I had already decided to return to comedy and it was with such a mindset that I went to see Sajano Bagan (The Well Planned Garden), a play by Manoj Mitra. The plot appealed to me and while it was still floating about in my mind I was approached by Dhiresh Chakraborty to do a film for him. Doing away with Sajano Bagan I named my film Bancharamer Bagan. This was the first instance where I adapted a stage play for my film. Manoj Mitra played the leading role; the role that was portrayed by Dipankar was originally offered to Uttam Kumar, but he could not provide me with dates during the shooting. He wanted me to reschedule the dates… but that was well neigh impossible. Much money had been spent in constructing a garden at Barasat. If the shooting were pushed back all the seasonal flowers and plants would have shriveled up and died. I had no other option but to cast Dipankar in lieu of Uttam Kumar.

And then quite out of the blue Uttam, on whose advice I don’t know, filed a case against us in the High Court. Quite naturally, he went on to lose the case. Many a times afterwards I had thought of ending the bitterness that existed between us, but Uttam did not give me the chance. He passed away…never had I thought that he would be in such a hurry to depart from this world. When I rushed to his house after hearing the fateful news, his brother Tarun Kumar clasped my hands and said that Uttam had often said that there has been a terrible misunderstanding with Tapan Sinha and he had intended to visit me to set matters right. But death claimed him as victim before he could execute his plans. I felt extremely disheartened after hearing Tarun’s words; the kind of relationship that we shared, it would have been better if our differences had been reconciled while Uttam was still alive.

Robi Ghosh & Dipankar De in Banchharaamer Bagan (The Orchard of Banchharaam]

Robi Ghosh & Dipankar De in Banchharaamer Bagan (The Orchard of Banchharaam]

Robi Basu: Bancharamer Bagan was a super hit. What was your next project?

Tapan Sinha: At that time I was a member of the Central Censor Board and we were driven to the edges of our sanity being exposed regularly to some of the most terribly obscene movies from Kerala. Such films consisted of a weird mixture of sex and violence. The surprising phenomena was that the portions which were censored as because they were too steamy or titillating were actually collaborated by some producers into films which had already secured the Censor certificate. This was done with an eye to enhance the sale of the movie in question.

Robi Basu: Weren’t they ever caught?

Tapan Sinha: Often times they were caught. And then there was the lengthy process of a case going on for some six months where the Governmental expenditure ran to two thousand rupees whereas the producer was ultimately called upon to pay a paltry fine of two hundred rupees. This is simply not the way to get the better of them; the punishment should be more severe.

Adalat O Ekti Meye

Tanuja in Adalat O Ekti Meye

But returning to the topic of the obscene films of Kerala… I was so very irritated with them that one day I stated that I would make a film on rape. Hrishikesh Mukherjee was appalled; he said that it was impossible for me to make a film on rape. Mentally, I became rather adamant on this issue and set about the task of writing the script of Adalat O Ekti Meye (The Court and a Girl). The film dealt with the issue of rape and the justice meted out to the victim. Rapes are perpetrated outside the periphery of normal life, maybe behind closed doors, but when the case is brought up in the court it seems as if the girl is being raped yet, only this time the entire world is there to witness her misery. Such is the distressing story of the film.

Robi Basu: The film created some turmoil at the time, did it not?

Tapan Sinha: That it did…after the completion of the shooting I had asked the Censor Board to certify it as an adult movie. Arundhati Devi was the art director for the movie; seven days before shooting the courtroom sequence she had made Sukumar photograph the room from various angles. She had then created an exact replica of the courtroom on the floors. Ashok Kumar was a member of the jury board of the Indian Panorama that year; he told me that the rape scene had nearly choked him to death.  Adalat O Ekti Meye was awarded the best Bengali film of the year. A professor from Jadavpur University wrote to me telling me that he had gone to watch the movie alone because he did not want his family members to see it; however, after watching the film he was now thinking of sending his daughter to watch it as well, because she ought to know the realities of life in order to safeguard herself from its horrors. For me this letter was far more precious than the National Award.

Robi Basu: Wonderful…and your next film was…?

Shabana Azmi & Pankaj Kapur in Ek Doctor Ki Maut [Death of A Doctor] <br> Pic: COPYRIGHT PROTECTED

Shabana Azmi & Pankaj Kapur in Ek Doctor Ki Maut [Death of A Doctor]

Tapan Sinha: I could only complete one fourth of my next film. You may remember that the tragic death of the scientist Subhash Mukherjee created huge turmoil at that time. That was the central issue of Ramapada Chowdhury’s novel Abhimanyu. I was so very moved with the chain of events that I immediately began to shoot for Abhimanyu with Soumitra and Madhavi in leading roles. Hardly had we began shooting when the producer Dhiresh Chakrabarty declared insolvency and all work was stopped. Satyajit Ray’s Ghare Baire (The Home and the World) also got delayed due to the same reason. I finished the film after a long hiatus of many years, that also in Hindi… Ek Doctor Ki Maut (The Death of a Doctor). That is my last film till date.

Robi Basu: This was perhaps the only instance of an incomplete film in your career?

Tapan Sinha: I was extremely put off by the turn of circumstances and could hardly concentrate on anything. It was at this point that Arundhati Devi suggested that I should try my hands at a light movie. I wrote the script for Baidurya Rahasya in just one week and immediately began to work on the film. The result was far from good. But I’ve already mentioned that Bimal Mukherjee had worked wonders with the camera. It was right after this that I received the offer to make a film for Doordarshan. 

Robi Basu: Admi aur Aurat?

Tapan Sinha: Yes. Satyajit Ray had already made Sadgati (The Funeral Rites) for them. I did Aadmi aur Aurat, based on the story Manush by Prafulla Ray. Mahua and Amol Palekar were cast in the leading roles. Mahua was an excellent actress and was highly praised for her histrionics. She had also worked with me in Raja. She could well have been a great actress someday had not she met with the fateful accident that took her life.

Robi Basu: Was the film well received?

Tapan Sinha: Yes. Satyajit Ray wrote to me saying that not only was it the best film of my life, it was also one of the greatest films to be ever made in India. It was he who took the initiative to write a letter to B.B.C. Channel Four. They offered Doordarshan a chance to screen the film. Someone said that my one film has made much more impact than a hundred lectures by a hundred political leaders on the concept of national integration. The film was honoured with the National Award for being judged to be the best film promoting national integration. 

Robi Basu: Which film did you work on next?

Tapan Sinha: When I approached my next film my mind was a hotbed of anger and frustration. There were regular updates on the escapades of antisocial elements in the newspapers…and I used to preserve the cuttings of the reports from Anandabazar and The Statesman. There were so many instances where the politicians were shamelessly providing protection to the miscreants; honour and respect had ceased to be. Bright young boys were gradually being turned into antisocials; if such circumstances were allowed to continue then it would not be long before the girls too would be drawn into the vicious circle.

Soumitra Chattopadhyay in Aatanka [Terror]

Soumitra Chattopadhyay in Aatanka [Terror]

Simmering with a terrible anger I made Atanka (Terror). This made me an eyesore for the members of a particular political party. However, because Jyoti Basu was loved me dearly, they could not harm me overmuch. Their opinion was that girls of West Bengal have never been subjected to torture…my opinion was that if such unrest continued; it would only be a question of time before the girls too would be sucked into the vortex of the turmoil. The dismal scenario hinted at in my film became a reality five years later with the macabre incident at Bantala…an infamous blotch in the name of civilization. I somehow have come to think that I am more farsighted than these so called political leaders.

Robi Basu: That’s true, but have they ever been able to cause you any harm?

Tapan Sinha: Not in that instance, but they did cause some trouble for my next film. The producer of Safed Haathi, Mr. Jalan requested me to make another film for children. I gave him the idea of working in collaboration with the Children’s Film Society. Amol Palekar was the chairman of C.F.S. and I arranged for Mr. Jalan to discuss the issue with him. Work for Aaj Ka Robinhood (Today’s Robinhood) began post haste and I have already told you about my near fatal experience during the shooting of the film. Though the story is mine, it is considerably inspired by some of the stories of Prafulla Ray. The film won the Unicef Award in the Berlin Film Festival and was screened at various festivals throughout the world.

Robi Basu: But how were you harmed?

Tapan Sinha: I’m coming to that…here the film was shown to Jyoti babu and Ashim Das Gupta. The West Bengal Government declared the film tax-free for eight weeks. We sent a petition to the information department of West Bengal Government requesting them to send circulars to various schools for the purpose of group booking. This was in fact a fairly regular procedure and such circulars were often issued for the screening of films conveying a social message. But Buddhadeb Bhattacharya [West Bengal’s present Chief Minister] dismissed the idea out of hand as a medieval concept…never did he see the film or try to understand it. This news went on to become a scoop in Anandabazar and an editorial was also penned highlighting the issue. And from that very day I became an outcast in their eyes.

Robi Basu: That’s very surprising indeed…what was your next film?

Mohua Roychowdhury in Aadmi Aur Aurat [Man and Woman]

Mohua Roychowdhury in Aadmi Aur Aurat [Man and Woman]

Tapan Sinha: On the request of the Film Division I filmed Prafulla Ray’s Manush in sixteen millimeters. This was the same story on which the Hindi Aadmi Aur Aurat was based. They wanted to show the film in the remotest of villages to foster the spirit of national integrity. The making of this film, however, did not give me any pleasure. But, I derived considerable creative satisfaction in filming Didi (The Elder Sister) for Doordarshan. The story by Premendra Mitra…he always nursed an intense desire that I should work on a story of his. He often used to ask me to make a film on Sansar Simante (On the Peripheries of Family Life), but my mind failed to respond to an idea about which I knew precious little. When I finally had the chance to work on Didi, Premendra Mitra had already passed away. The filming of the movie demanded backbreaking labour…we had to shoot a particular sequence in the middle of the Ganges at the unworldly hour of three o’clock at night. Deepti Naval had acted rather well in this film.

Robi Basu: It was after this that you did Ek Doctor Ki Maut?

Tapan Sinha: Yes. Till now that’s the last film I worked on. I have begun working on a script though, based on a novel by Dibyendu Palit. I’ll be attending the Madras Film Festival and then spend a few days somewhere…I’ll return to Calcutta after completing the script.

Robi Basu: I think I know the name of the novel that you are working on even though you have not identified it…but that requires a lot of courage!

Tapan Sinha: If I didn’t have the courage I’d never have ventured to make films. Otherwise I could have just done some clerical work or spent my life as an engineer. That I have had the capacity to make films over a span of some forty -six years makes me feel satisfied…I’m immensely gratified. I don’t know how long I can continue…age is steadily getting the better of me, diminishing my bodily strength. You cannot make a film without a fit body and an alert mind. But through the process of filmmaking I’ve received the love of so many people in my life that now my mind knows boundless content. Even if I lose command over body and soul, even if I can no longer make films, I would never be sorrowful. I have received so much from the world that my mind is full to the brim with the pleasure of it all.

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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