Basu Chatterjee, pioneer of middle-of-the-road cinema, passes away
Na jaane kyun hota hai yeh zindagi key saath
Achanak yeh mann kisike jane key baad
Kare phir uskee yaad chhoti chhoti si baat
Naa jane kyun…
These lyrics from the 1976 Amol Palekar-Vidya Sinha-starrer, Chhoti Si Baat, seem so appropriate today when its director Basu Chatterjee has moved onto another world. The chhoti-chhoti si baatein in Chatterjee’s movies included the simplicity of the characters, the songs one loves to croon over four decades later and the relatable middle-class subjects that he chose for his films. The Ajmer-born Chatterjee, who began his career as an illustrator and cartoonist in Blitz, was 93.
Who can ever forget the timid and shy Arun (Amol Palekar) from Chhoti Si Baat, the childlike and naïve Geeta (Zarina Wahab) from Chitchor, the emotional support-seeking Parsi widower Homi Mistry (Ashok Kumar) from Khatta Meetha and the bachelor Charandas (Anil Kapoor) from Chameli Ki Shaadi who aspires to become a wrestler among many, many others. Not to forget Mithun Chakraborty-Rati Agnihotri-starrer Shaukeen, the story about three lecherous men – Om Prakash Chaudhary (Ashok Kumar), Jagdishbhai (Utpal Dutt) and Indrasen (AK Hangal) and their ways of impressing upon girls in the twilight of their lives.
Along with his namesake Basu Bhattacharya whom he assisted in Teesri Kasam which won the National Film Award For Best Feature Film in 1976 and Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Chatterjee was often known as the pioneers of the middle-of-the-road cinema. Having started his career as a cartoonist and illustrator with Blitz, Chatterjee switched over to filmmaking after 18 years with the Russi Karanjia’s weekly tabloid. It was in 1969 that he made his directorial debut with Sara Akash which won the Filmfare Best Screenplay award.
Not only did Chatterjee chose subjects that brought a smile on cine-goers face, he also touched upon moral and issues with movies like Ek Ruka Hua Faisla and Kamla Ki Maut. He also experimented with the small screen and made critically acclaimed and successful television serials like Byomkesh Bakshi starring Rajit Kapoor, Rajani (Priya Tendulkar), Kakaji Kahin (Om Puri) and Darpan.