Bollywood’s bard Basu Chatterjee dies at 90

Narrator of gripping tales of the Indian middle class life

Cinema

June 5, 2020

/ By / Mumbai

From the cesspool of day to day life of an average middle class person, Basu Chatterjee managed to find and recount gems of stories that he made into films

Along with his fellow Bengali filmmaker Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Basu Chatterjee had firmly established himself in Bollywood despite dealing with offbeat subjects and without any superstar in the cast. His secret was to make films that dealt with the common man’s life and its challenges and moments of happiness.

During the 1970s and 80s, Bollywood was dominated by films centring around violence, action and sex. It was the year when Amitabh Bachchan had already established himself as the ‘Angry Young Man’ fighting a war against society and all its evils in films that were highly fictionalised and far removed from reality or even the real issues of the day. In that era, when Bachchan was producing a series of hits with the same formula, it took a brave producer and director like Basu Chatterjee to move away and produce films that had none of the elements of a Bachchan film. No violence, no sex and not even an angry young man. Instead, Basuda’s films reflected the real life in any middle class home of the epoch and the problems as well as fun that the families – be it a nuclear family or a joint one – faced then.

Almost all his films became big hits and so did the music of most of those films. Chatterjee’s favourite actor was Amol Palekar who had carved a niche for himself in such ‘parallel cinema’ with a wonderful display of serious, romantic as well as comical roles. Chatterjee’s films were all centred around life in Bombay (as it was known then) and portrayed the various challenges – life in a chawl, the transport in red double decker BEST buses or the suburban trains, the key landmarks where the ordinary denizens of Bombay went for a stroll or the simple restaurants and cafes where they went for a chai and samosa.

Here is a selection of five of his major hits that were not only professionally packaged but had an underlying social message in it.

Rajnigandha (1974)

Based on the short story “Yahi Sach Hai” by Mannu Bhandari, the film was considered to be a breath of fresh air in that era as not only did it have a realistic outlook but was unconventional as it portrayed the dilemma of a modern woman caught up between her two lovers and confused about whom to marry. It was Vidya Sinha’s first screen role and first Hindi film for Amol Palekar and turned out to be a blockbuster. In 2012 the film was remade into Bengali as Hothat Shedin.

Chhoti Si Baat (1976)

This film once again brought Sinha and Palekar together on the silver screen and once again proved to be lucky for Chatterjee. Loosely based on the 1960 British film School for Scoundrels, Chhoti Si Baat is considered one of the best romantic comedies in the 70’s. The film had Amol Palekar playing a shy young man lacking in confidence who hires a life coach (Ashok Kumar) to teach him how to propose to a girl he loves (Vidya Sinha).

Khatta Meetha (1978)

This comedy deals with the two middle aged Parsi persons, both with children, who decide to marry but are scared to announce the news to their children and all hell does break loose when the children come to know. However, the couple finally gets the children to learn to live together as one big happy family. Everyday struggles of each member of the family are depicted in a humourous way by Basu Chatterjee. The film was loosely based on the 1968 American movie Yours, Mine and Ours.

Baton Baton Mein (1979)

The film is about a widow (Pearl Padamsee) who wants her daughter (Tina Munim) to get married to a wealthy man. However, the daughter falls in love with a shy and hesitant Amol Palekar, who earns less than her that irks the mother who then starts looking for a match elsewhere. However, timely intervention sets things right and both end up marrying each other. The music of the film was quite popular and was composed by Rajesh Roshan.

Chameli Ki Shaadi (1986)

A satiric comedy on the caste system in India, the film is one of the finest examples of a female-centric movie with Amrita Singh as the young, headstrong, outspoken Chameli who fights for her lover, Charandas played by Anil Kapoor even though both belong to different castes. This film is believed to be one of the first of its time to deal with women and their desires and Singh won a lot of critical acclaim for her acting.

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