Ajoy Kar – The genius of camera, lighting and path-breaker in Bengali Cine-classics.
Ajoy Kar emerged in the Bengali film arena at a period when celluloid was at the stage of transformation from talkies era to studio based feature films. Studios were not developed to that extent and there was hardly any evidence of outdoor shootings taking place in the mid-40s. Ajoy Kar initially relied on popular stories like Bhraman Kanya, Bamuner Meye, etc., in the 40s with Shahar Theke Durey, with Jahar Ganguly making a mark in the minds film lovers of Bengal. His adapatation of Sarat Chandra Chatterjee’s tragic story Mejdidi, in 1950, showed the skills of powerful script and elegant story-telling with Kanon Devi showing her depth of acting and understanding the leading character termed mejdidi with her compassionate andaz.
But the critics in Bengal were shaken up with Ajoy Kar’s dynamic crime thriller Jighansa, in 1951. The story was based on Arthur Conan Doyle’s Suspense thriller, The Hound of Baskervilles where Sherlock Holmes and Watson were involved in solving a murder mystery. The role of the detective was played by Sishir Battobyal with Manju Dey playing a ghostly character with her eloquent skills and natural splendour. Bikash Roy, was given a different dimension as one of the relatives of the princely estate, who was deprived of real property of the royal family and took revenge by killing each of the new predecessors of the royal family. He stayed in the neighbourhood in the disguise of a Botanist and was ultimately killed by the detective in the story before he could commit another murder. Ajoy Kar’s casting of the leading characters was as outstanding as the supporting casts, example being Metro Cinema’s gatekeeper (tall, lanky and fearsome) who was employed to kill the prince ( Biren Chatterjee) in the film. The hindi version of the film Bees Saal Bad, made in 1961 could not create the same fearsome impact as that of Jighansa.
After creating Darpachurna, Grihaprabesh with Uttamkumar and Suchitra Sen, Ajoy Kar took up the challenge of picturising Shyamali in 1956. Shyamali was the story of a deaf and dumb girl who was married to Uttamkumar, and was not accepted by his mother Malina Devi. At the end of the film Uttamkumar becomes successful to convince her mother that as he was lawfully married to the deaf and dumb girl and the marriage was solemnised according toHindu religious rites and ceremonies, she has to accept her as his wife and fill up her disability with love and compassion. As Shyamali was played in Star Theatre in Kolkata for five years with Sabitri Chatterjee, providing an outstanding performance in the role of Shyamali in stage, it was a big risk in picturising the story in a film. Ajoy Kar’s story-telling and a different casting (Kaberi Bose played the role of Shyamali in the film), had been successful to receive critic’s acclamation. Sarat Chandra Chatterji’s Bardidi was also picturised by Ajoy Kar with Uttam Kumar and Sandharani adjusting themselves to the rural characters and showing the softness of mind of villagers of Bengal in that era.
Ajoy Kar’ grand blockbuster came in 1957 with Harano Sur. If any director had made the best use of Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen, the legendary pair who had ruled the golden age of Bengali Cinema, then it was Ajoy Kar himself. Uttam Kumar launched himself as producer with story depicting the lost memory of an industrialist in Kolkata who suffered a railway accident, who was treated by a Doctor in Palaspur, and was married to the Doctor, but another accident brought back his old memory leaving aside the events that happened in between. Suchitra Sen had to work in the house of Uttamkumar as a governess of his nephew and through the missing note sung a number of times brought back his memory. Firstly, such an innovative type of idea was not presented in Bengali films before Ajoy Kar. Secondly just like Franz Beckenbauer was called the Kaiser, emperor in German football, Ajoy Kar could be termed as Kaiser of camera, as his naming of the film starts with words floating on the ripples and waves of water. Besides his presentation of Suchitra Sen, was classic in the film, because nobody in Uttamkumar’s family knew about Suchitra Sen’s (his character was Rama in the film) relation with Uttamkumar and as such rebuked her at different times, and she inspite of being a doctor was submissive at every moment of the film, digesting the insulting words hurled at her with calmness and composure. Besides, her glamour was utilised by Ajoy Kar to his fullest capability in the film.
After being successful with Khelaghar in 1959, Ajoy Kar, made his next masterpiece Suno Boro Nari, in 1960. The film depicting Subodh Ghosh’s literature was based on the tragic tale of a Professor of Bengali University (played by Uttam Kumar) who loved a rich student who defied him and led him to leave the place where he started his new life as a homeopathy doctor who used to reach women from one part of the country to the other in trains for security and other reasons. The daughter of Charu Ray (majestic barrister played by Chabi Biswas) fell in love with this person while he reached her to Patna from Giridih. At the end of the film this girl rejects the relation with a rich materialist person and embraced the middleclass professor against the wishes of her parents. Most of the film was depicted through train journey and at the end of the film when Chabi Biswas asked Uttamkumar to leave Giridih, he was in the train when Supriya Debi, the daughter of Chabi Biswas meets him in the train after leaving her house, property, pomp, grandier, etc. The literary value of Subodh Ghosh was matched by Ajoy Kar’s strong script and Uttam Kumar’s superlative performance.
Ajoy Kar was in the march for excelling himself and made the greatest blockbuster in Bengali film history with Saptapadi, in 1961. It was Uttam Kumar production again. The story written by Tarashankar Bandhopadhay depicted a medical student played by Uttam Kumar falling in love with an Anglo girl Rina Brown (played by Suchitra Sen). Uttam Kumar’s father Chabi Biswas, being an orthodox Hindu Brahmin could not accept a Hindu marrying a Christian and begged his son before Rina Brown. Rina Brown sacrificed her love and Uttam Kumar after converting himself into a Christian dedicated his life as a doctor who helped the victims of second world war which took place at that time. At the end of the film, Chabi Biswas realised that human attachment cannot be obstructed with the barriers of religion and glorified the sacrifice of Rina Brown. Uttam Kumar treated Rina Brown after she was severely injured by bomb blast. Romance was given a different dimension by Ajoy Kar in Saptabadi which can be categorised as one of the most refined cine-classic created during the golden age. The Shakespearean play Othello picturised in the film acted out by Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen and the playback provided by Utpal Dutta and Jennifer Kapoor was another grand creation in the same film. Uttam Kumar’s make up with beard in the role of the Christian doctor who had renounced desires, is probably the best make up ever given to Uttam Kumar in his life. Suchitra Sen’s performance and Chabi Biswas’s acting was as majestic as the dynamic camera work in the film.
After making Atol Jaler Aohan, Ajoy Kar created Sat Pake Bandha, in 1963, showing the adjustments of Suchitra Sen as a daughter of a rich family, whose marital life was ruined by the undue interference of her mother in the affairs of his middle class husband who was an academician. The personality of the husband (played by Soumitra Chatterjee) was shaken up with the insulting demeanour of his mother-in-law played by Chaya Debi and Suchitra Sen’s struggle for persuading her mother and convincing her husband failed as her husband never tried to show any adjustment. Suchitra Sen received best actress award in Moscow film festival and created an everlasting impact in the minds of film lovers across the country. The hindi version of the same film Kora Kagaz could not create the same impact where Jaya Bacchan played Suchitra Sen’s role.
The other notable films of Ajoy Kar include Kach Kata Hire, Dutta, Kayahiner Kahini, Parineeta, etc. Ajoy Kar trained a number of film –makers in the Film Institute of Pune in early 70s. As the neo-realistic film movement initiated by Satyajit Ray, Ritwik Ghatak diverted the focus of critics towards parallel cinema during the golden age, Ajoy Kar did not receive the recognition he deserved. He is the most unsung, unlamented, unrecognised director ever to grace Bengali cinema inspite of providing a new expression to plutonic affairs and nurturing the talents of Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen who had brought colour in the black and white classics which have become immortal with passage of time. Ajoy Kar’s works should be preserved in an archive where new generation of film makers can learn how to develop a story base with powerful screenplay, excellent camera work, accurate casting and stylish effects.