Tapan Sinha – the Creative Genius of Bengali Classical Cinema.
Tapan Sinha can be considered as the most dynamic creator of Bengali films after Satyajit Ray, who had glorified the Bengali golden age of Classical cinema with his outstanding vision. Being a legendary figure of the 50s, 60s and 70s, much have been written about the maestro whose significant films can be considered as masterpieces. What has not been written is that the standard of excellence he had created in those films cannot be replicated in hindi or any other regional films.
Firstly Tapan Sinha was fond of Classical literature and as such in his films the characters from the popular novels and short stories became lively in blood and flesh in celluloid. He made Kabuliwala based on Tagore’s epic short story, in 1957, which was astonishing for the viewers. Chabi Biswas, the greatest actor ever, to grace Bengali screen, mesmerised the audience with his dynamic performance of an Afghan character Rahmat. Chabi Biswas met few Afghans who sell mewa, peshta in the streets in Kolkata, personally to personify their characteristics in the role. Tinku Thakur, who played the role of the little girl Mini, was the best child artist ever to appear in Bengali films and the entire credit goes to Tapan Sinha for choosing her. Radha Mohan Bhattacharya was a grand scholar and his literary skills were synchronised with the role of Mini’s father who was a novelist in Tagore’s story. Manju Dey, the mother of Mini, was probably the most powerful character artist in the 50s, and she never looked like acting, every gesture of her seemed natural. Tapan Sinha’s script was outstanding by every standard. The film got national and international awards.
Tapan Sinha continued with his picturisation of classical literature in the following years. His brilliant film Louha Kapat was based on Jorasondho’s epic novel, which dealt with his experiences of different prisoners which he witnessed as a Jailor. The central character was played brilliantly by Nirmal Kumar whose poetic eyes showed the expression of observer. Chabi Biswas was again majestic in his notable role. Kali Banerjee’s performance as was one of the prisoners who was convicted for murder charge requires special mention. There were so many characters, out of which, Tapan Sinha picked up few and did not change the flow of literature in the novel. The other film Khoniker Atithi speaking about a handicapped boy who was cured by Nirmal Kumar, a doctor, who was compassionate about the mother of the child who was widow (played by Ruma Guha Thakurada), in the entire film, merged the pathos of the story with the elegance of camerawork.
In 1961, Tapan Sinha, came up with Bengali version of Hollywood film Prisoner of Zenda, titled Jhinder Bandi, it was related to a story of two twin brothers, with one of them, Shankar Narayan Singh, the king of Jhind, being kidnapped by his other brother and later freed by the twin brother. Uttamkumar, the dynamic personality of Bengali films, played a double role in the film, exhibiting the royal andaz of the historical character in the film, including sword fighting with anti-hero Soumitra Chatterji. The shooting of the film in the mountains and the lake palace required extraordinary skill. Radhamohan Bhattacharya showed the dignified personality of a Diwan who was the protector of the state and Tapan’s Sinha’s faith in his casting was bolstered by his brilliant display of royal character. Tapan Sinha’s wife Arundhuti Debi, was aristocrat in real life with her Rabindrik education of Shantiniketan and it helped her to display the role of the queen in the film who previously gave a life time performance in Tapan Sinha’s Khudito Pashan based on Tagore’s classic literature.
In 1963, Tapan Sinha, created Nirjan Saikate, a film showing the tragic story of 5 widows who came on a pilgrimage to the holy place at Puri. Anil Chatterjee, one of the other dynamic actors of Bengali cinema, played the role of the observer who went to Puri, and by acknowledging the rich sculptures of Sun Temple in Konark, convinced Sharmila Tagore, that the work of art of the unknown artists depict the fact, life is precious and human beings are expected to utilise their life for some immortal work by rising above their personal sorrow, sniffles, etc. The film received President’s gold medal, and significantly all the widows, five of them, Chaya Devi, Renuka Devi, Bharati Devi, Sharmila Tagore and Ruma Guha Thakurta received national award in that year, which has happened only once in the history of Indian cinema.
In 1964, Uttamkumar produced Jatugriha, based on the story of Subodh Ghose which was directed by Tapan Sinha. The film displayed the complexity of a rich couple living in Kolkata who did not have children with Arundhuti Debi playing the role of the wife who could not bear a child in her life. Significantly both Uttamkumar and Arundhuti Debi loved children a lot and the incapability led to domestic unhappiness which ultimately led to separation. The ending of the film was significant as both Uttamkumar and Arundhuti Debi rode on two trains which crossed each other in opposite directions. In their separation also both the husband and wife had mutual respect for each other. It can be classified as one of the most thoughtful cinema made by Tapan Sinha. In the following year Tapan Sinha made Atithi, based on Tagore’s story talking about the life of a bohemian character who travelled from one village to another whose mind never settled in one place.
Tapan Sinha also made Hate Bajare, where Ashok Kumar (Dadamoni) played the role of a village doctor who witnessed the tragic conditions of villagers who were subject to backwardness and oppression by the middlemen. Dilip Kumar gave a life time performance in Tapan Sinha’s Sagina Mahato, where a trade union leader was utilised for own benefit by the political forces of the region and exploited to the fullest extent. Anil Chatterji, the political activist countered Dilip Kumar in the tassel of muscle power in the film.
Tapan Sinha was a source of inspiration for film directors in Bombay to make realistic films. His film Kabuliwala was remade in hindi by Bimal Roy, with Balraj Sahani playing the role of Kabuliwala. His film Golpo holey Satti, 1966, was made in hindi by Rishikesh Mukherjee tilled Bawarchi in 1972. Tapan Sinha made a hindi version of Sagina in 1974, with Dilip Kumar playing the same role. Tapan Sinha’s Arohi, was picturised in hindi with the title Arjun Pandit, where Sanjeev Kumar played the central character which was played by Kali Banerjee in the Bengali film.
Tapan Sinha even depicted the naxalite movement in the films Ekhoni, Aponjon, in the 1970s and local unrest in the late 80s in films like Atonko, Antardhan, etc. The distinctive feature of Tapan Sinha’s films include, strong script, powerful story telling and superlative use of theme music. He chose locations which were romantic, picturesque and were colourful even during the black and white era which justified the depiction of the story. It is difficult to describe the immortal work of Tapan Sinha in a small article as he made around 35 films in a span of 40 years and each of the works can be scanned for cinematic, poetic and musical value. An archive should be created to preserve the works of Tapan Sinha for the film makers of present generation to learn to use classic literature to reach the message of the literary giants to the people at large.