Kali Banerjee – the legend of realistic films.
Kali Banerjee had been the first choice of the directors of realistic films in the 50s, 60s and 70s. His capability of entering into the skin of the character had given him a separate identity in Bengali films. He played the challenging role of a postmaster in the film Dakharkara directed by Agragami. He was loyal to his uniform and even fought out against his son to protect the expensive items that he used to carry and reach the recipients at an age when postmasters did not have vehicles to reach the messages to the recipients. He received the sad news of his son dying in warfare and the medal for his bravery was the last message that was reached to him. Kali Banerjee gave outstanding lips in the legendary song “ogo tomar shesh bicharer ashay” sung by Manna Dey and composed by Sudhin Dasgupta. His outburst with the name of his son “netai” shook the cinema halls in the late 50s.
Hritwik Ghatak experimented with Kali Banerjee in the film Ajantrik. The story was related to the relation of a driver with his car which he used for business purposes. He never considered it as a non-living being, he equated it with a live object. The abstract subject could be reached out to the viewers only by Kali Banerjee. He was sublime also in Mrinal Sen’s film Neel Akasher Neeche, where he played the role of a Chinese person who had settled in Kolkata and got involved with a Bengali family consisting of Manju Dey and Bikash Roy.
He acted brilliantly in the role of a compounder in the film Arohi directed by Tapan Sinha. He learned the application of medicines from Bikash Roy, his guru, and whatever he earned during his lifetime he sacrificed the earning for the education of Bikash Roy’s son after the death of Bikash Roy. Sanjeev Kumar played the same role in the hindi version of the film titled Arjun Pandit and did justice to the challenging role.
Satyajit Ray also experimented with Kali Banerjee in the film Manihara, where his wife died and Kali Banerjee expressed the feelings of horror when the ghost of his wife appeared before him with the reference of the jewellary that the wife used to wear during her lifetime. It was part of the film Teen Kanya written by Tagore and picturised by Ray; and Kali Banerjee’ versatility of used to the fullest extent by Ray.
He had an extraordinary capability of representing the rural characters in Bengali films like the character of a farmer in the film Notun Fasal. He also acted in the bollywood film Bawarchi and represented one of the brothers of the joint family where Rajesh Khanna appeared as a servant and taught them to be self-sufficient.
His other landmark films included Louha Kapat where he played the role of a prisoner, Badshah, Parash Pathar, Sonar Harin, Surjo Toron, Dadar Kirti, Guru Dakhina, to name a few.
If Uttam Kumar, Anil Chatterji, Bikash Roy, Bosonto Choudhury represented the urbanized Bengali youth of the 50s and 60s, Kali Banerjee represented the common mass whether urbanized or rural and due to his sheer brilliance of acting the characters came out of the books and literary texts and became a reality with blood and flesh. His performances have huge cinematic value and should be restored.