Filmmaker Basu Chatterjee died in Mumbai on Thursday, following age-related ailments at the age of 90.
Best-known for chronicling middle-class lives and values in light-hearted movies such as Piya Ka Ghar (1972), Rajnigandha (1974), Chhoti Si Baat (1975), Chitchor (1976), Khatta Meetha (1978), Baton Baton Mein (1979), Priyatama (1977), and Shaukeen (1982), Chatterjee also created and directed the hit Doordarshan television series Byomkesh Bakshi, starring Rajit Kapur as the eponymous sleuth.
Chatterjee made his mark in the 1970s, which were a very interesting decade for India. Two Western imports, feminism and the hippie movement, had finally reached our shores. We were also being exposed to pop and rock music from the West. This was the time when Indian women had started working outside their homes in greater numbers than before. This development was reflected in popular fashion. The wash-and-wear mill sarees liberated the Indian woman, making commuting easier in cities.
Mainstream Indian cinema of the 1970s and the ’80s mirrored the changing times. Filmmakers like Basu Chatterjee were firmly entrenched in the vortex of this revolution.
Chatterjee was, in a sense, a product of the Bimal Roy school of cinema. He was among the Bengali imports who dominated mainstream Hindi cinema in the ’70s and ’80s, along with Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Basu Bhattacharya and Gulzar. The directors were sensitive to women, and remarkably, many of their lead characters were strong women.
Chatterjee’s forte was the man-woman relationship. In his world, women were equal to men and as fickle as men when it came to relationships. His women took major decisions in the household and, given an opportunity, actively pursued a career outside home.
Chatterjee excelled in making the lives of ordinary, middle-class men and women look exciting on the screen. He loved to dwell upon the nuances of relationships between husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts and nephews and nieces. He seems to have plunged headlong into the thoughts of women, trying to decipher their needs and wants, their ideas of romance, and their quest for fulfilling relationships, both physical and platonic.
Chatterjee had a light touch, and he made some remarkable comedies with protagonists from different communities, such as Khatta Meetha (about two Parsi households) and Baton Baton Mein (set in Mumbai’s Catholic community). He chose superb music for his films, and had a highly successful partnership with some truly talented music directors, including Salil Chowdhury, Jaidev and Rajesh Roshan.
Here is a look at 12 of his best films.
Piya Ka Ghar (1972)
Basu Chatterjee’s brilliant debut film Sara Akash depicted the conflicts of a newly-wed couple. In Piya Ka Ghar, Chatterjee focused on one of the major sources of stress for a couple living in a joint family in Mumbai in the 1970s: the lack of privacy. Jaya Bhaduri and Anil Dhawan played the lead roles. Yeh Jeevan Hai sung by Kishore Kumar was the theme song of the film.
In Rajnigandha, an job offer takes Deepa (Vidya Sinha in her debut) to Mumbai, where she meets her old college sweetheart Navin (Dinesh Thakur). Deepa is torn between the promise of an affair with Navin and a steadfast relationship with Sanjay (Amol Palekar). Kayin Baar Yuhin Dekha Hai, sung by Mukesh, composed by Salil Chowdhury and written by Yogesh, reflects Deepa’s dilemma.
A misunderstanding about his position in the organisational heirarchy brings Vinod (Amol Palekar) close to Geeta (Zarina Wahab) and her family. When Vinod’s boss Sunil (Vijayendra Ghatge) comes into their lives, her family chooses Sunil as Geeta’s suitor. Yesudas sang some beautiful songs for the film, such as Gori Tera Gaon Bada Pyara, composed by Ravindra Jain.
Chhoti Si Baat (1976)
Arun (Amol Palekar) is attracted to Prabha (Vidya Sinha) who works in a nearby office, but he is too shy to make the first move. Arun also has to fight off his competitor, the flamboyant Nagesh (Asrani). Colonel Julius Nagendranath Wilfred Singh (Ashok Kumar) teaches Arun the art of seduction. The music by Salil Chowdhury include the foot-tapping Jaaneman Jaaneman and the peppy Yeh Din Kya Aaye.
Saudamani (Shabana Azmi) gets married to Ghanshyam (Girish Karnad), the hard-working head of a joint family. At first reluctant to embrace domesticity, Saudamani pines away for her lover Narendra (Vikram). Yesudas reprised Bade Ghulam Ali Khan’s famous thumri Kya Karoon Sajni for the film (the music is by Rajesh Roshan).
Khatta Meetha (1977)
A middle-aged Parsi widow and widower (Pearl Padamsee and Ashok Kumar respectively) decide to get married despite the objections of their grown-up children. The bickering family members finally learn to start living in harmony. Preeti Ganguly, Ashok’s Kumar’s daughter, acted in the film.
Tumhare Liye (1978)
Basu Chatterjee explored the reincarnation genre with this film. The film is a story of love, separation, and revenge. Sanjeev Kumar and Vidya Sinha play the star-crossed lovers. The film has some haunting music composed by Jaidev, especially Tumhe Dekhti Hoon, sung by Lata Mangeshkar.
Dharmendra and Hema Malini play professors teaching Sanskrit and chemistry respectively at a girls’ college. Swarnkamal (Dharmendra) tries hard to woo Phoolrenu (Malini), but she remains unimpressed until the very end.
Baaton Baaton Main (1979)
Amol Palekar and Tina Munim played Tony Braganza and Nancy Pereira in this cute film about courtship. They eventually overcome the opposition of their families and get hitched. Rajesh Roshan composed some lively and popular tracks for the film.
This comedy about three lascivious old men, played by Ashok Kumar, AK Hangal and Utpal Dutt, looking for a good time, was remade in 2014 with disastrous results. Rati Agnhinotri played the object of their affection.
Apne Paraye (1982)
Based on the novel Nishkriti by Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay, this film about the bitter-sweet relationships between various members of a joint family had Amol Palekar, Utpal Dutt, Girish Karnad and Shabana Azmi in pivotal roles. There are also some lovely songs by Yesudas, especially Shyam Rang Ranga Re (music by Bappi Lahiri). Amol Palekar plays a happy-go-lucky soul with no business sense and not a care in the world.
Ek Ruka Hua Faisla (1986)
This remarkable film, shorn of songs, was based on Twelve Angry Men. Its cast included KK Raina, MK Raina, Pankaj Kapoor and Annu Kapoor as some of the 12 jurors who must decide the fate of the young guy accused of stabbing his father to death.
Corrections and clarifications: Chatterjee’s year of birth has been corrected in this article.