6th June 2020

“He Was Unsentimental But Compassionate,” Shabana Azmi Exclusive On Basu Chatterjee

“I loved  the lines he wrote for his characters.  They were so close to real life I didn’t have the audacity  to   change even a word of what he asked me  to say  on screen,” Shabana Azmi recalls  working with Basu Chatterjee.

Though a Bengali  Basuda’s Hindi was fluent as he was  born  in Madhya Pradesh.

Says  Shabana,  “Basuda had a fierce temper. He  would  come down on erring actors and technicians  in a jiffy. But not me . I never faced his fury. Come  of think of it, the only director who has ever lost his temper  with me  was John Schlesinger during  Madame Souzatska. To pacify him  the crew would immedital  yserve  him some  favourite food, and he’d be fine. Basuda needed no such  supplements to calm down. He  was  by nature sensible and restorative.”

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Shabana did  three  of her best  films with  Basu Chatterjee. “Two  of them  Swami and  Apne Paraye  were  both  adapted  from  Saratchandra  Chatterjee’s stories. They were both  very  both very  powerful   subjects  with  very strong roles  for me. In Swami I played Soudamini who thinks she is married  into the wrong family until  she gets to know her   husband closely.”

Shabana recalls  her  how she  and Basu Chatterjee had  a  long discussion  on the clothes that her character Soudamini   should wear. “We decided she should wear  hand-bought inexpensive sarees.  Basu  asked me,  ‘I hope you know what sastee sariyan  means?’  I bought them  from those  street hawkers from Kolkata who  would would go from door to door selling sarees  wrapped in  white cloth. Some of   the sarees my Soudamini wore in Swami were for  Rs 300 rupees.And  if they still looked elegant it’s  because I inherited  my sense  of aesthetics  and  colour from my mother. She would say, ‘Look at Nature. Every colour combination looks  good   in Nature, then why not in the clothes we  wear?’

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Shabana  also did a third film with Basuda. “Jeena Yahan is the one that got neglected.  It is a little-seen but still relevant  film. I remember an incident during its shooting. I was supposed to be singing a  song dangling my feet from a boat in the river. I told Basuda  I thought there were crocodiles in  the water. Basuda retorted with a straight face, ‘That’s okay.We are  only focusing on your upper torso. The  crocodiles are welcome to chew  off your feet.’  And then he stuffed his handkerchief in   his mouth and laughed his head  off.”

Shabana  regards Basuda as  the  true father  of  Middle Of  The Road Cinema.  “He actually bridged the  gap between  arthouse films and mainstream  cinema. Made  films about  true-life    stories  and  characters that were   accessible to the  average  moviegoer. His attitude  to cinema and to his characters was  unsentimental  to the point of seeming brusque.  But like Ismat Chugtai, Basuda’s art  was deeply compassionate…He was a master creator and  a pleasure to work with. I  wish I had met  him  again before his death.”

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