2020 has been a rather unfortunate, unforgiving year. From the demise of powerhouse actors like Irrfan Khan, Rishi Kapoor, and Sushant Singh Rajput to the legendary Basu Chatterjee, we’ve lost some of industry’s finest talent.
Far removed from the glitz and glamour in terms of choosing his film subject, Basu Chatterjee started his career as an illustrator and cartoonist for the Mumbai-based magazine Blitz. He graduated to Bollywood in the 1960s, through his debut film Sara Akash, which was critically very well received.
Basu da captured, rather effortlessly, the minutiae of the Indian society; most of his work chronicled simple stories of the lives and struggles of the middle class, through characters equally relatable. He altered the narrative of Indian cinema through his stories and storytelling. At a time when Indian cinema was flush with the hero-villain narratives, Basu da brought the ordinary Indian man to the forefront.
To pay homage to the legendary filmmaker, we bring you some of his most memorable and loved works:
1. Choti si Baat (1976)
Choti si Baat is one of the first films that come to mind when you think of Basu Chatterjee. One of the finest romantic comedies, this one stands at the conjunction of those moments that we call love, and those that we regard as memorable. The film is equally noteworthy as it allowed Amol Palekar to become a household name.
I revisited the film few days ago. Watching Bombay of the 1970s in the year 2020 is an experience in itself. From relatively emptier roads to double decker buses, everything is a visual, nostalgic treat. Without any over-the-top performances, the subtle nature of this film will tug at your heart. (Related: 9 Delightful Bollywood Romances: ‘The Lunchbox’ To ‘Choti Si Baat’)
2. Chitchor (1976)
This film marked the hattrick of hits for the collaboration between Amol Palekar and Basu Chatterjee. It was notably remade into Main Prem Ki Diwani Hoon (2003), which clearly was a failed attempt. Based on a Bengali story, Chittachakor by Subodh Ghosh, this romantic musical garnered two National Film Awards in 1976 in the Best Child Actor and Best Male Playback Singer category.
Amol Palekar and Zarina Wahab form the lead pair in the film, and their coming together is as organic as it can get. Without any cliche or fancy romantic emplotments, the film revels in its easy-flowing nature, and that is probably why it succeeds.
Watch Chitchor on Amazon Prime
3. Rajnigandha (1974)
Featuring Amol Palekar, Vidya Sinha and Dinesh Thakur, Rajnigandha explores love beyond the ties of a relationship. The love triangle draws from Manu Bhandari’s short story Yahi Sach Hai. This isn’t all fun and romance like other Basu Chatterjee films. A woman-centric tale of love, Rajnigandha explores the seamy side of relationships — the confusions and conflicts, the choices and challenges a woman is faced with in everyday relationships. A mature yet sensitive take on love, Rajnigandha was way ahead of its time. It went on to win two Filmfare awards and earned Mukesh a National Award for the song Kai Baar Yuheen Dekha Hai.
This film also marked the first on-screen role of Vidya Sinha and the first Hindi film of Amol Palekar, both of whom went on to become Chatterjee’s long-standing collaborators. (Related: 54 Bollywood Movies On Amazon Prime For Your Weekend Binge)
4. Khatta Meetha (1978)
Later remade as Golmaal 3, this story of an elder man getting remarried in his old age was a rather progressive story. Seeking companionship, the man’s tale is braided with humour and situational comedy. The film is pleasingly funny and makes for a rare evocation for a time when life was simpler — when human bond was valued, connections and families deep-rooted.
The film is loosely based on the American movie Yours, Mine and Ours (1968). While a typical rich-girl-poor-boy story runs parallel to the main narrative, it is treated rather atypically. By weaving many parallel stories into one track, the seamless outcome is Khatta Meetha, a little sour, a little sweet. The soundtrack is particularly memorable for Mummy O Mummy! and thoda hai thode ki zaroorat hai.
5. Baaton Baaton Mein (1979)
This romantic comedy centers around two lovers grappling with everyday issues in their love life. Starring Amol Palekar and Tina Munim, the film also wowed audiences with its melodious and evergreen soundtrack. It delivers smiles in an assured fashion, and captures the lifestyle of the middle class urban Christian community in India with authenticity.
Like many of Chatterjee’s films, Mumbai is an important character even in this film. Set in the 1970s, the story follows two characters Tony and Nancy in their banters and love affair that ensues in the crowded Mumbai local. Again, the film owes a lot to Palekar-Chatterjee teaming up again, for its absolutely riveting quality.
6. Shaukeen (1982)
This film delved into the psychological effects of aging, which was a rather unexplored territory for films at the time that it was made. What was classic about this film was its portrayal of three men looking to liven up their last days, in a rather innocent light, that which made it seem humorous and not completely inappropriate.
Upon reaching the dusk of life, the journey of our protagonists Ashok Kumar, Utpal Dutt and A.K. Hangal is explored in the film. It inspired the later film The Shaukeens (2014), which starred Piyush Mishra, Anupam Kher and Annu Kapoor in lead roles.
Watch Shaukeen on Amazon
7. Piya Ka Ghar (1972)
Remade from the Marathi film Mumbaicha Jawai (1970), this comic-drama reveals the tribulations of a family trying to make ends meet in Mumbai, the city of dreams. Starring Jaya Bachchan and Anil Dhawan, the film is more a journey in the life of a house in Mumbai, and not the married couple who come to live in the house.
The film’s theme song Yeh Jeevan Hai, has defined life for a lot of the cinemagoers of that era. The song remains fresh and relevant today. Bambaee Shaher Kee defines the role that Bombay plays in the film; it serves as the canvas on which the film is painted for us.
8. Hamari Bahu Alka (1982)
Based around a couple’s life after marriage, this film served as one of the many examples in Basu Chatterjee’s oeuvre, where the seemingly mundane gets transformed into an amusing, yet realistic fictionality. Starring Rakesh Roshan, Utpal Dutt, and Bindiya Goswami, this film almost established the scope of situational comedies.
It concerns the lives of a young lad, Pratap, who, newly married to Alka, has to scheme a plot to achieve some marital intimacy. A straightforward story with plenty humor infused within its fold, this one is definitely a must watch. As we watch Pratap scrounge for love in the big city, we can’t help but feel a pang of the loneliness the maximum city evokes.
9. Man Pasand (1980)
Starring an immensely talented bunch of actors, such as the likes of Girish Karnad, Mehmood, Dev Anand, and Tina Munim, this film is a multi-genre rom-com revolving around an age-old cliched narrative, told rather interestingly. Based on G.B. Shaw’s famous novel Pygmalion, the story centers around two friends, Prataap and Kaashinaath who enter into a bet over a girl Kamli. The conditions of the bet are so that Kaashinaath is liable to marry Kamli, if she is turned into a polished and graceful girl by his friend Prataap.
Drawing multiple inspirations, this film also bases itself upon the earlier Hollywood adaptation of the novel Pygamlinon, titled My Fair Lady (1964). According to Greek mythology, Pygmalion was a sculptor who fell in love with the idol of a woman he had carved out of ivory. The woman, once transformed from her rustic self, is treated by the two men like an idol. But, she chooses her humanity over their shallow concerns, making the film a progressive one. (Related: 21 Bollywood Movies To Binge Watch On YouTube)
Where to Watch: YouTube
10. Chameli Ki Shaadi (1986)
Chatterjee’s last commercial success, Chameli Ki Shaadi, starred Anil Kapoor and Amrita Singh as leads. This clever satire on the caste system was one of the few mainstream Hindi films of its times to depict a resolute, opinionated female lead. The film is a successful testimony to Basu Chatterjee’s small-town based humour that thrives on idiosyncratic characters who land up in situations they did not intend to.
An organically driven comedy, the film is a real-life riot, one that guarantees laughs and smiles throughout. What’s most endearing is the film gives in to the whims of our silly, immature leads. A happy ending could really help in a time like this. Watch it!
11. Ek Ruka Hua Faisla (1986)
This Hindi remake of Sidney Lumet’s Twelve Angry Men (1957) is too good to resist for a Basu Chatterjee fan. It’s where the director’s true technical finesse comes to the fore. Shot in one single room, it has excellent camera angle perspectives that lead you into the story with interest, and the added script-work makes it a lethal combination.
A courtroom drama in true right, this film allowed Chatterjee to explore an altogether different genre and venture out of his comfort zone. Twelve Angry Men, which won an Oscar Award for Best Direction, was in turn adapted from a 1954 teleplay by Reginald Rose. It would be safe to say, that Chatterjee adapts it into the Indian context equally remarkably. (Related: 13 Super Engrossing Indian Courtroom Dramas)
12. Kamla Ki Maut (1989)
Set in a lower middle class chawl in Bombay, where a 20-year old unmarried girl named Kamla commits suicide upon learning about her pregnancy. The film won Basu Chatterjee a Filmfare award for Best Screenplay, and was lauded by critics for its impressive storyline. Withouy being preachy or moralistic, the film tells a story that could easily slip into the realm of judgement.
Starring Pankaj Kapur and Supriya Pathak in lead roles, the film interestingly also features Irrfan Khan and Ashutosh Gowarikar in minor roles.
13. Swami (1977)
We finally found the film that could have inspired Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (1999)! Jokes apart, while we can say that as a film, Swami did not age as well as Chatterjee’s others, it still is a landmark film in Hindi cinema for its unique depiction of the modern liberated woman. Despite a rather regressive ending, the film still was one of its kind for attempting to show a young woman who loves reading, who voices her opinions to the world freely and is basically not at the behest of the man who marries her.
Revolving around the life of Soudamini, played by Shabana Azmi, this film, although not the best of Basu Chatterjee’s oeuvre, is still worth a watch for its noble beginnings. It definitely was way ahead of its time. (Related: Best Bollywood Movies On Netflix Right Now)
Where to Watch: Netflix
14. Jeena Yahaan (1979)
Based on the theme of gender equality, this film is adapted from a story titled Ekhane Aakash Neyi by renowned Hindi writer Mannu Bhandari. This film shows us a contrast of lives lived in a metro city against the uncomplicated lives in small towns. Two different points of view are portrayed in the film via the mother and daughter-in-law characters.
Starring Shabana Azmi in the lead role of the ‘bahu‘ Lekha, the film portrayed the modern woman who was well capacitated to take on the challenges thrown by life head on. Besides being just a feminist film, it also works as a social drama, weaving a larger narrative outside of the saas-bahu story to compliment its progressiveness of the subject matter.
Where to Watch: YouTube
15. Sara Akash (1969)
Hailed as one of the originators of the bold New Wave cinema, Sara Akash is staggeringly unconventional in its storytelling. Portraying a rather simple story with a keen sense of detailing and rusticity, Chatterjee succeeds, specifically for a debutante. It is based on Rajendra Yadav’s debut novel, originally published as Pret Bolte Hain, and later renamed to Sara Akash after a poem by Ramdhari Singh Dinkar. Interestingly, most of the film was shot in Yadav’s house.
On a technical front, it was the first film of cinematographer K. K. Mahajan. He went on to win the National Film Award for Best Cinematography for his black-and-white camera work in the film. Besides, it is one of the rare films in which Mani Kaul has acted.
Where to Watch: YouTube
Chatterjee, along with filmmakers like Hrishikesh Mukherjee and Basu Bhattacharya, was a pioneering figure of the middle-of-the-road cinema. While life is ephemeral, cinema is everlasting, and Basu Chatterjee has been immortalized by these films.
Tell us your favorite films of the legend in the comments below!