Basu Chatterji's balcony learning movie (2023)

Basu Chatterji's balcony learning movie (1)

Basu Chatterji'sRajnigandhait was like a breath of fresh air in the 1970s Bombay film universe. At a time when the angry young man was starting to dominate the celluloid screens, Amol Palekar was as unlike a hero as you could get. He was the common man who traveled on buses, had no heroics and did not breathe fire and brimstone on his opponents. Basu Chatterji's Middle of the Road Cinema hit the scene and surprised the moviegoer with its everyday situations and stories that had an undercurrent of humor. Chatterji addressed an audience he liked to call "Balcony Learning".

Anirudha Bhattacharjee, author ofBasu Chatterji και Middle-of-the-Road Cinemawrites an entertaining and moving account of the life and work of Basu Chatterji, one of Indian cinema's most underrated directors. The feel-good, slice-of-life recall of Chatterji's films is perhaps the highest for himRajnigandha, Chotisi Baat, Baaton Baaton Mein, Khatta Meetha, Piya Ka GharandPriyatama. Apart from theseSara Akash, Swami, Ratnadeepand the iconicRajanfor television, it was Chatterji's calling card. But for a prolific director like Chatterji, who was known for his low budget and tightly scheduled film production, these are only the tip of the iceberg in a body of work that includes more than 40 films and about half a dozen TV serials.

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Bhattacharjee has done painstaking research, which includes interviews with more than 100 cast and crew members, colleagues and colleagues, friends and family of the director, in addition to numerous interviews with the director (before he died), to write what is clearly a definitive biography of Chatterji. Exploring the various aspects of the director's craft - including his penchant for making low-budget films, his preference for always having a script ready and his use of background music to drive the story forward - Bhattacharjee's book is a delightful read. It will appeal to fans of Chatterji's films as well as those who may not be familiar with the director's work.

Filled with anecdotes, the book also gives the reader an overview of the dynamics of the film industry between the 1970s and 1990s. The book gives an insight into Chatterji's storytelling and how he explores 'serious' issues with a light touch. The author writes: “Serious moviegoers looking for life-changing equations in a movie will have a problem withBaton Baton Mein,since, like most of Basu's films, it had no message to drive home. As a narrator, Basu also remained on the side of conservatism, asserting the importance of marriage not only as a necessary milestone in life but also as a proof of long-term commitment. But it was Basu. Believing in simple solutions to complex problems, he hardly broke the basic paradigms that made social revolutionaries talk about poverty, socialism and mass struggle in spas and five-star cafes."

And perhaps that is why some of his serious films such asEk Ruka Hua FaislaandBreathe Parayesidelined as they did not fit the typical mold of Chatterji films. Bhattacharjee's approach to examining Basu's work is comprehensive and will appeal to the serious film buff and casual reader. It will surely inspire readers to watch more of Chatterji's films.

Interview with author Anirudha Bhattacharjee

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All your previous books have been about composers or singers. This is your first book about an instructor. Can you tell us what inspired you to write this book and why you chose Basu Chatterji as the subject of your book.

Anirunda:The idea came when I met Basu Chatterji in 2014 during an exhibition in Kolkata. I always liked his movies. Most of his 1970s cinema was part of my coming of age. I also found that there was very little literature about him. Instead, it was a lot for Hrishikesh Mukherjee. Everyone is writing about Gulzar. The same stories are told and repeated as WhatsApp forwards. People consider themselves intellectuals by analyzing Gulzar, no matter how silly and irrelevant the analysis is 😀. Basu-da, poor thing, there was almost no analysis of his biography. Forget analysis. even stories were hard to come by.

So I thought, why not write a book? My R D Burman book was already there. It did quite well, both critically and commercially, which gave me confidence in my ability to write a non-fiction book. Music is my forte, but I have remained a cinephile. I watch at least 5-6 movies (may be the same movie over and over again) every week. And I identified very strongly with Basu-da's 1970s cinema.

Middle of the road Cinema stars were Hrishikesh Mukherjee and Gulzar apart from Basu Chatterji. What do you think made Chatterji's film different from Mukherjee's and Gulzar's?

Anirunda:You see, Basu Chatterji didn't like drama to be a part of his cinema. You won't find people dying of cancer (unlike MukherjeeRestheMil). Or people who sacrifice their lives (again, unlike Mukherjee'sSatyakamthetraveler). His films were lighter, fun and at the same time would end on a very happy note. No three-handed relationship. Even his serious films -Sara Akash, Swami, Apne Paraye, Kamla Ki Maut, among others - had a positive sound. Gulzar's film was different. It was serious stuff, e.gweathertheAandhi. Or for that matter,Mere Apne, Achanak, thatNamkeen. Even Parichay had evidence of sadness. So even though the nature of the films made by Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Basu Chatterji and Gulzar were similar, the texture and editing were different.

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As a musician yourself, you provide a very interesting way of analyzing his films from a musical perspective. Although the director himself was not very fond of using lip sync songs in his films, he had a very interesting way of moving the story forward through the background score. Do you think many of his movies today are remembered more for his songs (likeRajnigandha, Baton Baton Mein, Chitchor)? According to you, what are the main points of a Basu Chatterji film?

Anirunda:I think songs are an integral part of middle of the road cinema. The use of songs by Basu Chatterji, Hrishikesh, Gulzar and Sai Paranjype was excellent. As you mentioned, some of the movies like itBaton Baton Meinthey have the songs up until today, 40+ years later. But overall, the songs are nicely woven into the scheme of things. Do you want to hear"Why Don't You Know"in isolation but I am sure you will also want to watch the movie after hearing the song. The same can be inferred for songs such as“Thoda hai thode ki”the"Pal Bhar Mein Yeh Kya Ho Gaya".In retrospect, the songs, the background score, the dialogues and the quiet periods blend together with Basu Chatterji's film. Especially in his movie with common man. I would keepRajanigandhaas a true exponent of the style patented in Hindi cinema.

While the recall value is higher for Chatterji's family comedies, would you say the director's 'serious' films don't get the appreciation they deserve? Could it be because he was stereotyped as a feel-good low-budget filmmaker?

Anirunda:You've hit the nail on the head.SwamiandBreathe Parayethey are great movies. Which somehow don't get the appreciation they deserve. These films are to be shown on OTT platforms. EspeciallyBreathe Paraye, as it did not do well when it was released.Swamiit was a huge hit in India. His failureBreathe Parayeforced Basu to return to his tried-and-true formula of low-budget feel-good comedies. Which is unfortunate, as his serious films were highly watchable.

Chatterji left a big mark in television serials, especially withRajanandByomkesh Bakshi.But in the onslaught of today's OTT content, you'd think that legacy is now forgotten.

Anirunda:I really do not know. I foundRajnivery exciting. I was a 3rd year student in Kgp and would never miss a single episode in R K Hall Common Room. I am sure if Prasar Bharti and DD combine to relaunchRajnion some OTT platform it will do well.Byomkeshit's on YouTube and people love it a lot. I'm not a big fan. I have some issues with the serial and the same has been expressed in my book. Though Rajit Kapur was great as Byomkesh.

What were the biggest challenges in writing this book as a researcher and author?

Anirunda:Access information. He was so soft spoken and media shy that there is very little literature on Basu Chatterji. Fortunately, I had been taking notes for years. Combined with the interviews (over 60), the articles shared by Dr. Sakti Roy (many thanks) and many things about Basu I found in NFAI made things clear.

What would you say is the most memorable interaction you had with the director?

Anirunda:Basu-da cries when he talks about Basu Bhattacharya. And I try to sing like S D Burman when I come back to sing"Yeh Jab Se Hui Jiya Ki Chori"(Us Paar).

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