He missed a century when he was forced to edge one off seamer Jimmy Anderson and the catch was taken by wicketkeeper Matt Prior diving to his right.
Anderson got the ball to reverse consistently in the post tea session which saw England get three wickets after getting two each in the first couple of sessions on a Eden Gardens track which appeared good for batting.
It was Tendulkar's first half-century since the Sydney Test as he appeared relieved after getting to the mark with a boundary of pacer Steven Finn.
Electing to bat on flat wicket that had little to offer, India had a promising start from Gautam Gambhir (60) and Virender Sehwag (23).
But Gambhir could not convert his fine start for yet another time, while Virat Kohli's poor form in the series continued as he could manage only six runs.
Anderson (3/68) rocked the home team at the fag end of the day with the second new ball. He bowled a perfect off-cutter that breached Ravichandran Ashwin's defence.
At stumps, skipper Dhoni was unbeaten on 22 (from 59 balls) along with Zaheer Khan who was yet to open his account. This is the first time that floodlights were used in a Test match at the Eden with the last 40 minutes being played under artificial lights.