Dadasaheb Phalke Award winner Tapan Sinha passed away in Kolkata last Thursday.. Roshmila Bhattacharya pays tribute
I was a schoolgirl in Kolkata when I heard about Tapan Sinha. He was making a film, Safed Haathi. The lead actor, Ashwin, was the cousin of a classmate.
On the bus to school, Nisha and I would whisper about the new teenage ‘hero’ who was suddenly more handsome than Dharmendra, more soulful than Rajesh Khanna and more dashing than Amitabh Bachchan and Vinod Khanna put together. That was till I saw the movie and discovered that he was just another boy-next-door whose star trek ended with Safed Haathi.
Pratap Agarwal, the film’s co-producer with R A Jalan, was Ashwin’s father. But I don’t think that was the reason why Sinha cast him as Shibu, the orphan who befriends the endangered beast.
When the 19-times National Award winner started work on the Bengali Sagina Mahoto, Uttam Kumar was the undisputed mahanayak of Bengali cinema. Sinha had directed the actor in the critically acclaimed Jatugriha and the commercially successful Jinder Bandi (the desi Prisoner of Zenda).
The role of the tea garden worker who becomes a union leader and faces up to the tyranny of his British bosses seemed tailor-made for Uttam Kumar. But Sinha surprised all by opting for Dilip Kumar.
Years later, even the thespian admitted he was amazed at Sinha’s insistence that he was best suited to play Sagina. “Even today, I cannot explain what his X-ray vision saw in me,” Dilip Kumar mused. However, Uttam Kumar who was invited to the first screening did, and told Sinha he had made the right choice.
The performance fetched Dilip Kumar the Bengal Film Journalists Association’s Best Actor Award in 1971. It was remade in Hindi in ’74 with Dilip Kumar, Saira Banu and Aparna Sen. I remember Dilip saab drunkenly lurching down the road singing Saala main to saab ban gaya.
I remember bossy little Mini (Sharmila Tagore’s sister Tinku Thakur) in Kabuliwala (’56), and the never-say-die Bacharam in Bacharamer Bagan (’80).There were so many movies, so many masterpieces.. and a growing desire to talk about them with the man himself.
I got him on the phone four years ago when he completed a golden run in cinema. Five minutes into the telephonic, almost gasping for breath, he hung up after telling me we’d continue once he got better.
Last year, Tapan Sinha was honoured with the ‘One Time Award for Lifetime Achievement’ to commemorate 60 years of independence.
On June 20, the I & B Minister, Priya Ranjan Dasmunshi, and the governor of West Bengal, Gopal Krishna Gandhi, visited his residence where he was recuperating, to present the award to him.
Less than a month later, he was conferred the Dadasaheb Phalke Award. But Sinha was far from overwhelmed: “I won’t deny that I’m happy. But at 84, I’m content with what I’ve achieved. I have never been hungry for awards. My health isn’t good. I just want to relax now.”
When asked to pick a favourite he singled out Khaneker Atithi. It had moved Mrinal Sen to tears and got him compliments from Satyajit Ray.
He agreed that Jatugriha, Apanjan and Adalat O Ekti Meye could be remade by sensitive directors without commercial compromises because the “values still hold good today”. On the subject of colourising classics like Kabuliwala and Khudito Pashan, it was a definite no: “Colour would spoil their essence.”
Early Thursday, Tapan Sinha passed away. I felt as bereft as Mini as she watches her kabuliwala dost being taken away by the cops to the ‘sasural’. At least, she met him again.. I never will.