It’s fast becoming an embarrassment for a city that prides itself on its cultural tradition. The body of Mahendra Kumar, cinematographer of Ritwik Ghatak who worked with the master on land mark films such as Meghe Dhaka Tara, Komal Gandhar and Subarnarekha, is lying in a police morgue 10 days after his death even as some of his students and friends formed a group to lobby with Kolkata Police to hand the body over to them for cremation.
Members of the group approached senior police officers on Thursday to take possession of his body but with little success.
On October 3, Kumar was found dead at his Golf Garden by a local tea stall owner, who supplied him tea regularly. He informed the police and the officers did not suspect foul play.
As the body now lies at the Katapukur morgue of Kolkata Police, the police is trying to ascertain whether there are any legal claimants of his body.
“We approached the DC South, Suburban Division, on Thursday. But he refused to meet us. We are not sure how long it will take for the police to release the body. But we believe it is understandable for the cops to take time under such circumstances,” said Jojo Karlekar, Kumar’s childhood friend.
Karlekar is leading the group, comprising mostly Kumar’s former students at the Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute, who want the body to be released to them. Filmmaker Gautam Ghosh is keeping close tabs on the situation.
According to police sources, the officers need to publish an advertisement in newspapers urging any legal claimants to step forward and take the body. If none turns up in a specified time window determined by the police, it can be handed over to the group. But police officers could not find time to do this job, as they are tied up managing the city during Durga Puja.
Kumar did not marry and has no close relatives. He used to live all by himself.
“In such circumstances, we need to be very careful before handing over the body,” said a police officer of Jadavpur police station.
Kumar’s students, however, claimed that they had submitted all the necessary papers to claim his body last Wednesday, that is, within two days of his death. But the police told them that the body cannot be handed over before they are sure that Kumar doesn’t have any legal claimants among his relatives.
“We are still waiting and we don’t know why the police are taking time to hand over the body to us. Instead of being cremated, it is rotting at the morgue,” said Saibal Mitra, a film director and a student of Kumar.
Kumar had worked with the maestro in films such as ‘Meghe Dhaka Tara’, `Komal Gandhar’, Subarnarekha’ and the unfinished films, ‘Bagalar Banga Darshan’ and `Ronger Golam’. He was 81.
Ghatak spotted Kumar playing harmonica in a Bhowanipore locality in the mid-1950s and took an instant liking to him. Kumar is from Himachal Pradesh and had run away from home as his foster parents did not treat him well.
“When `Subarnarekha’ was being shot, the producer walked out of the project midway. Kumar worked on advertisement films to raise money for the film’s completion.
He was also part of two projects that were stalled when the filmmaker died in 1976. He was the still photographer in ‘Bagalar Banga Darshan’ and the cameraman in ‘Ronger Golam’.