Giving face to the middle class
The Film Society movement that began soon after World War II was restricted to a few major cities. It became fairly widespread in the 60s and 70s and a few of its ardent members took to filmmaking. Basu Chatterji was one of them. For close to two decades – 19 years to be precise - he had been on the staff of the popular tabloid Blitz as a political cartoonist. His sense of observation and economy stood him in good stead when he decided to change streams and move into film making.
In the seven years that he remained a member of the film society movement, he was exposed to world cinema from prolific filmmaking countries such as France, Italy, Sweden and Japan. His primary influences of capturing the reality of the middle-classes in our country were these films. His active participation in Film Forum – as the society was then known – led him to become its secretary and under his guidance it became the largest film society in India. Chatterji also became the secretary of Federation of Film Societies of India, Western region for a while. And it was his films which became the benchmark for what is fashionably called ‘the small-budget, crossover cinema’ today.
At a time when Hindi cinema was reeling under the action sequences being churned out for scripts penned by Salim-Javed in blockbusters like Sholay, Deewar and Zanjeer, Chatterji kept pace with his trademark quiet, gentle films like Rajnigandha (which introduced Amol Palekar and Vidya Sinha to the big screen), Chhoti Si Baat (starring Ashok Kumar, Amol Palekar, Vidya Sinha and Asrani), Piya Ka Ghar (Anil Dhawan, Jaya Bhaduri, Agha, Asrani) and the Rajshri production Chitchor (Amol Palekar, Zarina Wahab, Master Raju and Vijendra Ghatge), Chameli Ki Shaadi (Pankaj Kapur, Amrita Singh, Anil Kapoor) and Baton Baton Mein (Amol Palekar, Tina Munim, David, Pearl Padamsee and Ranjit Choudhary) and Khatta Meetha (Rakesh Roshan, Bindiya Goswami, Pearl Padamsee, Ashok Kumar).
It was with his debut film
(which starred Rakesh Pandey, Madhuchanda, AK Hangal and Dina Pathak) which dealt with the travails of arranged marriages and joint family households that really defined the kind of cinema that Chatterji would be identified with in the coming years.
Set in Agra, Sara Akash explores the life of a young married couple Samar and Prabha (Rakesh Pandey and Madhu Chanda) who’re unable to adjust to the new life they are suddenly thrust into because of their elders. Adding to their problems is the fact that both of them are virgins and distinctly uncomfortable with his each other – going to the extent of sleeping separately, which causes further tension because Prabha is blamed by her in-laws for not being able to ‘please’ her husband.