The song sequence belting out ei path jodi naa shesh hoi picturised on a stationery motorcycle with the hair of the young lovers flying in the artificial breeze of a pair of standing fans, the landscape shot with back projection is an immortal sequence in Bengali cinema.
So is the song with its question-answer mode expressed coquettishly by Sandhya Mukherjee for the female voice and Hemanta Mukhopadhyay for Uttam Kumar can still exude much more sensuality that a lip-lock could.
Mahanagar Madhabi Mukherjee and Anil Chatterjee
Other milestone films are - Satyajit Ray's Mahanagar, Tapan Sinha's Nirjan Saikate, Partho Pratim Choudhury's Chhaya Suryo, Tarun Majumdar's Palatak, Manu Sen's Bhrantibilas and Asit Sen's Uttar Phalguni. There is only one Suchitra Sen-Uttam Kumar starrer in this list.
This is a pointer to the truth that other stars on the Bengali horizon who proved that under some of the best directors in history with storylines sourced from works ranging from William Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors (Bhranti Bilas) through Samaresh Bose (Nirjan Saikate) to Tarashankar Bandopadhyay (Saptapadi) were no less in stature than the great hit pair. The directors vied with one another through healthy competition in talent and aesthetic creativity.
Mahanagar is Ray's personal statement on the changing values of the traditional, middle-class Bengali family of Calcutta. It is a microcosm of changes in urban, social and economic values. Mahanagar is a strong, positive and realistic statement through the metamorphosis of Arati than through other characters in the film. Arati stands as both the sign and the signified of this slow but steady socio-economic evolution.
Palatak is enriched with beautiful songs ranging from keertanas to jhumur songs spanning a rich palette. Beginning with the title song jeebonpurer pothik re bhai spelling out the ideology of the film, through Krishno kalo andhaar kalo, followed by ahare bidhigo tor leela bojha daaye, then chinite parini bondhu and dosh diyo naa amaye bondhu are not only filled with full-blooded melody and philosophical poetry but are also rich in their imaginative rhythmic beats. The film deals with small, marginalised communities and characters in rural Bengal.
Uttar Phalguni was also made in a Hindi version Mamta by the same director and both verions, featuring Suchitra Sen in a rare double role of mother and daughter, realised the story of a courtesan mother who succeeds in shaping her daughter to become a barrister without the daughter knowing who her mother is. The performances of the actors in the stellar roles and the beautiful music made the film one for the archive.
Partho Pratim Roy Choudhury's Chhaya Surjo appears melodramatic on hindsight and hampered by superfluous twists in Ashapurna Devi's brilliant short story. Yet, its claim for a place in history is credited to the out-of-the-box performance of Sharmila Tagore whose complexion was darkened and made to look ugly, stripped of glamour and she agreed to do it.
Bhranti Bilas, loosely adapted from Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar's Bengali adaptation of Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors is a rip-roaring comedy that pairs Uttam Kumar and Bhanu Bandopadhyay in double roles sending the audience to peals of side-splitting laughter! Nirjan Saikate, with the unusual pairing of Sharmila Tagore and Anil Chatterjee is a beautiful love story treated in a very low-key touch by Tapan Sinha in one of his all-time greats!
Not a single of these films are to be missed by youngsters who have not had the good fortune of this golden era of Bengali cinema.
(Shoma A Chatterji is a National Award winning film writer and critic)
--IBNS (Posted on 12-11-2013)