As many of us romanced the rain from our windows on Thursday morning, listening to Rimjhim gire saawan, the filmmaker who gave us the classic bid adieu to the world. Basu Chatterjee, with his stories that were sprinkled with love and the everyday truths, has inspired an entire generation of artistes. Of the current lot, Shoojit Sircar has retained the beauty of Chatterjee's works, bringing a similar affable quality to his films.
After all, his first brush with movies was through Chatterjee's lens — in the late '80s, Sircar began his career as an assistant on the set of a Bengali series the auteur was helming. "Theatre actor Ruma Ghosh had got me the gig. For the first few days, I didn't know I was on a Basu Chatterjee set. When I finally saw him on the set, I told them I am ready to work for free," says Sircar on phone. The director, then a wide-eyed boy just out of college, remembers his first interaction with the filmmaker. "We were shooting in Delhi's CR Park. I was watching the scene, and he kept shouting, 'Field e achho; bero eikhan theke' [You are in the frame, step out of it]. I didn't even know what a field was."
As an assistant, Sircar's job entailed getting the director to and from the set. "I was also entrusted with arranging a bottle of soda for him every day after the pack-up," he chuckles. The errands may have been menial, but the learning on the set was that of a lifetime. "The first one you work with leaves an indelible impression on you. He was quick on the set, and like him, I don't waste time. He would never shoot beyond 6 pm. Also, his planning had an impromptu quality to it. I have heard stories about how he decided to shoot Rimjhim gire saawan when he saw the downpour. The shoot didn't have an elaborate planning, which is why its simplicity stands out."
In the '70s when action films dominated Bollywood, Chatterjee became a pioneer of the middle-of-the-road cinema, giving us the everyman — the antithesis to the 'angry young man'. From Piya Ka Ghar to Chhoti Si Baat and Swami, the leading ladies in his films were crafted with respect, and had an independent voice. "Baton Baton Mein and Rajnigandha are such lively films. He became a game-changer when he made Ek Ruka Hua Faisla. Like him, I always wanted to make charming movies that have a long shelf-life. When I shot with Moushumi di [Chatterjee] and Mr Bachchan for Piku, they were chatting about him. That's when I realised his legacy of movies cannot be recreated. Films don't always need to be about drama. Sometimes, the simplest stories leave the sweetest aftertaste."
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