Monday, February 27, 2006

Bimal Roy: The Director of Hindi Cinema Classics

The gentle genius
Sunday, February 26, 2006 12:34:16 amTIMES NEWS NETWORK

His Do Bigha Zameen, the touching tale of a dispossessed peasant, was the first winner of the Filmfare award in 1954. Forty years after his death, his films continue to reign in the hearts of cineastes.

Despite his body of path-breaking work, why was Bimal Roy never given the glittering status of a Raj Kapoor, Mehboob or Shantaram or, indeed, the posthumous global acclaim accorded to Guru Dutt? While Roy's daughter, Rinki Bhattacharya, disagrees that Roy has been overshadowed by his contemporaries in the popular mindset, she says her father was "soft-spoken and shy like his films".

"The media explosion had yet to happen, but in any case, he was a very private person," he says. "He was not chatty or approachable."

Bimal Roy never pandered to the fanzines' yen for controversy, says Bhattacharya; he was content with the real success that came with making meaningful cinema.

"He remained untouched by the occupational hazards of directing beautiful, talented women, and was not given to temper tantrums or loud parties," she declares.

"The memories may have turned sepia now, but actors like Dilip Kumar and Sadhana were once proud to be repeated in his projects."

Decades after they were made, Roy's films continue to influence young directors. Ashutosh Gowariker says he is fascinated by the way Roy so effortlessly combined social commitment and entertainment in his cinema.

"Sujata made such a strong statement against the caste system while the angst of the impoverished farmer reached out to everybody through Do Bigha Zameen," he says.

Gowariker was quite elated when Rinki Bhattacharya told him that Lagaan reminded people of Do Bigha Zameen.

"I was not inspired by any one director during Lagaan, nor did I make a conscious effort to emulate anybody," he says.

"But certain images or elements of Bimal Roy's cinema have stayed with me through my growing years, which is probably why certain people say it reminds them of his work. I am flattered when they say that.

Scriptwriter Anjum Rajabali says that Bimal Roy does appear to be overshadowed by the showmanship of Raj Kapoor and the cult status that Guru Dutt achieved after his death.

"But I believe that Roy's cinema is a lesson in how social subjects can be tackled within the popular format," he says.

"Every film of his took up a relevant issue and treated it so beautifully by using all the conventional elements of cinema, like dance, music and drama.

The fact that Roy had his roots firmly in Bengal possibly rendered him more niche than his contemporaries' urban or typically pan-Indian films, but the difference in setting strikes one only when comparisons are drawn with the 'Hindi-ised' nature of Raj Kapoor and Guru Dutt films.

Otherwise, Roy's films, despite having a distinctly Bengal flavour, were totally universal.

He may have looked to a familiar milieu and found stories waiting to be told in its literature and on its streets (Parineeta, Biraj Bahu, Devdas, Kabuliwalla, Parakh, Sujata and Bandini), but the specificity never limited the genericity of the subjects—the caste system, untouchability and bonded labour were not Bengali phenomena, and dejected lovers anywhere in the world hit the bottle to this day.

"Even now, books are being written about the Kapoor family and websites are set up in memory of Guru Dutt," says Rajabali.

"But we need to make a strong effort to popularise the films of Bimal Roy, even Mehboob for that matter, especially now that India is rediscovering cinema which imparts a social message.

(The Bimal Roy Foundation is holding its annual 'Smriti Sandhya', featuring songs from Roy's films, at St Andrew's auditorium on March 1.)

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