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Basu Bhattacharya's Uski Kahani

A closer look at Basu Bhattacharya's experimental film

Sonal Pandya

A former assistant to filmmaker Bimal Roy, Basu Bhattacharya is known for his particular brand of cinema and sensitive films beginning with the National Award-winning Teesri Kasam (1966) with Raj Kapoor and Waheeda Rehman. His trilogy of films examining the unraveling of urban marriages included Anubhav (1971), Avishkaar (1973) and Griha Pravesh (1979). Later on, he even produced the critically acclaimed Sparsh (1980), the nuanced love story between two teachers, one visually impaired.

For his second project, Bhattacharya directed a little-known film called Uski Kahani (1966) starring Tarun Ghosh and Anju Mahendru. Mahendru was discovered as a teenager by the poet Kaifi Azmi which led to her being cast in her first ever film. Written by Bhattacharya, the story was simple tale of a young man. Ghosh played Raju, labelled 'good-for-nothing' by many around him. Yet he earned his keep at home by doing several odd jobs despite having no university degree. One day, however, the arrival of new neighbours heralded a distinct change in his life. 

The newcomers Pradip and his sister Rekha, played by Mahendru, gave him hope that he could do better in his life. During that time, he fell in love with Rekha and soon enough, he becomes a popular comedian, touring the country with his act. When he returns, it is to news that Rekha's marriage has been arranged and it is her wish that he perform at her wedding. This becomes the most difficult performance of his life.

Uski Kahani was shot on a low budget, outdoors and on real locations, not in any studios and without any fancy equipment. Adding to the realism of this inner-city story, the locals provided the production with electricity when required. Mahendru's mother even helped out the film unit for conveyances when they were short. Even the cameraman Nandu Bhattacharya used the car lights to illuminate his night scenes. Kaifi Azmi wrote the dialogue and lyrics for Uski Kahani's two songs made famous by Geeta Dutt and Hemant Kumar and composed by Kanu Roy, who would go on to become a Basu Bhattacharya regular. Dutt and Kumar sang the songs for free; the producers requested Azmi to ask Dutt for this favour.

The film also marked a return to films for Dina Pathak (credited in the film as Dina Gandhi). Prior to this, she solely worked on the stage and had previously appeared in a Gujarati film, Kariyawar (1948). She even received an award for her supporting performance by the Bengal Film Journalists' Association in 1968. Also, they listed Uski Kahani as one of the best Indian films that same year. Some have argued that Uski Kahani launched the unofficial experimental cinema movement in Hindi cinema. However, later films like Mani Kaul's Bhuvan Shome (1969), Basu Chatterji's Sara Akash (1969) and Bhattacharya's Anubhav were largely noted for their shift and approach in storytelling. Even though Bhattacharya's first two films were box office failures, it started the trend of films based on the middle class.