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Satyen Bose: From a laugh-riot to a tearjerker

The largely self-taught director made acclaimed films in many genres, working with big stars as well as with relative unknowns.

Sonal Pandya

Director Satyen Bose, not to be confused with eminent physicist Satyendra Nath Bose, never formally learnt filmmaking. Instead, he picked up new ways and techniques as he made film after film. With his first feature, the Bengali film Paribartan (1949), one of India’s earliest children’s films about life at a boarding school, Satyen Bose was dubbed an avant-garde filmmaker.

Bose even acted in the film as the sympathetic teacher Sisirbabu. Paribartan was revived in Hindi as the patriotic Jagriti (1954) and won the Filmfare award for Best Film in 1955. The movie established Bose’s place in the Hindi film industry.

Bose moved to Mumbai from Kolkata in 1953 and directed his first Hindi film, Parichay (1954), with Shashikala and Abhi Bhattacharya. His filmography contains a varied mix of genres from sentimental dramas to comedies to heart-warming tearjerkers. One of those early films that made him a household name was Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi (1958).

Modelled on the wacky Marx Brothers films and featuring the Ganguly Brothers – Ashok Kumar, Kishore Kumar and Anoop Kumar the film has acquired classic stature through the ages. The musical comedy was a box-office success. Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi effortlessly brought to the forefront the easy chemistry between the trio and Madhubala.

Actually Satyen Bose was not the original choice to direct the film. He replaced another Bengali director, Kamal Majumdar, who was unsure about supervising the brothers on screen and left the project before filming. Fortunately, Bose was on board with the crazy plot of Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi and the inputs of its producer, Kishore Kumar.

Another notable hit by Bose was the Rajshri Productions tale of friendship and woe, Dosti (1964), which boasted of a best-selling soundtrack by Laxmikant-Pyarelal. The lead characters of the film were two teenagers, one blind, the other a cripple, played by two relatively unknown actors, Sudhir Kumar and Sushil Kumar. Like Paribartan and Jagriti, Bose was able to get the best from his young stars. Dosti made it to the fourth edition of the Moscow International Film Festival and became Bose’s second Hindi film to win Best Film at the Filmfare awards.

After finding success with a comedy and a social saga, Satyen Bose turned to psychological drama with Raat Aur Din (1967) with Nargis, Feroz Khan and Pradeep Kumar. It was the screen legend Nargis’s last tour de force as Varuna, a woman suffering from multiple personality disorder. The good dutiful wife Varuna turns into the carefree Peggy, who lounges at nightclubs and asks men for a dance. The film took a sensitive look at mental illness and won for Nargis her only National award for Best Actress.

Bose went on to helm other family dramas like Saanch Ko Aanch Nahin (1979) and Payal Ki Jhankaar (1980) and a few with child protagonists, like Anmol Tasveer (1978) and Kaya Palat (1983). His last film was Woh Din Aayega (1987). But, unfortunately for Satyen Bose, those days of glory in the 1950s and 1960s never returned.