Bimal Roy’s directorial debut in 1944 ushered in a new kind of socially relevant filmmaking and foreshadowed the impact he went on to create on Indian cinema as a filmmaker.
The journey of Bimal Roy’s first film Udayer Pathe
Mumbai - 08 Jan 2017 11:00 IST
One of Indian cinema’s most influential filmmakers, Bimal Roy began his career as a cameraman on documentaries and even shot a Tamil film Nalla Thangal (1934). He worked as a cinematographer for PC Barua’s Devdas (1935) starring KL Saigal and was mentored by Nitin Bose at New Theatres in Kolkata. Roy started his career in direction with Udayer Pathe (1944), meaning ‘Towards Sunrise’ which made him an overnight star. A Tagore poem inspired the film’s title.
At last year’s 18th Mumbai Film Festival, son Joy Roy revealed the conditions under which his father made the film. “The back story is very interesting. It was a challenge [for him] when he was asked to make the film. He was a cameraman. The owner, Mr BN Sircar, said ‘Okay, you can make the film with all the cut pieces. You won’t get any reels.’ He took up the challenge and he made the film. But what he did was, he used a completely new star cast and a first-time writer. The only known person was a comedian. At that time, BN Sircar was involved in a huge mega budget film so all the attention [went there]. This was made on a shoestring budget. That film tanked and this film ran for a year,” he said.
Joy went to state that the film’s dialogues became so popular that they were sold in booklets in paan shops. People actually quoted them and Bimal Roy became a cult hero.
Udayer Pathe, starring Radhamohan Bhattacharya, Binata Roy, Biswanath Bhaduri and Debi Mukherjee, was the story of an unemployed novelist Anup who writes speeches for a wealthy industrialist who later usurps his unpublished novel as his own. When his sister is disgraced in his employer’s home, he leaves to return to the village but not before speaking at a union rally and getting beaten by hired goons. Gopa, the industrialist’s sister, comes to support Anup’s causes, and also falls in love with him.
Filmmaker Ritwik Ghatak had said of Roy’s Udayer Pathey in a 1966 Filmfare interview that “people for the first time saw in them their everyday life – this revolutionised the concept of film as a social document of contemporary reality.”
The film was remade in Hindi as Hamrahi (1945). Bimal Roy’s eldest daughter, Rinki Roy Bhattacharya, wrote in an online article, “I have met people who watched Hamrahi 20 times. Met euphoric Bengalis who cannot stop talking about Udayer Pathe. Whose lives were touched by its humanistic ideology. These days we hear endless debates about what constitutes nationalism. Here is a film that has the answer. Nationalistic fervour flowed in every vein of Udayer Pathe. It’s aura spread from door to door in pre-Independent India from the film.”
Rinki also explained the fervour that Bimal Roy’s first film caused. “Nabendu Ghosh (the screenwriter), went to see my father’s first film, Udayer Pathe and what attracted him was, there was a lathi charge outside. It was such a popular film. Today like Salman’s films, it was so popular. It started my father’s meteoric career and was released in a small theater in East Bengal in a place called Rajshahi. He was so impressed, he saw it twice. And he said if I ever work in the film industry, I want to work with Bimal Roy,” she said.
The film also featured a song on its soundtrack, Rabridanath Tagore’s ‘Jana Gana Mana’, before it became the national anthem. The music for the film was composed by RC Boral. Of course, Bimal Roy went to win seven Filmfare Awards for Best Director in his career for his films, Do Bigha Zamin (1953), Parineeta (1953), Biraj Bahu (1954), Madhumati (1958), Sujata (1960), Parakh (1960) and Bandini (1963).
Parineeta (1953) was produced by actor, Ashok Kumar, who was instrumental in calling Roy from Kolkata to Mumbai to make films for Bombay Talkies. Kumar’s daughter Bharati Jaffrey said, “[The rights for] Parineeta was bought by my father from Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s nephew. He had asked Bimal Roy to come from Calcutta to make films with him for Ashok Kumar Productions. Papa thought he was capable of handling a sensitive subject at that time.”
"They used to agree on many things but even if they disagreed on something, Bimal uncle was very firm and calm and very soft-spoken. For a Bengali, that’s very unusual,” Jaffrey recalled laughing.
Throughout his career, Bimal Roy was a socially conscious man whose films famously featured strong female characters. Rinki says that “every artist wanted to work with my father.” Many filmmakers have tried to emulate him but none have come close.