Interview Bengali Hindi

Shakti Samanta was brave, never wanted to compromise: Filmmaker Prabhat Roy

The noted Bengali filmmaker remembers his mentor Shakti Samanta on the latter's 9th death anniversary (he passed away on 9 April 2009).

Shakti Samanta

Roushni Sarkar

One cannot help but refer to filmmaker Shakti Samanta’s immortal creations when it comes to the romantic classics of the golden era of Hindi cinema. According to Bengali critic Kantiranjan De, the creator of Kashmir Ki Kali (1964), An Evening in Paris (1967), Aradhana (1969), Kati Patang (1970), Amar Prem (1972); thoughtfully catered to all the nuances that are required for successful commercial films, but always made sure he stayed connected to his roots in Bengal.

The student of Calcutta University and an aspiring hero, Samanta decided to shift his goal to direction as he started working with Bengali film director Phani Majumdar, who was then considered to be an institution himself, in Bombay. As De would point out, Samanta received his first break with Howrah Bridge (1958), a film with a title that refers to the historical architecture from Bengal and major parts of the film were shot in various locations around Calcutta.

With various Hindi commercial hits to his credits, Samanta decided to make films in both Hindi and Bengali in the later phase of his career.

National award winning filmmaker Prabhat Roy, director of Shwet Patharer Thala (1992), Lathi (1996) and many other successful commercial Bengali films, joined Shakti Films as an assistant since the making of Charitraheen (1974). He gradually came to play a more important role as Samanta went on to make films in double versions and Roy got assigned with the task of writing the Bengali scripts of Aradhana (1969), Amanush (1975) and Anand Ashram (1977).

Roy, who considers working as an assistant director for Samanta’s Anusandhan (1981) to be a turning point in his career, speaks of the motivations and inspirations that prompted the director to work for the Bengali film industry with his ingenious style and also shares fond memories with his mentor. Apart from the ones mentioned above, Samanta also made Anyay Abichar (1985), Andha Bichar (1990) and Devdas (2002) in Bengali.

On Samanta's 9th death anniversary (he passed away on 9 April 2009), we spoke to Roy about his mentor's style of working, Bengali roots and fond memories.

Prabhat Roy

Excerpts from the interview:

Shakti Samanta had already established himself as one of the most successful commercial directors in Hindi cinema. Why did he suddenly decide to make films in the language of his roots?

I had started to work with Shakti da since 1973. During that time he suddenly felt the need to dub one of his most successful films Aradhana (1969) in Bengali. There was no prohibition on dubbing big budget Hindi films in Bengali then, unlike the present time. Knowing my aptitude, he asked me to write down the dialogues in Bengali and hence, Aradhana, in which the majority of the artistes were Bengali — Sharmila Tagore, Ashok Kumar and Anita Guha — was released with a Bengali version.

The successful initiative pushed Shakti da towards making more films in Bengali. He conceived the idea of Amanush based on acclaimed Bengali writer Shaktipada Rajguru’s story and again I was involved in the script writing. The powerful cast of Uttam Kumar, Sharmila Tagore, Utpal Dutt and Anil Chatterjee delivered a box-office hit. Thus, a new chapter unfolded in Shakti da’s career and he eventually made Anand Ashram again with Uttam Kumar, Sharmila Tagore along with Ashok Kumar and Anusandhan with Amitabh Bachchan, Rakhee Gulzar, Utpal Dutt and Amjad Khan in Bengali.

According to Shakti da’s wish, all the actors in Anusandhan (1981) dubbed the dialogues in Bengali in their own voices and I would help them with learning the language. The Hindi version of Anusandhan was later released as Barsaat Ki Ek Raat.

Is it true that despite staying focused on establishing himself in the Bombay film industry, Shakti Samanta always wanted to represent his connections with Bengal through a bigger platform?

He was always fascinated with Bengali literature and therefore, he made a lot of films on Bengali stories. For example, Anurodh (1997) and Ayaash (1982) were the Hindi adaptations of novels Deya Neya and Stri by Saratchandra Chattopadhyay; and Amar Prem (1971) was based on another celebrated Bengali author Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay’s novel, Nishipadma. Shakti da would always tell us that the audience should be able to relate to the storyline of a film and feel a part of it. To him, Bengali stories had the ability to strike the chords in the audience’s hearts.

Also most of his crew consisted of Bengali talent....

Exactly so! His brother Girija Samanta was both the production manager and producer of Shakti Films. Apart from me, Ranjan Bose, Sachin Bhowmick and Shailajananda Mukherjee were heavily relied upon by Shakti da for scripts. Art director Shanti Das and cinematographer Alok Dasgupta were Shakti da’s consistent team members throughout his career. He had an intimate friendship with the Bengali father-son duo of music directors Sachin Dev Burman and Rahul Dev Barman who lent distinctive dimensions in Shakti da’s films, making them more appealing to the audience with content specific music and haunting melodies. Also, he would often look forward to casting Bengali actors in supporting roles.

Is it true that Shakti Samanta decided to make Amanush after the box office failure of Chhoti Si Mulaqat (1967) in order to assure the position and fame of Uttam Kumar [he produced Chhoti Si Mulaqat] in the Bombay film industry?

Shakti da had immense respect for Uttam Kumar and he had always wanted to make a film with him. It is true that after the failure of Chhoti Si Mulaqat, he got the right opportunity to turn his dream into reality. Uttam Kumar would almost be devastated after the loss; however, Shakti da chose to stand by him and with Amanush Uttam Kumar’s true worth was ensured in the Bombay film industry.

He also introduced many other Bengali actors came to the Bombay film industry and made them famous...

Yes. He definitely introduced Sharmila Tagore and Moushumi Chatterjee to the Bombay film industry. Though Sharmila Tagore had already worked with the legendary film director Satyajit Ray, she would admit it publicly that she got the training to act in commercial films from Shakti da. Sharmila Tagore’s debut appearance in Samanta’s Kashmir Ki Kali (1964) and the success of An Evening in Paris (1967), Amar Prem (1972), Aradhana (1969), Amanush (1975), Anand Ashram (1977) turned her into one of the leading actresses of the 1970s and 1980s.

Can you share a few fond memories with your mentor?

There are many interesting stories on my association with Shakti da but I would like to share two of them that essentially reflect the strong points of his characteristics as a filmmaker. Shakti da was very brave in his decisions and never wanted to compromise.

During the shooting of Amanush (1975), despite being repeatedly warned of the danger in the Sunderbans, he built an entire resort there for the cast and crew. Another story refers to the time when he was admitted in the Lilavati Hospital [in Mumbai] after he suffered a heart attack.

When I had gone to visit him, he would point out to me the number of pipes linked to the instruments in the cabin and would ask me to closely observe those so that I can remember and later apply the knowledge in my work. This impeccable power of observation made Shakti da achieve the success in crafting his characters, as well as ensure the realistic depiction of the stories in his films.

Whatever I have achieved today is because of all the lessons I learnt from Shakti Da. Without his close association I do not think that I could have earned my name in film direction.