Article Bengali

Working with Tapen Chatterjee most cherished experience in my entire career: Sandip Ray

The Goopy Bagha Phire Elo (1991) director spoke to us about his and father Satyajit Ray's relationship with Chatterjee, problems faced during the shooting of Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne (1969) and more.

Rabi Ghosh and Tapen Chatterjee in Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne

Roushni Sarkar

There are great actors who are known for their versatility, their ability to get into the skin of characters and their vast range. And then there are actors who become immortal for their portrayal of a single character.

Tapen Chatterjee, who essayed the role of Goopy Gyne in Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne (1969) and Hirak Rajar Deshe (1980) by Satyajit Ray, and Goopy Bagha Phire Elo (1991) by son Sandip Ray, belongs to the latter category.

Chatterjee played a few other roles in films, including in Ray's Mahanagar (1963), Dhanyi Meye (1971) and Ganadevata (1978), but harboured the wish to be remembered as the magic minstrel from the Satyajit Ray classic. He died on 24 May 2010, aged 72.

Andrew Robinson stated in his book Satyajit Ray: The Inner Eye: “Ray had known Tapen Chatterjee for years as the nephew of his friend Chanchal Chatterjee, who used to open the door to Satyajit when he went to Chanchal’s house to listen to music.”

“We became quite close to Tapenda as he got associated with Sandesh, which was revived by my father in 1961," said the master's son and filmmaker Sandip Ray, recalling the initial days of his acquaintance with Chatterjee. "He used to regularly drop in at our house that time. First he appeared for a minor role in Mahanagar. Baba asked if he could play the part, he responded positively that he was confident about the performance.”

There were many obstacles in the way of making Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne. It was in 1966 that the entire team finalized the locations in Rajasthan and were done with recording the songs for the film as well. But the producers backed out and the film got postponed. Then in 1968, Purnima Dutta decided to produce the film. It was released in 1969.

“By then Baba was quite firm on casting Rabi Ghosh as Bagha; however, despite taking repeated screen tests of various actors, he could not decide on whom to cast as Goopy,” recalled Sandip Ray.

Even Soumitra Chatterjee, who had the longest collaboration with Ray, wanted to play Goopy. In an interview with The Hindu newspaper, the veteran actor said, “But the profile of Goopy was that of a poor village farmer. He had to have a certain raw, rural look, which I lacked. I kept on telling Manikda [Satyajit Ray] that if you give me a chance I will do well. I was quite confident of that. He never discouraged anyone, so he would smile and say, ‘I know you will do the role very well. But it doesn’t match with the image of Goopy that I have in my mind’. I had nothing to say after this.”

“After various screen tests, Baba suddenly thought of Tapenda for the role," Sandip Ray told "Tapenda was quite amazed to get the offer, as he had thought he might get another small role in the film. But Baba told him it was the time for him to appear as one of the protagonists, not in a small role.”

Robinson quoted Ray in his book as saying, “Then one day he dropped in and said very confidently: 'Give me the part and I will do it. I know I can do it.' So I took a test with Rabi and it turned out to be very good.”

According to Sandip Ray, the most commendable part of his performance was that Tapen Chatterjee stayed confident from the beginning till the end of the shooting. “I must mention that it was not easy to share the screen and perform with Rabi Ghosh,” he said.

Soumitra Chatterjee, too, stated, “After I watched the film, I told Manikda that Tapen Chatterjee who played the role did it from within and I probably wouldn’t have done justice to it the way he did. Tapen was just too good as Goopy.”

Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne ran for 51 straight weeks. After more than 10 years, Ray made Hirak Rajar Deshe (1980), which created another chapter in the glorious legacy.

Robinson wrote, “Ray knew that Tapen Chatterjee and Rabi Ghosh were ideally cast as Goopy and Bagha; certainly the film was great fun to make. They ‘infected the entire unit’, said Ray.”

“I had turned assistant director to my father by the time Hirak Raja Deshe took off," Sandip Ray told The Times of India newspaper in 2010. "And, everyday, I noticed the understanding between Goopy and Bagha. Shooting is a painstaking and, occasionally, boring process. But with Rabi Kaka [Rabi uncle] and Tapenda around, there was never a dull moment. Tapenda was very humorous, fun-loving and an extrovert. At the same time, he was extremely thorough, always prepared and focused.”

The junior Ray was initially quite nervous when he was handed the directorial reins for Goopy Bagha Phire Elo, the third instalment in the franchise. “I was a little worried because both Tapenda and Rabi Kaka had aged a bit in another 10 years and I was anxious whether they would be physically fit to endure the tedious shooting schedules and perfect the mannerisms. The first day all of us were a little shaky. But from the next day onwards, both of them got into the skin of their characters and brought all the interesting features in them respectively," he revealed.

Sandip Ray

“I did not have to bother anymore. We had formed such great chemistry amongst ourselves and were so well acquainted with each other over the years that nothing mattered. Amidst numerous struggles we continued our shooting. Most importantly, Tapenda had retained such positivity that it pushed the entire team to work with zeal. He was also quite happy to appear for the role again and with the film the chemistry between Tapenda and Rabi Kaka intensified a great deal,” he continued.

After watching the films, kids reportedly started to call Tapen Chatterjee Goopy Da and the latter cherished that response and the love from children the most.

Asked to narrate a few memorable incidents with the iconic actor, Sandip Ray said, "Honestly, where there are too many hurdles, one remembers a lot of incidents, but when things run as smoothly as it happened while working with Tapenda, things are different. It was quite inspiring the way both Tapenda and Rabi Kaka worked against all odds with a perpetual smile on their face.

"I reckon working with Tapenda is one of the most cherished experieneces in my entire film career," said the director with respect and fondness for the late actor.