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It was like being with a family member: Moushumi Chatterjee remembers actor Anup Kumar

On the beloved actor's 20th death anniversary (he passed away on 4 September 1998), we reached out to film personalities who worked with him. Haranath Chakraborty, Prabhat Roy and Moushumi Chatterjee remember the veteran actor fondly.

Roushni Sarkar

Born as Satyen Das, one of the finest actors of Bengali cinema, Anup Kumar was well-known for his performances in both, lead and character roles. He is also considered to be one of the best comic actors of Bengali cinema, alongside Rabi Ghosh, Jahar Roy and Bhanu Bandopadhyay. Kumar had an illustrious career, spanning for six decades. The evolution of Bengali cinema can be easily traced through his career graph as he began working with one of the earliest directors of Indian cinema, Dhirendranath Ganguly and also worked with Haranath Chakraborty, a filmmaker active from the 1990s.

Anup Kumar took his acting lessons from his father Dhirendranath Das, a singer-actor, and also from the legendary theatre artiste Sisir Kumar Bhaduri. He got featured in Ganguly’s film Haalkhatha when he was barely eight years old. He was equally active in live theatre and Yatra.

Anup Kumar worked with various important filmmakers including Mrinal Sen, Agradoot, Tapan Sinha, Ajay Kar, Chitta Bose, Hiren Nag, Tarun Majumdar, Haranath Chakraborty, Sandip Ray and many more. Haranath Chakraborty and Prabhat Roy are the two of many filmmakers, who Anup Kumar worked with in the latter phase of his career.

Anup Kumar acted in Mangal Deep (1989), Nawab (1991), Sangharsha (1995) and Ajker Santan (1997) directed by Chakraborty and in Amar Shapath (1989) and Anutap (1992) made by Prabhat Roy. Chakraborty said, “I first worked with Anup da as an assistant director for the film Shatru (1984) by Anjan Choudhury. Then I directed him in four films. He had immense knowledge in acting. He was the disciple of [Sisir Kumar] Bhaduri saheb. The audience are aware of his consistent expertise in portraying both supporting, as well as lead roles. Till now when television channels telecast films of Anup Kumar, Rabi Ghosh and Bhanu Bandopadhyay their TRP increases.”

The director said that he could talk endlessly about the great actor. “He could easily switch to crying while laughing. Today if an actor is asked to do the same he might turn out to be extremely superficial but Anup da was an expert at it,” reminisced the director.

Anup Kumar starred as the lead actor in Tarun Majumdar’s Nimantran (1971) in an era when it was impossible to imagine a character actor as the protagonist of a film.

"As the assistant director we had to take care of action-continuity. But we never had to remind Anup da about his position between the scenes. He used to tell me, 'Haranath, don’t worry, you will see I will remember the action continuity exactly'. We had to remind the other actors of their expressions, positions but never to Anup da. Anup da came from the theatres, so he knew how to reach the audience," observed Chakraborty.

Prabhat Roy, an ardent follower and admirer of Anup Kumar said, “I always had the wish that if I became a director I would cast Anup Kumar in my films. I always admired him as an actor as I watched him in Tarun Majumdar’s films. In my sixth film Anutap (1992), starring Raj Babbar and Deboshree Roy in the lead, I cast Raj Babbar as a famous singer and Anup da played his secretary, which was quite an interesting and humorous character. Rabi Ghosh was also in the film. It was my dream to cast them together.”

Anup Kumar featured as the father of Prosenjit Chatterjee in Prabhat Roy's earlier film Amar Shapath (1989), which also starred Sabitri Chatterjee. “It was so exciting to work with him. He had such amazing timing- especially when he was performing in comic roles, we would be often rolling on the floor laughing, watching his timing and dialogue delivery," Prabhat Roy recalled.

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“There was one sequence in the film in which Prosenjit runs away from home. It was a comic sequence between his parents played by Anup da and Sabitri Chatterjee. It was so hard to control both of them, as they kept on improvising beyond the script. It was so interesting that I could not even say ‘cut’. My entire unit kept enjoying their performances and insisted on keeping that part. Anup da was known for such spontaneous inputs,” added the director.

Veteran actress Moushumi Chatterjee acted with Anup Kumar in one of Tarun Majumdar’s most memorable — Balika Badhu (1967), which is also considered to be one of her best films. Upon being asked to share her experience of working with the iconic actor, Chatterjee said, “First of all I want to say that I have a tremendous respect for him as a human being. He was one of the very few actors, who had a very clean personality; he was as transparent as a crystal. I never saw him wasting time or getting into gossip [mongering]. Nobody could attach any malice to him.”

Anup Kumar doted on Moushumi Chatterjee as a father-figure and was extremely jovial in his personal life as well. She says she admires his qualities of being a private person and for never confusing personal life with the professional. Moushumi feels that Anup Kumar was a very natural actor. “He was extremely spontaneous, supportive and helpful towards the actors while working. He used to treat me like a kid and had so much affection and love for me that whenever I was with him, I felt like I was with a family member.”

The actress insisted that she learnt from him how to keep personal and professional life separate from each other. “He also taught me how to be cordial with everybody around and to mind my own business,” said the actress.

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Prabhat Roy also echoed Moushumi's sentiments on Anup Kumar as a respected personality. “He was an amazing human being. I remember when my father-in-law suddenly died my wife was having trouble in withdrawing money from her bank account. Anup da had an account in the same bank and helped us a great deal in solving the issue.”

Haranath Chakraborty, too, recalled a few fond memories from the golden era, saying “The no. 10 make-up room of the New Theatres was an 'adda' for all these senior artistes. Kali Banerjee, Rabi Ghosh, Anup da, Utpal Dutt, Soumitra Chatterjee, all used to dub and hang out there together. As an assistant I have heard them discussing films and politics there. They used to shoot two or three films but used the same make-up room.”

Echoing Moushumi Chatterjee and Prabhat Roy's words, Haranath Chakraborty also added that Anup Kumar was an extremely jolly person and loved to mingle with people; however, at the same time, he was extremely reserved in his personal life and dignified as well. “The sad part is that today there is hardly any discussion about him. For example, Uttam Kumar has become a part of Bengali culture and his greatness is regularly expressed and discussed but nobody writes on actors such as Anup Kumar, Jahor Roy and Kali Banerjee. Nobody celebrates their birth anniversary or death anniversary. I believe this is one sad aspect of an artiste’s life,” concluded the director.