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They don't make people like Basu-da any more; he was simple and honest, says Rajit Kapur

Kapur, who became popular playing the amateur detective Byomkesh Bakshi in Basu Chatterji's classic television series in the 1990s, recounts the director's straightforward nature and methodical approach.

Keyur Seta

Of the many wonderful films and television shows that veteran writer-director Basu Chatterji, who died today aged 93, created over a 45-year career, one that is immensely popular with fans even today is the detective tele-serial Byomkesh Bakshi (1993).

The show, which was first telecast on the state-owned Doordarshan network 27 years ago, has been re-telecast a few times since, most recently during the two-month countrywide lockdown to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

Actor Rajit Kapur played the sharp young Raj-era amateur detective Byomkesh Bakshi, a creation of popular author and screenwriter Saradindu Bandopadhyay, with well-known TV and theatre actor KK Raina playing his buddy and sounding board Ajit Banerjee and Sukanya Kulkarni playing his wife. Each episode would present the investigator with a new case to solve. And the serial made Kapur a household name across India.

Recalling Chatterji's methodical manner of working and his persona in a conversation with Cinestaan.com, Kapur said, “He had a very simple, honest and straightforward approach. He would come planned. He would know what he wanted to do and how he wanted to do it. He would not waste time. If we were shooting for eight hours, he would utilize the full time. If there were six scenes to be shot, he would shoot six scenes. He would not make you work extra hours.”

During the shooting of Byomkesh Bakshi, Kapur noticed Chatterji’s straightforward approach off the sets as well. “If we were unable to shoot, he would call me and say, 'Sorry, we won’t be able to shoot today; we will shoot tomorrow'. He would not beat around the bush. He would always do seedhi baat [straight talk]. That was most important,” he said. 

But Kapur added that this did not mean the shoots were very serious sessions. “Basu-da had a great sense of humour," he said. "We never worked in tension.”

Kapur was also impressed with Chatterji’s problem-solving ability while shooting. “If something was not possible, he would not worry. He would look at another option or find a solution. If A was not possible, he would look for B, and if B was not possible, he would look for C, and so on. He had a practical attitude,” he said. 

Looking back, Kapur believes it was the simplicity of people like Chatterji and Hrishikesh Mukherjee that helped them connect with the masses with their cinema. “Their work used to connect with the aam aadmi [common man] because it was simple and easy to understand," the acclaimed actor said. "They don’t make people like Basu-da and Hrishi-da any more. They were simple and honest.”

Update, 10 January 2021: An earlier version of this report stated Basu Chatterji's age at death as 90. It was 93.