He is arguably the most uncompromising filmmaker outside the orbit of parallel cinema. And his awe-inspiring body of work can possibly be matched by only a Mrinal Sen or a Satyajit Ray. He is the grand old man of cinema - Tapan Sinha.
Charles Dicken's novel A TALE OF TWO CITIES and the cinematic version of this novel featuring Ronald Colman inspired Tapan Sinha to join films. Sinha started as a Sound Recordist and gradually shifted to Direction.
Tapan Sinha went overseas, more precisely, to London in 1950s. The purpose of his visit was to learn filmmaking, and embark upon a career of making good films. On reaching London, he contacted Mr. CryHearsth, Manager of Pinewood Studios. Through his help, he managed to bag his first assignment. He got to work in Director Charles Cryton's unit as Sound Engineer. Charles Cryton, who had made some good British comedies viz Lavender Hill Mob and others was then working for a film called THE HUNTED.
In his youth, Tapan Sinha was greatly influenced by contemporary American and British Cinema. Among his favorites Directors was John Ford, Carol Reed, Billy Wilder and a host of others. They provided him the incentive to venture into filmmaking. He used to think that he had to make films on those lines. Rabindranath Tagore's work had been a great source of inspiration to him. He couldn't do away with Tagore. Each Tagore work held a special significance in various moments of his life. No individual has ever influenced him on a personal level. But his strong and profound belief in God has been a constant source of inspiration.
THE EARLY WORKS
Tapan Sinha's first film ANKUSH (1954) was based on a Narayan Ganguly story SAINIK, which figured an elephant in the central character.
His next UPAHAAR featured Uttam Kumar, Manju Dey and others.Thereafter, he made a comedy film TONSIL, where Madhabi Mukherjee made her debut.
Tapan Sinha's KABULIWALLAH was based on a story by Rabindranath Tagore. Chabi Biswas, Radhamohan Bhattacharji, Kali Banerji and Manju De formed the cast. Tinku Thakur played the role of the small girl in the film. Jiban Bose had a good role in the film as a Jailor, who took a liking for the Kabulliwallah. Rabindrasangeet Khoro Bayu Boy Bege Chari Dik Chaye Meghe was used in the film. The film portrayed Tapan Sinha's personality - a child at heart. The same trait is reflected in films like GALPO HOLLO SATTI, HARMONIUM and SAFED HATHI.
Tapan Sinha's KABULLIWALLAH was subsequently made in Hindi by Bimal Roy and directed by Heman Gupta, featuring Balraj Sahani. Oerdellin was cast as the child lead in KABULLIWALLAH. KABULLIWALLAH(1957) won the Music Award at the Berlin Film Festival. In the film KABULIWALLAH (Balraj Sahani) is dreaded by children and later turns out to be actually a lover of children. KABULIWALLAH won the Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival.
Tapan Sinha's LOUHO KOPAT (1958) was based on the story of the Bengali writer Jorasandho. Jorasandho who used to write mostly about prison life i.e with life of peoples revolving around crimes wrote one of his best novels in LOUHO KOPAT. Kamal Mitra, well known Bengali actor gave one of his best perfomances in LOUHO KOPAT. Nirmal Kumar as the jailor also performed admirably. Anil Chaterji did well in a character role.
KALAMATI (1958) was the first film to deal with life in creches in coalmine areas. It was a film made much ahead of its times. Anil Chaterji did a memorable role in the film.
Sinha's KHONIKER ATITHE (59)was truly a moving film involving a doctor and a child with disabilities. It featured Nirmal Kumar, Ruma Guha Thakurtha, Anil Chaterji, Tulsi Lahiri, Radhamohan Bhattacharjee and others. The film was based on a story of Tagore. This was remade in Hindi as ZINDAGI ZINDAGI (72)with Sunil Dutt and Waheeda Rehman.
KHUDITA PASAN (60)was based on a story by Tagore. Sinha followed with JHINDER BANDI(a desi PRISONER OF ZENDA) based on a story of Saradindu Banerji, the well-known crime writer from Bengal. Uttam Kumar, Sandhya Roy, Soumitro Chaterji, Radhamohan Bhattacharji, Tarun Kumar, Dilip Roy and Arundhuti Mukherji comprised the cast. This was the first film in which Uttam and Soumitra starred together. Soumitra was for the first time in his career cast as the villain. The film was a roaring success without giving Soumitra the permanent mark of a villain.
Sinha's HANSULI BANKER UPAKATHA (62) was based on a story by Tara Shankar Banerji. Lily Chakravorty had a good role in this film. NIRJAN SAIKATE (63) featured Anil Chaterji, Sharmila Tagore, Chaya Devi, Ruma Guha Thakurtha, Bharati, Renuka, Robi Ghosh, Pahari Sanyal, Nabadip Haldar and Jahar Ganguly. It was a remarkable film about five widows based on a story by KALKUT (Samaresh Basu). In an interview, Tapan Sinha had said that "He believes that widows have a right to get married. Great social reformers like Vidyasagar and Vivekanda strived ceaselessly to bring about this practice."
JATUGRIHO (64)featuring Uttam and Arundhuti Devi was a fascinating film . What happens when two known individuals meet, quite unexpectedly, after a long gap in a train?. The subject of marital discord has rarely been dealt with more finesse in Indian films.
AROHI (65)had a cast which included Kali Banerji, Bikash Roy, Sipra and Bhanu Banerji. This was remade in Hindi by Hrishikesh Mukherji as ARJUN PANDIT. The film tells the story of an elderly person played by Kali Banerji, who had a tremendous zest for learning. Kali worked as a servant in Bikash Roy's house. Bikash Roy, a doctor by profession sent his son for medical education. Meanwhile, through his hard labor, Kali learns English and also acquires skill in the field of medicine by becoming a compounder. Soon after, Bikash Roy dies. Bikash Roy's son is still in the final year of his medical education in Calcutta. He wants to take his widowed mother to the city to stay with him. But Kali Banerji advises her not to commit this great mistake. This is the final year of the son in college, and if his mother also goes and
stays there his study will be hampered. How much of a sagacious advice can come from a man who was uneducated in the early part of his life. AROHI was based on a story by Banophool.
ATITHI (65) was possibly based on the life of Rabindranath Tagore. The character of Gangapada in the film bears striking resemblance to Tagore's life. Tagore lived like a prince in Jorasanko. But his princely comforts couldn't give him satisfaction. His mind would always be flying out, swaying with the flowers and with the wild trees. He was always curious to know the unknown. Sinha's ATITHE featured Partha Mukherjee, Smita Sinha and Ajitesh Banerji.
THE MIDDLE PHASE:
GOLPO HOLEO SATTI (66) was a fine satirical film on how a heaven-sent servant (played by Robi Ghosh) brings order and peace in a quarreling disorganised family. Bhanu Banerji and some small-time actors (with the exception of Bharati and Chaya Devi) comprised the cast. This was remade in Hindi by Hrishikesh Mukherji as BAWARCHI, with Rajesh Khanna in the lead role.
HATEY BAZARE (67) was based on an autobiographical story by Banophool. Ashok Kumar and Vyjantimala Bali were the central performers.
AADHAR PERIYE (73) featured Madhabi Mukherjee, Subhendu Chaterji, Sumitra Mukherjee, Anil Chaterji, Nirmal Kumar, Subrota Chaterji, Bikash Roy, Kalyan Chaterji, Chinmoy Roy and others. It was a middling work of Sinha, and was based on a story by Chittaranjan Maity.
HARMONIUM (76) featured Durgadas Banerji, Anil Chaterji, Satya Banerji, Arati Bhattacharji, Swaroop Dutta, Kali Banerji and Samit Bhanja, Chaya Devi and others.
EK JE CHILO DESH (77) was a fine fantasy film. It was based on a story by Sankar. It was about a mad scientist who discovered a drug that could reveal the past dishonest life of an individual. The evil traders, politicians whose life were endangered due to this conspired to kill the scientist. Needless to say, they don't succeed in their design. Dipankar De, Sumitra Mukherji, Kali Banerji, Anil Chaterji and others featured in the cast.
AADMI AUR AURAT (82) was based on a story by Prafulla Roy. Amol Palekar and Mahua Roy Choudhury acted impeccably. Sinha's AADMI AUR AURAT was remade in Bengali as MANUSH (Samit Bhanja, Devika Mukherjee) by the Director himself.
CHRONCILER OF THE TIMES:YOUTH & LABOUR UNREST, CORRUPTION & EXPLOITATION
APANJAN(68) was a story of young unemployed youths which had Swaroop Dutta and Samit Bhanja giving memorable performances. Here he has focused on youth unrest among unemployed . APANJAN was remade in Hindi by Gulzar as MERE APNE. The film also featured Chaya Devi, Rabi Ghosh, Bhanu Banerji, Kalyan Chaterji, Partha Mukherjee, Nirmal Kumar and others.
SAGINA MAHATO (70) was a good effort. The film revolved around Sagina, a coolie who couldn't see the oppressed being done injustices, and later rises to be their leader. Some might categorize SAGINA MAHATO as a political film, although human drama and relationship lies at the heart of this magnum opus. Dilip Kumar and Saira Banu played the central characters. Anil Chaterji acted in a supporting role. The Bengali version of this film starred Uttam Kumar.
Tapan Sinha has made use of Rabindrasangeet in several films. The memorable Rabindrasangeet Keno Choker Jole Bijeye Delam Na, Sukhno Dulo Joto was used in his film EKHONI(71). The film featured Swaroop Dutta, Aparna Sen, Moushumi Chaterji, Nirmal Kumar, Chinmoy Roy, Padda Devi, Subhendu Chaterji, N.Vishwanathan and others. The film was based on a novel by Ramapada Choudhury.
RAJA (75) featured Debraj Ray, Samit Bhanja, Arati Bhattacharji, Mahua Roy Choudhury, Anil Chaterji, Santu Mukherji and others. The story of an unemployed youth who sees so much of evil, injustice and poverty around him. The youth befriends a mysterious lady (Arati Bhattacharji) who uses him for her own dirty business. She has a tragic past which made her choose this line, and she is now entrenched in a business which destroys innocent girls. One such girl is Mahua Roy Choudhury, who has fallen in Arati's trap, but RAJA (Debraj Ray) is determined to save her. Anil Chaterji as a foreign-born Indophile father helps Debraj get a job for Mahua. RAJA dies in the end, but only after saving Mahua from doom.
BANCHARAMER BAGAN (80) saw one of the finest perfomances delivered by Manoj Mitra as an old gardener. Bancharam was the owner of a plot of land where he made his beautiful garden. The evil zamindar of the locality, an avaricious man (by his own son's admission in the film) sets his eyes on this garden and wants to usurp it. But adamant that Bancharam is, not to sell it, the landlord employs goondas to drive him out of the area. While fleeing for his life, Bancharam takes shelter in a forest. Luckily for him, the Magistrate (a foreigner), who was hunting, catches him and on hearing his plight takes pity on him. The magistrate warns the landlord that if ever he sets foot on Bancharam's garden, the landlord would have to pay dearly for this. The landlord felt very humiliated, because he received the warning because of a very small gardener. That night he starts behaving abnormally (whenever he is angry, it is his usual behavior) and kills himself. Twenty years later a new zamindar takes over an ailing Bancharam's land and agrees to pay Rs 400 a month till his death. Bancharam recovers but the zamindar wants him to die and serves an ultimatum. One day he comes ready to perform the funeral, but Bancharam, blessed with a grandson, wants to live. Chaplinesque in its approach, the film depicts the tragedy of a small man in this big world.
ADALAT O EKTI MEY (82) featured Tanuja, Biplab Chaterji, Manoj Mitra and others. Tanuja, a young teacher on a holiday, is raped by a gang of wealthy young men. The culprits are arrested. But Tanuja is shunned by her friends, fiance and even parents. She is an outcast like Dr Roy in EK DOCTOR KI MAUT. The difference is that while Tanuja is ostracized for no fault of hers, Dipankar Roy (Pankaj Kapoor) faces social wrath because of his talent.
ATANKA (86) was based on real life incidents. The director based his film on facts which appeared on newspapers. Soumitro, Satabdi and Prasenjit were the central performers. A teacher was witness to a murder, and the subsequent torture and harassment on him by the group of hoodlums who committed the crime was the storyline of the film. The film had quite a few horrifying scenes. Especially the scene when the daughter of the teacher (Satabdi Roy) was thrown a bottle of acid on her face, turning her visage grisly. Nirmal Kumar & Manoj Mitra were the other performers. Nimu Bhowmick and Bhishnu Guha Thakurtha enacted the villains. Anil Chaterji had a memorable role as a well wisher of the teacher.
EK DOCTOR KI MAUT (91)was based on a story "ABHIMANYU" by Ramapada Choudhury. It had Shabana Azmi, Pankaj Kapoor, Irfan Khan and Anil Chaterji in the cast. The film has an Ibsenian touch. Dipankar Roy invents a vaccine for leprosy, but paradoxically the entire community turns against him. Professional jealousy and abuse of power prevent him from pursuing his research and he is transferred to a remote village. But with an understanding wife (Shabana Azmi), he continues the research but fails to produce the paper on time. Meanwhile a foundation in the United States recognizes two Doctors from the University of Wisconsin for "deriving the vaccine against leprosy." That the foreigners took the lead from Dipankar is accepted but "as Dipankar was tentative in his approach and has not completed the research" the recognition goes elsewhere. In this sensitive work, Tapan Sinha reacts to the way society responds to talent. EK DOCTOR KI MAUT won the Rajat Kamal for the second best feature film of the year, besides earning him the Best Directors Award. "Talent is subject to ridicule. The more you excel the more number of enemies you seem to have : Why this animosity towards Excellence?" That is the anguish Tapan Sinha projects in EK DOCTOR KI MAUT where a young doctor's scholastic pursuits and invention become the ridicule of others. "I based this story on the suicide of a young scientist in Delhi" says the Director. Vijeyandra Ghatge, Vasant Choudhury and Deepa Sahi had memorable cameos in the film.
Tapan Sinha's WHEEL CHAIR (94) had a strong cast of Soumitro Chaterji, Laboni Sarkar and Arjun Chakravorty. Laboni Sarkar gave a sterling performance as a handicapped (who was raped) & confined to a wheelchair. The film was based on a story by the Director himself, though it was inspired by the life of a crusading doctor. The film was about a young woman who is molested late one evening in office. While fighting off the three men, she sustains injuries and is bed-ridden for a while. But in this film, she is fortunate enough to receive proper medical care and also emotional sustenance, and in the end, she can look forward to a better life.
THE CHILDREN FILMS
SAFED HATHI (78) featured Shatrughan Sinha and Mala Jaggi. Eravat a white elephant finds an admirer in a young boy much to the chagrin of his uncle(Sadhu Meher)and aunt (Mala Jaggi). A poacher (Shatrughan Sinha) is also interested in the white elephant though his intentions are strictly business. Also starring Gayatri. The story was written by Tapan Sinha himself. Kalyan Chaterji essayed a cameo role as a postman. The film was made in Hindi.
SABUJ DEEPER RAJA (79) was shot in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and was based on a story by Sunil Ganguly.
AAJ KA ROBINHOOD(87) was a children's film that has been screened at 12 International Festivals at Tashkent, Berlin, Sofia and others. The film has a running time of 80 minutes. Ram Yadav Singh, a feudal landlord, lives off the interest he earns on the money he lends. Inspired by Jatin Babu's tale of Robinhood, young Tetra decides to steal documents from the rich and give them to the poor. Having done this, he faces the wrath of the feudal lord. Simplistic it may sound, but the concern over social evils is brought out in a vibrant way in Sinha's films.
Sinha's last venture, ANOKHA MOTI, features Arjun Chakravorty, was also a children's film in Hindi.
THE LATER WORKS
Tapan Sinha made a telefilm DIDI (84)with Deepti Naval essaying the central character.
BOYDURJER RAHASYA (85) was a detective film with a cast that included Manoj Mitra, Bhishnu Guha Thakurtha, Tapas Pal, Alpana Goswami, Moonmon Sen and Premansu Bose with Basant Choudhury.
ANTARDHAAN (92)had a strong cast of Soumitro Chaterji, Madhabi, Manoj Mitra, Sabyasachi Chakravorty, Satabdi Roy, Riku Dutta, Bhisma Guha Thakurtha, Ramen Roy Choudhury, Nirmal Chakravorty and Arjun Chakravorty. It dealt with the subject of disappearance of a girl with her lover. It was based on a story by Dibyendu Palit. Tapan feels a sort of fictionalization of a real-life incident or even a newspaper report, from which the source of the original story is supposed to be derived, becomes necessary for cinematic dramatization. Tracking down of the romantic duo involves some interesting but believable characters, of whom there is an honest police officer, played by Nirmal Chakravorty.
He made a film called DAUGHTER OF THE CENTURY (99) with Shabana Azmi, Jaya Bhaduri, Deepa Sahi, Sulabha Deshpande in the central character, based on a Tagore story. Stories of other notable Bengali writers like Sarat Chandra Chaterji, Tarashankar Banerji, Gour Kishore Ghosh, Dibyendu Palit, have also been featured in the film. The film has six actress, each playing a central role in the stories of the six renowned writers. The Director wanted to convey the message that in spite of tremendous scientific advancements, the attitude towards women hasn't change much. One of the episode that Sinha had shot for this film is called CHARU, based on the short story EI DAHO by Gour Kishore Ghosh.
AAJAB GAYER AAJAB KATHA (99) was based on a novelette by eminent Bengali writer Shirsendu Mukhopadhay. This film, in Sinha's own words "is a semi-fantasy designed for all, including children." AGAK "is a strange story of a strange village." The message is, it is necessary to have a community drive to get anything done in today's society. "We must not look at the Government for everything," says the Director. "In the west and also in the far east, there is a system of community initiatives. I believe, we should have this same kind of approach too." He adds, "According to this story, a person has to prepare himself to confront any adversary." The cast of AAJAB GAYER .......... includes Debasree Roy in the lead. She plays a light-hearted "village girl." Debasree has not done such a role before and I found her absolutely suitable for it," says the Director. It is the only female character in the film which also has a new face on the big screen, Debesh Roy Choudhury. His role in the film requires him to do a lot of "physical labor, including sprinting." The rest of the cast has Soumitra Chaterji, Manoj Mitra, Nirmal Kumar and Bibhas Chakravorty. The film was shot at Falta, on the banks of the Ganga.
Raja Sen has made a documentary on Tapan Sinha entitled FILMMAKER FOR FREEDOM highlighting his genius.
Tapan Sinha made a TV Serial (detective genre) HUTUMER NAKSA casting Soumitra Chaterji, Manoj Mitra, Dhiman Chakravorty, Robi Ghosh and others.
Tapan Sinha's wife, filmmaker Arundhuti Devi, passed away in 1990.
Tapan Sinha made a few documentaries, and one such was a biographical film on scientist Jagadish Bose.
Although Tapan Sinha has continued to turn out entertainment masterpieces since he made his debut as a film Director, archetypal Bengali Drama, mixed with literary flavor and human warmth, has been his m'tier. His films appear most alive when working their way into the mysteries of human life, be that of a young widow in the shadow of her past romance in "KSHANIKER ATITHE", or a prisoner in LOUHOKOPAT or a social dropout, a ruffian in APANJAN.
In the very recent series of films that Tapan has made in the last eight years, a trusting and idealistic man, assailed by unfortunate circumstances or hostile and scheming persons, stands out as an example of indomitable individualism. "I have always believed in individual courage and effort. I think, collective system or life hardly allows an individual to discover the infinite strength within him. I like the individual who has the courage to face any untoward situation, which is why I have shown an individual as a relentless fighter against all hazards in AADMI AUR AURAT, ATANKA and EK DOCTOR KI MAUT. My protagonists in these films have practically done miracles by their own strength and self-confidence. In ANTARDHAAN also, the Professor takes up the job of finding out his missing daughter. He depends only on himself and on none else, says the Director. With these dogged individuals Sinha has succeeded in imprinting a newer kind of creativity on celluloid.
Tapan Sinha's filmography presents an amazing variety of subjects. Even when the Director has profusely entertained the audience, he has done it every time with a new yarn promising new experiences for the filmgoers. And these have not been ordinary crowd-pleasers nor have they seemed mired in familiar formulas. A veritable commander of the box-office, Tapan Sinha has offered five super hit films in a succession - namely KSHUDITA PASAN, KABULIWALLAH, HATEY BAZARE, APANJAN and EKHANI - creating a record that is unsurpassed even today. Yet in each of these films, adapted faithfully from widely read literary works and neatly told, a serious observer may discover the creative burst that raises a popular work to an artistic level. This nonchalant mastery of spinning pleasurable surprises right on the screen has been discernible in all his films, even including his work containing raw realities of life like APANJAN, RAJA or ATANKA.