A quiet announcement this week in a remote corner of the media’s vast playground told us that Anil Ganguly—Anilda to all who he worked and interacted with—passed away at the age of 82. Ironically he was identified to generations who had never heard of him , as Roopa Ganguly’s father. This is like referring to Ashok Kumar as Rupa Ganguly’s father.
This was not surprising though, since Anil Ganguly had directed no Hindi film since the atrocious Angaara in 1996, an embarrassment of a send-off which typified an artiste’s struggle to adapt to the changing language of contemporary cinema which he could barely fathom. Though he never directly assisted Bimal Roy, Anilda very clearly belonged to Roy’s illustrious school of filmmaking which gave us such lucid filmmakers as Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Gulzar , Shakti Samanta and Asit Sen.
Like this resplendent quartet of filmmakers, Anilda was best at shooting his films on location in a middle class woman’s heart. His two best-known and by far most refined Hindi films Tapasya and Kora Kagaz featured Raakhee and Jaya Bachchan (then Bhaduri) in career-defining roles. Both won richly-deserved Filmfare awards for their rousing portrayals of the dilemma of the traditional urban middle class woman struggling to balance family values with rapid industrialization.
In Kora Kagaz, Anilda dared to remake one of Bangla cinema’s most beloved films Saat Paake Bandha about a middle class marriage which comes apart due to the wife’s mother’s constant interference. Anilda faced furious flak for changing the tragic ending of the Bengali original to a happy couple-reunion one, arguing that a marriage between two intelligent people must not be sullied by a third party.
There was also the raging can-Jaya-act-as-well-as-Suchitra-Sen debate among the bhadralok.
Tapasya in 1976 began Anilda’s abiding collaboration with actress Raakhee Gulzar. Though audiences were inclined to believe that it was Yash Chopra’s Kabhi Kabhie which lured Raakhee out of a post-marriage career it was Tapasya which showed Raakhee at the crest of her acting prowess.
Based on Bangla litterateur Ashapurna Devi’s abiding classic tale of a middle class woman who sacrifices personal happiness to be the ‘son’ (read: breadearner) of her large family, the film echoed Ritwick Ghatak’s cult classic Meghe Dhaka Tara, except that again, Anilda opted for a happier ending as compared to the original.
It was almost as if this director wanted to leave the audiences with hope while negotiating his way through Bollywood remakes of Bangla classics. After Tapasya, Anilda did Humkadam a dry and unsatisfactory remake of Satyajit Ray’s Mahanagar about the travails of middle class working girl(Raakhee again) in the big bad city.
Anilda also did the neglected Aanchal with Raakhee cast as a devoted wife whose husband (Amol Palekar) suspects her of having an affair with his younger brother (Rajesh Khanna) whom she treats like a son.
Aanchal boasted that immortal R D Burman- Lata Mangeshkar melody Bhor bhaye panchi dhun yeh sunaye where Anilda captured the rural housewife bringing the sprawling household to life at the crack of dawn. The potent melodic strength of that moment pervades this filmmaker’s cinema. Anilda’s films gave us great melodies to savour. Kishore Kumar’s Mera jeevan kora kagaz(Kora Kagaz), Sulakshana Pandit’s Baandhi re kahe preet (from the film Sankoch, another adaptation by Anilda of a Bangla classic Saratchandra’s Parineeta), Kishore Kumar-Aarti Mukherjee’s Do panchi do tinke kaho leke chale hain kahaan (Tapasya), Lata Mangeshkar’s Din-ba-din woh mere dil se dur dur kyon hone lagey (Trishna), Lata Mangeshkar’s Yeh mulaqat ek bahana hai (Khandaan), Lata-Bappi Lahiri’s Jaane kyon mujhe ab yeh lage (Agreement) and Baapi-S Janaki’s Yaar bina chayan kahan re (Saheb).
Saheb in 1985 was Anilda’s last notable film. Then began the devastating decline, his desperate attempt to stay in tune with the times by making crass action films like Sadak Chap, Mera Yaar Mera Dushman and Dushman Devta which featured Dharmendra liplocking with son Sunny Deol’s close friend Dimple Kapadia.
To be forgotten by generations that remembers only the upper crust of an artiste’s work is not uncommon. It’s nonetheless heartbreaking when the director of Tapasya, Kora Kagaz and Aanchal is remembered as a television starlet’s father rather than for what he was. Let’s do a retrospective of Anil Ganguly’s films.We owe him that much.