And They Made Classics: Documentary on screenwriter Nabendu Ghosh brings legend into the limelight
A documentary on Nabendu Ghosh by his daughter Ratnottama Sengupta sheds light on the veteran screenwriter's collaborations with legendary filmmakers like Bimal Roy, Hrishikesh Mukherjee and Basu Bhattacharya
It is often said that the screenplay is the soul of a film. The greatest filmmakers from all over the world have stressed on the importance of the script and the role it plays in turning a film into a great film. In the Indian film industry, for an astonishingly long period of time, very few people seemed to talk about the script. This, however, in no way meant that the script was considered any less important in this part of the world. It simply meant that in the bright firmament of dazzling stars and star directors, somehow, the script writer’s face and name often used to get lost.
They may or may not have gotten their due credit, but it is undeniably true that very few of these script-writers got the limelight they deserved. But now, when there’s so much talk about the screenplay and its role in the making of a film, it is only fair that we rectify our past mistakes and make a genuine effort to bring into the spotlight the scrip-writers of some of the greatest films of Indian cinema – the very people who were responsible for entertaining us over the decades. Film journalist, festival curator and author Ratnottama Sengupta’s documentary film And They Made Classics is a well-meaning and successful effort to do the same, because it tells the story about her father, the veteran screenplay-writer Nabendu Ghosh, who along with legendary filmmakers such as Bimal Roy, Hrishikesh Mukherjee and Basu Bhattacharya, gave us such landmark films as Devdas, Parineeta, Sujata, Bandini, Abhimaan and Teesri Kasam, among many, many others.
And They Made Classics opened to a packed auditorium at the recently concluded 23rd Kolkata International Film Festival. The hour-long film was in the form of an interview of the late author, script-writer and National Award winning filmmaker Nabendu Ghosh, as he spoke about his association with his film guru Bimal Roy in an interview with the latter’s son Joy Bimal Roy. As the film progresses, we learn how, in his youth, the writer was moved beyond words on watching a Bengali film that was playing in the local theatre in Rajshahi, and how upon stepping out of the theatre, he had vowed that if he ever wrote for films, it would be for the director of the film he had just watched. That film was the Bengali classic Udayer Pathey (Towards the Light), and the filmmaker was, of course, none other than Bimal Roy himself. A couple of years later, Ghosh had the opportunity to meet Roy, but it was not until 1951 that their association really began — when Ashok Kumar, the owner of Bombay Talkies, invited Roy to come to Bombay to work on a film titled ‘Maa’, and Roy asked Ghosh to come along with him. What happened next is truly the stuff dreams are made of. One after the other, the filmmaker-writer duo created films which are considered classics today — essential viewings included in any good book on Indian cinema worth its salt.
Throughout the documentary, what perhaps strikes the viewers the most is the placid, unassuming charm of a man so immensely talented — a man who seemed more keen on talking about the people he had worked with than about himself. A man who remained almost faceless to the film-going public for decades, and yet one who had written these marvellous gems for the screen. A man who, at the height of the freedom movement, had not cowered down from writing a novel in the backdrop of the Quit India movement, even if it meant losing his job with the Accounts Department of Patna Police. And a man who knew his place in the world, made it to that place with vigour, passion and hard work, but chose never to boast about it. Even as Nabendu Ghosh sat in his pristine white dhoti and kurta and narrated tale after tale from the days of yore, several quotes by such eminent people as Dilip Kumar, Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Nutan, Nargis, Shammi Kapoor, Gulzar, Subhash Ghai and many others appeared on screen — all of them speaking fondly of his humility and rare talent not only as a writer, but as one who truly understood the medium of film. And even as the gentleman spoke, it was so vivid that Nabendu Ghosh had lived his life well — and that the precious memories of the golden age of Indian cinema were his most prized possessions.
Film lovers in India are in debt of Ratnottama Sengupta — for having brought this legend to the limelight. As you watch her film, you realise that somewhere, in some unannounced corner of every frame, along with the fond working relationship between a protégé and his guru, along with several behind-the-screen anecdotes from the making of some of the greatest films ever made, and along with the haunting scenes and the melodious scores from those very films, lies the simple, reverential love of a daughter for her father. And that’s what makes the film more than a documentary. That’s what makes it a human story.
Bhaskar Chattopadhyay is an author and translator. His translations include 14: Stories That Inspired Satyajit Ray, and his original works include the mystery novels Patang, Penumbra and Here Falls The Shadow.
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