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Khalid Mohamed focuses on the lamentably ignored directors Satyen Bose, Asit Sen and Dulal Guha.

Updated: Mar 9

It’s an eternal mystery. So many stalwart directors who contributed immeasurably in the last millennium to Mumbai-produced cinema have neither inspired researched articles (forget books) nor any acknowledgement from the film industry associations which have lately rushed into the ever-ballooning phenomenon of award events.


Perhaps it’s too late now. The ignored ones are no longer alive — Satyen Bose, Asit Sen and Dulal Guha.


it’s too late to console their surviving families with trophies or ‘tamrapatras’. These are just three eminently accomplished and successful directors who have not received their deserved dues. Period. Chances are that they never will.

Come to think of it, there’s an endless number of unsung auteurs. Like Rajkumar Santoshi’s father P.L. Santoshi (1916-1978) who directed Barsaat Ki Raat (1960), the imperishable qawwali-laden romance featuring Madhubala, Bharat Bhushan and Shyama.The outstanding music score was by Roshan. For personal reasons perhaps, Rajkumar Santoshi has chosen not to speak extensively about his father. Once on the eve of the release of his China Gate (1988), he had agreed tentatively to speak to me for Filmfare but had backed out at the last minute.


On a different plane altogether, forgotten, too, is S.U. Sunny who helmed the Dilip Kumar’s swashbuckler Kohinoor (1960). Or take  Zia Sarhady  best known for Humlog (1951), Vijay Bhatt’s Baiju Bawara which he wrote (1952) and Footpath (1953). He was involved in writing the script as a consultant for the Mother India  (1957), considered one of the greatest Indian films of all time, but is rarely credited for his contribution.


Described as an ‘unaffiliated Marxist’, Zia Sarhady’s films were remarkable for dealing with social issues of the period. His  Footpath, for instance, dealt with the black-market of medicines and grains in 1950s India. Since he migrated to Pakistan, perhaps, Sarhady’s name went into a limbo.


Back to the ignored trio  Bose, Sen and Guha — like Bimal Roy and Hrishikesh Mukherjee — they had  come to Bombay from Bengal, with a certain aesthetic sensibility and a sense of social commitment. The trio was successful in various degrees, training their sights on sensible-cum-commercially viable cinema.


But their hits are associated more with the films’ leading actors and production banners. In an era — 1950s-1970s — when publicity was low-key. Directors had to be either exceedingly flamboyant or mega-studio owners, or they were barely chronicled. In the event, the mild-mannered ones are barely remembered.

It’s not just about the awareness of film history among today’s millenials. The oeuvres of the three directors aren’t known, broadly, by any generation.


Of them Satyen Bose, who passed away at the age of 77 in 1993, was the most prolific one and also the most versatile. Take three of his most successful works: Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi (1958), Dosti (1964) and Jeevan Mrityu (1970) — a wacky comedy, a tear-jerker about physically challenged friends, and a revenge caper with shades of Count of Monte Cristo respectively. Consistently, Bose constructed strong narratives which followed the classic tradition of an opening reel introducing all the principal characters, a middle with a blizzard of contentious situations, and a finale which often sprayed happiness and sunshine.

Bose had empathised, too, with students coping with a regimented curriculum and dire poverty. Jagriti (1955) contained one of the most harrowingly moving sequences of a student pleading with his penury-stricken mother to escape to a world of dreams. “Chalo Chale Maa Sapno Ke Gaon Mein” (“Mother let’s escape to a world of dreams”) the boy sang, before his helpless mother.


Adept at activating the viewer’s tear ducts, Bose’s Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi caught him in a far-out mood, handling the wacky antics of three brothers who own of a car repair garage. Portrayed by the Ganguly brothers: Ashok, Kishore and Anoop Kumar, it remains a laugh riot to date. The film, though, is identified essentially with the brothers, Madhubala and its animated pre-credit titles.

Top actors of the time seemed to be partial to all the three directors. Bose fetched Nargis Dutt her National Award for portraying a schizophrenic personality in Raat Aur Din (1967).


And Asit Sen ( a cinematographer as well) who died at the age of 79 in 2001, showcased Suchitra Sen in the double role of a courtesan and her daughter in Mamta (1965), somewhat patterned on Hollywood’s Lana Turner weepie Madame X.


Asit Sen’s calling card was technical fluidity, knife-sharp editing and soft-glow colour cinematography, especially in Mamta, Annadata toplining Jaya Bhaduri and Anil Dhawan (1972) and Safar (1970) with Rajesh Khanna, Feroz Khan and Sharmila Tagore. The black-and-white Khamoshi (1969), despite the then superstar Rajesh Khanna in the lead was a commercial downer. Albeit today it is on occasion acknowledged ahead of its time, featuring Waheeda Rehman as an emotionally conflicted nurse. The topical issue of the underprivileged turning into dacoits was tackled by him in Anokhi Raat (1968), headlined Sanjeev Kumar; the plot centred essentially on the events of one night.

Stories abound that Asit Sen, disillusioned with the Bollywood style of functioning — depending upon optimum profit and moody stars — chose to retreat into the shadows.


Dulal Guha’s (1929-2001), too, was a premature career end. He died in 2001 at the age of 72, his last film Sagar Sangam (1988), a delayed project with Mithun Chakraborty, Raakhee Gulzar and Padmini Kolapure, virtually eclipsing his career.


And to think that Dulal Guha had been a trade favourite, always confecting sprightly entertainment out of stories shuttling between the contrasts of rural and urban life, as evidenced in the robust Dharti Kahe Pukar Ke (1969) a rustic family drama centering on step-brothers Jeetendra and Sanjeev Kumar, Dushman with Rajesh Khanna as a ne’er-do-well truck driver who reforms on encountering an aged Meena Kumari (1971) and Dost (1974), a valentine to bromance with Dharmendra and Shatrughan Sinha.


Plus, Guha created the Jat Pagla Yamla Deewana image for Dharmendra with Pratiggya (1975), which has been often repackaged. And Amitabh Bachchan featured in one of his darkest roles, with Rekha as a femme fatale, in the director’s Do Anjaane (1976), which was a bestseller on the DVD circuit.

Strictly by comparison, the Bengali director  Tapan Sinha who forayed into Hindi films – notably Sagina  with Dilip Kumar, Saira Banu and Aparna Sen(1970), the children’s entertainer Safed Haathi (1978) and Ek Doctor ki Maut (1990) with Pankaj Kapur and Shabana Azmi– is a relatively familiar name, largely  because he was a major force in Kolkata itself. Indeed his Apan Jan (1968) about two rival gangs was remade in Hindi, with Vinod Khanna, Shatrughan Sinha, Danny Denzongpa and Meena Kumari, by Gulzar as his directorial debut, Mere Apne (1971).


A few articles like this one, or sporadic mentions in film books, are insufficient tribute to the three ignored directors. Rather the film industry — be it directors, producers, technicians or actors — need to salute the work of Satyen Bose, Asit Sen and Dulal Guha on their own volition.


Then there would be a semblance of justice. But does anyone care?

Khalid Mohamed is a Mumbai based film critic, screenwriter, producer & filmmaker.


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09 mar
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Was’nt the Sanjeev Kumar starrer ‘Anokhi Raat’?

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