We don’t get invited
to film festivals. We are not welcome at film
awards. No one recognises us. It feels great to be finally recognised... and it is a great honour to be part of such an extraordinary ceremony”
film editor who was honoured at The Telegraph School Awards For Excellence 2013
When you walk into the tiny roadside “hotel” called Red Pepper in Taratala, nothing in it will tell you that owner Arabinda Bhattacharya has spent years in the company of the Uttam Kumars and Tapan Sinhas, working as an assistant editor in over 200 movies.
Dressed in a white kurta-pyjama, 85-year-old Bhattacharya sits in front of a table at his “bhaater hotel” like he has been doing every day for the last five years, since his son Aniruddha, who started it, died after suffering a heart attack at age 32. The hotel is the only source of income for the octogenarian and his wife Pranati.
“I had to do something to keep myself busy and I needed a source of income. So I run this hotel,” said the assistant editor of Chaoa Paoa to Teen Bhubaner Pare to Ek Doctor Ki Maut.
His contribution to the field of cinema was recognised at The Telegraph School Awards For Excellence 2013 on Saturday.
Bhattacharya was overwhelmed. “We don’t get invited to film festivals. We are not welcome at film awards. No one recognises us. It feels great to be finally recognised for your work and it is a great honour to be part of such an extraordinary ceremony,” he said.
Born in 1928 in the Barodron village of Diamond Harbour, the third among seven brothers came to Calcutta in 1948. There he met composer Salil Chowdhury, who got him work as an assistant director with Ritwik Ghatak on his film Bedeni in 1952. The film never got made but Bhattacharya was hooked to the medium. He went on to work as an assistant editor with Dulal Dutta in Satyen Bose’s film Rikshawala.
“I worked with him for about a year but if there was anyone who taught me the craft it was Nirmal Dey, with whom I worked on Champadangar Bou,” said Bhattacharya.
Indrani, Chaoa Paoa, Rajlakshmi Srikanto, Teen Bhubaner Pare, Antardhan, Wheelchair, Pratham Kadam Phool, Ek Doctor Ki Maut and Nishi Kanya are some of the films in which Arabinda Bhattacharya worked as assistant editor. He has also worked on numerous documentaries, including one on the Tata Golden Jubilee, the script for which was written by Satyajit Ray.
“Satyajit struggled a lot. I have seen him sitting on the benches in front of the film labs, when his films got stuck because of lack of money. He used to take a second-class tram to Tollygunge tram depot and then walk all the way to the studio,” reminisced Bhattacharya, who also knew Utpal Dutt closely through his association with IPTA.
Bhattacharya at his Taratala hotel. (Anindya Shankar Ray)
Tapan Sinha, Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Uttam Kumar... but it is not just film personalities that make up Bhattacharya’s memories. As the elder brother of Congress leader Kumud Bhattacharya, he also speaks with familiarity about Subrata (Mukherjee), Priya (Ranjan Das Munshi), Siddhartha Shankar Ray, even Mamata (Banerjee).
“Chhatra Parishad used to meet at our house, 7/1 Ray Bahadur Road, and they all knew me as Naw da. I remember Mamata Banerjee was in our house all night when my mother died,” said Bhattacharya.
The man who edited films by joining frames by hand now has his hands full with his little hotel, where he can be found 9am to 8pm. He and his wife travel from their rented one-bedroom home in Thakurpukur by public transport. Their only wish? To live the rest of their days with dignity in a home of their own.
“One of us will die soon, leaving the other behind. Already the rent we pay is too high for us. If we had a place to call our own we would feel much more secure. Kumud helps us out. But it is unfair to depend on someone else all the time,” said Pranati. They have approached both Subrata Mukherjee and Mamata Banerjee, albeit reluctantly.
“It hurts our pride to ask. But they all know about our financial condition,” said Pranati. Mukherjee has said he will help, Banerjee they have not been able to meet yet.
But help was at hand on Saturday. A spontaneous offer came from the trustees of The East India Charitable Trust At The Telegraph School Awards 2013, who appealed to Bhattacharya and his wife to come and stay free of cost at Tollygunge Homes run by the Trust.
“I am touched by their offer. I will get in touch with them soon,” said Bhattacharya.