Have you ever seen an actor consult a composer on how the music is planned for a scene in which he is to lip sync the song? A photograph of Amol Palekar in earnest conversation with Salil Chowdhury took even the composer’s wife, Sabita Chowdhury, by surprise. “I have never seen this happen elsewhere,” she said. The man on the sets of whose film the moment had been captured stood next to her, smiling quietly.
Welcome to the world of Basu Chatterji. A collection of posters, lobby cards, album covers and other memorabilia associated with Chatterji’s works was on display at Weavers Studio last week, each one stirring a distinct memory.
“This exhibition is not only a tribute to one of our greatest living directors but also a fond reminiscence of the years when I grew up seeing his films like Baton Baton Mein, Khatta Meetha....” said exhibition curator Sounak Chacraverti.
In one photograph, Chatterji sits caressing a baby leopard, in another there is Ashok Kumar seated next to him, with the former’s trademark pipe in place. Taking a slow-footed tour of the exhibition, the octogenarian lingered before Dadamoni. The two had worked together in Chhoti Si Baat, Khatta Meetha, Shaukeen. The reticent Chatterji didn’t let out much but the far-away look in his eyes spoke a thousand words.
Among the 20-odd posters on view, the best is of Rajni Gandha. “It is my favourite too,” smiled memorabilia collector S.M.M. Ausaja of Mumbai, from whose collection most of the posters had come. Tuberose sticks rising to the top of the frame push a half of a woman’s face to the background, yet her expressive eyes lose none of their appeal or mystery. “Yeh bhi mera hi design tha,” Chatterji murmured, as guests Shuvaprasanna, Bani Basu and Chowdhury took a closer look.
A political cartoonist early in his career, Chatterji must have had a hand in planning the posters of his films.
Another poster that attracts attention is of Manzil, remade from the story based on which Mrinal Sen had made Akash Kusum more than a decade ago. “A love story told in Basu Chatterji style,” says the tagline next to a picture of Amitabh Bachchan, who played a deceitful suitor. “Mind you, this is 1979. Amitabh already had had hits like Deewar and Sholay. It shows the niche Chatterji had carved for himself that made producers advertise their film in his name,” pointed out Chacraverti. The year was special, with almost half a dozen of his directorial ventures releasing.
Amjad Khan, the eternal villain, too played a rare comic role in Chameli ki Shaadi, an 80s blockbuster by Chatterji starring Anil Kapoor. Though he made middle-of-the-road films, all the stars of the day had worked with Chatterji.
Other exhibits included posters of Jeetendra (Priyatama), Mithun (Pasand Apni Apni), Dharmendra (Dillagi), Hema Malini (Ratnadeep).... Ask him who his favourite was among them and he replies “Dharmendra”. Not a word more would pass his lips and one is left wondering what path the he-man hero’s career would have taken had he not let his biceps take over.
Another notable exhibit was a handbook carrying press articles on the social effects of Rajani, a cult show on the exploits of a righteous housewife by Chatterji that had caught the nation’s imagination in the 80s.