Pradeep Sarkar, the man behind films like Parineeta, Laaga Chunari Mein Daag and Mardaani, passed away early on Friday. He was 67.
Sarkar, known for his ability to bring strong emotions to the screen and whose films more often than not featured a feisty female protagonist, had also directed Lafangey Parindey, starring Deepika Padukone and Neil Nitin Mukesh. His last feature film was Helicopter Eela that released in 2018 and besides Kajol in the lead, had many actors from Calcutta, including Riddhi Sen and Tota Roy Chowdhury.
Sarkar, popularly known as Dada in the fraternity, started his career in advertising, moving to ad film-making after spending almost two decades in mainstream advertising. During his time in advertising, Sarkar worked on more than 3,000 ad films, including iconic campaigns like Cadbury’s ‘Pappu Paas Ho Gaya’, Eveready’s ‘Give Me Red’ and Catch Masala’s ‘Chinese Whisper’.
On Friday, as soon as news of Sarkar’s demise was made public, fashion and celebrity lensman Atul Kasbekar tweeted: "Pradeep Sarkar gave me some of my early significant breaks as a photographer when he worked as an art director at Contract Advtg, New Delhi. For taking big chances on a newcomer I will be eternally grateful. Lovely man, immense talent."
Adapting to the changing times
Sarkar’s tryst with directing music videos coincided with the huge popularity of Indian pop in the ‘90s and early 2000s. The stunning visuals and engaging narrative of Euphoria’s Dhoom pichak and Maaeri were his work. So also were the still memorable music videos for Shubha Mudgal’s Ab ke saawan and Sultan Khan and Chitra’s Piya basanti.
With the goal of directing a feature film someday, informing most of his work in ad film-making, Sarkar took his first steps into Bollywood with Rajkumar Hirani’s directorial debut Munna Bhai MBBS in which he was credited as co-editor. His close association with producer-director Vidhu Vinod Chopra saw him being launched as director — at age 50 — with Parineeta, backed by Chopra’s production house.
Based on Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s eponymous 1914 novella, Parineeta — embellished with a memorable soundtrack by Shantanu Moitra and a strong ensemble cast — was extensively shot in Calcutta and Darjeeling. It marked Vidya Balan’s Bollywood debut and also starred Saif Ali Khan, Sanjay Dutt, Dia Mirza and Raima Sen. Parineeta was a box-office success and also earned critical acclaim, establishing Sarkar as a film-making voice to watch out for. He won a National Award for Best Debut Director for Parineeta.
His second film Laaga Chunari Mein Daag — despite boasting big names like Rani Mukerji, Abhishek Bachchan, Jaya Bachchan, Anupam Kher and Konkona Sensharma — wasn’t received as well as Parineeta. Nevertheless, Sarkar’s signature elements — beautifully shot scenes, strong drama, lilting music — gave this film, distinguished by a memorable turn from Rani, its deep emotional core. “Rest in peace Dada. Thank you for the love and for making me a small part of your life. Will miss you. #PradeepSarkar,” tweeted Abhishek Bachchan on Friday morning.
Lafangey Parindey, Sarkar’s third film-making effort that starred Deepika Padukone and Neil Nitin Mukesh, failed to make the cut. But even in his failures, Sarkar remained a film-maker reputed for his lyrical beauty and his talent for strong storytelling.
The man bounced back with Mardaani in 2014, a film which gave Rani Mukerji — who played a tough-as-nails cop in the film — career 2.0 and is still counted as a female protagonist-led film with huge impact. Sarkar’s last film was Helicopter Eela in 2018.
Despite failing health, Sarkar powered on as a creative force, adapting to the changing times and foraying into the digital space. From romance in Coldd Lassi Aur Chicken Masala to drama in Arranged Marriage and Forbidden Love to action and mystery in Duranga, which released last year, he aced it all.
“When you work with people like Dada, you realise what experience really means and what makes people like him the way they are… so loved and so respected,” Rajeev Khandelwal, who had played the lead in Coldd Lassi Aur Chicken Masala, had told t2 in the run-up to the release of the show.
Sarkar was known as much for his love for food as he was for his passion for films. Food and chatter about food was a trademark of his sets, and so also was a garrulous Sarkar screaming and shouting orders, always good-naturedly. “He screams at everyone and yet every member of the team loves him,” Rajeev had told t2. A visit to the Telegraph office in 2018 in the company of Kajol to promote Helicopter Eela had Sarkar in high spirits, joking and laughing with everyone around.
He will be remembered
On Friday, tributes poured in on social media for Sarkar. Actor Ajay Devgan, who had co-produced Helicopter Eela, wrote: “The news of Pradeep Sarkar’s demise, ‘Dada’ to some of us is still hard to digest. My deepest condolences. My prayers are with the departed and his family. RIP Dada”.
Neil Nitin Mukesh tweeted: “DADA! Why? I’ll miss you dada. Will always remember you as that child hearted, full of life man who taught me so much. Your creation Lafangey Parindey will always remain close to my heart. My prayers with the family.”
Tahir Raj Bhasin, who debuted as a memorable villain in Sarkar’s Mardaani, said: “I will always remember him with eternal gratitude as the man who trusted me with Mardaani. He was a maestro whose experience and guidance gave me the confidence to act to my fullest potential in my debut film. He mentored and then gave me space to create a part and in this trust lay his genius. I remember being extremely nervous on Day One of shoot. It was a production-heavy day, we were holding up traffic and there were a 100 junior artists on set. An intimidating environment for a first timer. After my first take, I waited with bated breath as he watched the monitor. After what seemed like an eternity, he yelled out for the entire set to hear, ‘That was great!’. Just that validation from your first director still rings in my ears when I walk onto a set to this day.”