By Utpal Borpujari
That Bimal Roy is one of the greatest filmmakers India has seen is stating the obvious. A man who debuted with such a path-breaking film as Udayer Pathe and went on to give other classics as Do Bigha Zamin, Madhumati, Yahudi, Sujata and Bandini, Roy was extremely versatile a filmmaker. From musical blockbusters to baroque tragedy to art-house neo-realism, he could shift genres effortlessly, wooing masses and critics alike, setting gold standards in whatever he did, as his filmmaker grandson Aditya Bhattacharya puts it.
His films still make for a mesmerizing viewing, whether they come on some channel or come alive via a DVD. It was Roy’s innate sense of cinematography – he started off as a cinematographer working with, among others, Pramathesh Chandra Barua – his understanding of social nuances, his excellent ear for music and superb grasp on story-telling combined to make him a complete filmmaker who has inspired generations of latter-day filmmakers. All this and much more have got captured in The Man Who Spoke in Pictures – Bimal Roy, a collection of essays on the man and his cinema.
Edited by Rinki Roy Bhattacharya, the auteur’s daughter, the book, divided in three sections – Bengal, Bombay and Beyond Borders – looks at Roy as a human being and as a filmmaker through the eyes of a vast range of people who knew him, worked with him or got influenced by his films. Some of the men whose writings adorn the pages of the book themselves are legends, whether it is author Mahasweta Devi or the late filmmaking genius Ritwik Ghatak. There is even a piece by Roy himself, on what was special about Saratchandra Chattopadhyay’s novels that they attracted filmmakers – he made Parineeta, Biraj Bahu and Devdas based on three of them – giving a peek into his thought process.
The book’s success lies in the fact that the set of authors who have contributed to it succeed in giving an almost complete picture of the maestro through their diverse viewpoints and reflections, some written specially for the tome and some reproductions of earlier published pieces. Some of the most interesting facets of Roy the filmmaker come alive in the book through people who got groomed by him, to emerge as eminent filmmakers themselves – Tapan Sinha, Ritwik Ghatak, Nabendu Ghosh, Gulzar, et al. Then there are actors like Shashi Kapoor and Nutan whose memories of the experience of working with him are part of the book, throwing light on how he utilized their talent and how he worked as a director. People from filmmaking world – Shyam Benegal, Jahnu Barua, A K Bir, Prasoon Joshi, Shantanu Moitra, Naseeruddin Shah – and also several film scholars from abroad analyse Roy’s cinema in the book, each one throwing light on some interesting aspect of it.
Some of the most-interesting parts of the book come in the form of the essays by Chidananda Das Gupta, Nayantara Sehgal, Shyam Benegal, Iqbal Masud, Maithili Rao, Soudhamini and Rada Sesic. But there are a few pieces that look hurriedly-written and less-researched, slightly diminishing the book’s luster. For example, in her otherwise interesting analysis of Roy’s work, Manju Seal makes the sweeping comment that apart from Roy, only a few other filmmakers like Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen, Shyam Benegal, Sudhir Mishra, Vishal Bhardwaj and Bhavna Talwar had used their art as a tool to raise questions in the audience’s mind, completely negating the socially-conscious filmmaking of a huge number of other directors over the years, including stalwarts like Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Girish Kasaravalli, G Aravindan, Buddhadeb Dasgupta, Ritwik Ghatak, Ketan Mehta et al. She also makes the erroneous comment that Salil Chowdhury, Roy’s favourite composer had spent his childhood in a tea garden in Darjeeling, while in reality it was in a tea garden in Upper Assam, more than a thousand km to the east, where he had grown up.
And yes, the book would have more complete had there been contributions from Hrishikesh Mukherjee, who was among those mentored by Roy, and Dilip Kumar, who partnered with the stalwart so successfully in Madhumati. This is not the first book analyzing the work of Roy, but is important for being able to see his life and work through so many eyes.