When we exclusively talk about the Golden era of Bangla cinema, we address the time when Bangla cinema was at its peak. The period loosely considered between 1952 to 1975 marked an era that not only elevated Bangla films in stature, but also catapulted Indian cinema in general to an International platform. Within that time frame, 11 Bangla movies won the Indian National Award for best film.During that period, Bangla films were not just being remade in Hindi, but popular Bangla songs too were being adapted for a larger Bollywood audience.Also at that period, Bangla movies were also making their mark in various film festivals around the globe, primarily with the contributions from Legendary Satyajit Ray, Ritwik Ghatak and Mrinal Sen.
Even though the Golden age of Bangla films has become almost synonymous with names of Ritwik-Mrinal and Satyajit, and even if any remote mention of classic Bangla films resurfaces the names of these legends in memory before anyone else’s, it would be ignorant to assume that quality content in Bangla cinema came from only select few. The fact that popular literature and media have somehow failed to look beyond the shadows of these stalwarts while dealing with this era, has largely attributed to this.
As a result, in the Bangla community itself, we somehow forgot the unsung heroes of the Bangla industry. To us, Bangla films of golden era only reminds us of marvels like Pather Panchali, Apur Sansar, Meghe Dhaka Tara, Bhuvan Shome, etc; comedies like Sare Chuattor, Bosonto Bilap and sometimes even the legendary pairing of Uttam-Suchitra. But, as the dust of time kept getting thicker, we somehow kept forgetting that there existed an ensemble of versatile storytellers par excellence like Tapan Sinha and Tarun Majumdar; that there were acting giants like Rabi Ghosh and Anup Kumar; and that there were outstanding character actors like Pahari Sanyal and Bikas Roy who’s contributions to Bangla cinema speak for themselves even after many decades of their fading away.
Let’s revisit and take a look at some unique gems from the Golden era of Bangla cinema, not directed by the legendary R-M-S which deserve more appreciation. The list is not in anmy specific ordere, but if you havent seen any of these, we would strongly recommend watching these masterpieces.
Director: Jatrik (Tarun Majumdar, Sachin Mukherjee, Dilip Mukherjee)
Released in 1963 this film has the distinction of having 3 directors in its credits. This story of a bohemian man, who has the habit of escaping without notice was directed by Tarun Majumdar, Sachin Mukherjee and Dilip Mukherjee. Much before we had a wanderlust bitten Bunny from Yeh Jawani Hai Diwani, we had our very own Basanta Chattuje who by breaking the bonds of commitment, keeps roaming around, trying to find new people and see new places with a lasting persuit for happiness. Basanta leaves behind the comfort zone of a rich life, and escapes hoping to see the world in a new light.The film was written by Manoj Basu with Tarun Majumdar himself while he was still a part of Jatrik.
The performance by Anup Kumar, who won a BFJA for this film, is a timeless work of brilliance, so much that sometimes it pains to see how this gem of an actor was underutilized in Bangla films. Apart from Anup Kumar, the film also boasts of terrific acting performances by Sandhya Roy, Anubha Gupta and Ruma Guha Thakurta.But befgore we move on, it will be a crime to not mention its cult music by the legendary Hemanta Mukhopadhyay. Though “Jibanpurer Pathik re bhai” may still be an unparalleled classic melody by the standards of music, but “Krishna kalo andhaar kalo” and “Mon je amar Kemon Kemon kore” are some other tracks that give it a run for its money in this wonderful though criminally underrated album.
Director: Tapan Sinha
The film, written and directed by legendary filmmaker Tapan Sinha, is a simple tale of fate.
The film follows the journey of a harmonioun as it changes hands and the way it becomes the reason for trouble everywhere it goes. A story where an object becomes the pivotal part of the narrative with the lives and circumstances of the characters weaved around it, is something we have seen recently in Kaushik Ganguly’s Laptop. But, what stands out in this film is the subtle and delicate handling of the character’s emotions and the brilliant execution of a layered narrative which was way ahead of its time.The presence of actors like Samit Bhanja, Anil Chatterjee, Asit Baran, Chaya Devi and Santosh Dutta show how a magnificent ensemble of character actors can work together to let the story take centre stage while each playing crucial roles at their own levels.
The music for the film was composed by the director Tapan Sinha himself and showcases the multifaceted talent of the legend. The movie is a striking yet simple example of the fact that a story well told can work wonders even witout the peresence of stars in it.
- MARUTIRTHA HINGLAJ(1959)
Director: Bikash Roy
Directed by Bikash Roy, the movie is based on a travelogue by Kalikananda Abadhut. It is an adventure drama which follows a religious but dangerous journey to a sacred temple at Hinglaj where a group of pilgrims travel to wash off their sins.
Bikash Roy donning the hat of both the director and the lead character delivered a performance that made the character immortal on celluloid despite the presence of Mahanayak Uttam Kumar. Anil chatterjee’s acting as Rooplaal and Sabitri chatterjee’s portrayal of dying Kunti is brilliant to say the least.The film was too ambitious for its time in the late 1950s, when it was almost unthinkable to make an adventure-survival drama in a regional language.Nervertheless, the films was not only made, but captured stunning visuals of the dessert as a raw and barren land making it another character in the story.The film has withstood the test of time, and is remmembered not only for its achievement in cinematic excellence, but also for the sheer determination of its makers that made it a landmark film that it is today.
- SESH ANKA (1963)
Director: Haridas Bhattacharaya
Sesh Anka showcases a different side of Uttam Kumar’s portrayal of heroism. Directed by Haridas Bhattacharaya and inspired by the 1958 British film Chase a crooked shadow, tells the story of a woman who surprisingly shows up in a man’s second wedding and claims to be his dead wife.
The masterstroke played by writers Haridas Bhattacharya and Raj Kumar Moitra is that of changing the character of the uninvited dead-brother in the original to that of an uninvited dead-wife. The film is unarguably considered to be one of the best thrillers ever made in Bangla. The ending with some twists deliveres finest yet one of the strangest performances by Uttam Kumar.The film evolves into a courtroom drama midway and the duel between the characters of Kamal Mitra and Utpal Dutta as the two opposing lawyers, raises few scenes to a different level of brilliance.The inherent dark humor and some deliberate comic reliefs in the courtroom scenes make it one of best courtroom dramas in Bangla.The film also has brilliant performances by Bikash Roy and Sabitri Chatterjee along with some stereotypical portrayal of father-daughter duo by Pahari Sanyal and Sharmila Thakur.
Even today, the film is relevant and can serve as a textbook on writing thrillers.
- ASHITE ASHIONA(1967)
Director: Sree Jayadratha
Well, Bhanu Banerjee needs no introduction and you know you’re up for a joyride when he is the lead character of a movie. Ashite Ashiona is a fantastic mixture of comedy and fantasy. This is arguably one of the best works by Bhanu Bannerjee along with Jamalaye Jibanta Manush and Bhanu Goyenda Jahar Assistant. However, this film gets the edge due to its subject and uniqueness in the story which is an eighty year old man accidentally finding a pond which makes him young again. The film carefully walks through the thin line between slapstick comedy and forceful laughter. Ruma Guha Thakurta, Asit Baran, Rabi ghosh and off course Jahor Roy compliments and enriches the story while setting it class apart from regular comedy movie.
- GOLPO HOLEO SOTTYI(1966)
Director: Tapan Sinha
Well, technically this is not underrated but we still think it should deserve more recognition than it gets now. In many forums, it has been recommended as a comedy or family drama, but Golpo Holeo Shottyi is much more than that. The film is layered and wrapped with pure joy and it always gives you a feel of watching a family next door. It portrays the generation gap and the economic disparity among the brothers in a magnificent way. The film teaches us so many things without being preachy. Rabi Ghosh in his portrayal of Dhanajay is more relatable than his Hindi counterpart. The supporting casts are filled with fabulous actors Bhanu Bannerjee, Ajoy Ganguly, Chaya devi, Bharati Devi and others. The movie is like a masterclass of comedy writing with variety of comedy styles – it has sarcastic comedy, dark humor, slapstick Charlie-chaplin-fast-paced laugh along with wonderful pop culture references like Chaya devi talking about a movie starring Chaya devi. Arguably one of the best movies made by Tapan Sinha.
This list is in no way conclusive and of course, there are many other movies which can be added to this list (we can probably fill up the list only with Tapan Sinha or Tarun Majumdar films).
However, these films probably best showcase how versatile and rich Bangla films of Golden era were. The films not only had a vast range of genre and subject, but also received critical acclaim along with box office success.These films actually paved way for other filmmakers to go ahead experiment with different subjects so much that the impact of these films can still be seen in recent Bangla movies.
Although Golden era is a superficial term for any evolving art form, we simply cannot ignore the impact of these movies in the history of Bangla cinema.