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Basu Chatterjee (1930-2020): The Man with Little Affinity for Discipline and a Big Heart

Basu Chatterjee (1930-2020): The Man with Little Affinity for Discipline and a Big Heart

Basu Chatterjee's sense of humour was impeccable. There was not a single person in the crew who wouldn’t be grinning at his sharp wit.

My first conversation with Basu Chatterjee was over a phone call. Two days after Buddhadeb Dasgupta called me to tell that Basu Chatterjee wants to make a Bengali film and he wants me to be the cinematographer. Later, I got a call, from Mumbai, from Basu Chatterjee.

I can’t remember the details of the conversation with Basu Da but it was a long one. We decided on a date and time to meet at his house in Kolkata, in Ballygunge. We chatted about cinema, a lot about Bengali cinema and about Buddha Da’s cinema.

I asked Basu Da, “So, tell me the story?”

“No no, that will happen later. I still don’t know,” he said.

The shooting date got finalised. During one of the pre-shoot days at Basu Da’s house, we discussed the remuneration for the crew members. As everyone started leaving, Basu Da said, “Keshto? Ask that girl to fry some peyaji.”

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When I got up to leave, he said, “Where are you going? Sit sit.”

He then asked Keshto Da to get some snacks for me. Kehsto Da was the production manager. At this point, I started getting a little nervous. After all, sharing the first drink with Basu Chatterjee is no easy feat.

The conversations went on. In that one day, I felt I have understood him a little. He seemed like a young, jubilant boy. At least, his soul was.

On the first day of the shoot, during lunch break, Keshto Da came to me and said Basu Da is waiting for me. He took me to the Saturday Club, one of the posh clubs in Kolkata back then. Basu Da ordered food and two pegs of vodka. I said, “But we have to shoot, Basu Da.”

He responded, “So, what?”

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Basu Da was truly Bengali-it reflected in his work and the way he treated the crew members. I have worked with a long list of directors, but Basu Da was different. Whatever he felt-he would tell you at your face, even if that meant harsh words. He wasn’t very disciplined. At soon as it would struck 4:30 pm, he would announce, “pack up.”

His sense of humour was impeccable. There was not a single person in the crew who wouldn’t be grinning at his sharp wit.

Amol Palekar acted in a lot of Basu Chatterjee’s movies, with his quintessential common man looks. He also directed many movies. I have worked with him in three feature films as the Director of Photography. For him, discipline is very important. Everything is done within the stipulated time. Nothing beyond that. Working with Buddhadeb Dasgupta was another experience-no one knew when we would pack up.

But Basu Da was just different. He didn’t care about little things like discipline and time--he was just a lot of heart and soul. He was full of affection.

This is my tribute to Basu Chatterjee, my memories of him.

Asim Bose is a national award-winning cinematographer who has worked with Basu Chatterjee on two feature films. 

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