Tarun Majumdar: Last of the famous four

With Tarun Majumdar’s death earlier this month, Bengali cinema lost the last of its famous four of Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen, Tapan Sinha and Majumdar

Tarun Majumdar
Tarun Majumdar

Nilosree Biswas

Tarun Majumdar, who passed away last week, was an auteur who had a distinct style of storytelling. With works spanning across five decades, he was a popular film director in Bengal.

Majumdar started by collaborating with a group called ‘Yatrik’ (pronounced ‘Jatrik’ in Bangla) with his partners Sachin and Dilip Mukherjee. Kancher Swarga (The Glass Heaven, 1962) won him his first National Award. Like Yash Chopra, Majumdar was deeply moved by the Partition and their films were imbued with realism and social consciousness, delving into lives looking for hope. Both in their later years turned to making romantic films.

Palatak (The Absconder, 1963) was his first vendure as an independent director though. An out of the box story of driftwood, Palatak was produced by V. Shantaram. This was a time of fluidity in the film industry with writers and directors working for both Hindi and regional films.

Palatak which was later made into Hindi and was titled Rahgir (1969) along with his acclaimed film Nimantran (Invitation, 1971) were born out of his wanderlust.

Bimal Roy’s Sujata (1959) and Majumdar’s Nimantran (1971) too were close cousins. Separated by a decade, both scripts revolve around marriages in a casteist society, critiquing Brahmanical orthodoxy. While Sujata concludes on a happy note, Nimantran ends on a slightly contemplative, grim note of lost dreams.

From 1963 to 1978, Majumdar produced a range of films including titles like Ektuka Basha (Our Little Nest, 1965), Balika Bodhu (The Child Bride [in Bangla, 1967] and Hindi, 1976), Sriman Prithviraj (Mr. Prithviraj, 1973), Thagini (The Lady Thug, 1974), Phooleshwari (1974), Sansar Simanta (On The Margins of Society, 1975) and Gandadevta (The People, 1978).

Tarun Majumdar: Last of the famous four

His films were often an ode to existentialism, telling stories of lives on the margin; of prostitutes, the drunk, hooch makers, gamblers, petty thieves, and drifters. They reflected the angst and activism of the late sixties and seventies in Bengal, the pitless poverty and unemployment.

And then came the turning point towards glossy romantic cinema. While Majumdar courted romance for the first time in his blockbuster Dadar Kirti (Deeds of My Elder Brother, 1980), Chopra had already made the transition a year earlier with Noorie (1979) followed by the much-discussed love story Silsila (1981).

Dadar Kirti was followed by Bhalobasha Bhalobasha (Love Only Love, 1985). Breezy romantic narratives, twined with melodious music became the staple of his films, distant from his own earlier works that dealt with unexpressed or unrequited love as in Nimantran, Thagini, or Sansar Simante.

Majumdar’s characters were real and relatable; like an army doctor like Sanjay (Kancher Swarga), a nonconformist like Hiru (Nimantran), a driftwood like Basanta (Palatak), a livewire like Kumudini (Nimantran), an innocent like Kedar (Dadar Kirti) or a young couple like Amal and Rajani (Balika Badhu, Hindi).

(This article was first published in National Herald on Sunday.)

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