If a social scientist commissions a case study of Indian middle classes in the 1970s and 1980s, then Basu Chatterjee’s films would be sufficient evidence. If a happy-go-lucky moviegoer wants a compelling flavour of retro romance, then Basu Chatterjee’s films would be delightful specimens. The director who passed away last week was an expert in blending meaning with happiness, exactly why he is so relevant in these stressful times.
But first, it is important to paint the lovely nuances of the universe he depicted with great skill. The storylines were statedly simple, the actors seeking pleasing outcomes in life and love. Not exceptional but pleasing, a leading symptom of socialist India where a little meant a lot. As a consequence the barriers too were reasonably penetrable, the eager-beaver office colleague or the complicated in law. In most cases, the destination was eventually achieved with the predictable hiccups and the invariable heartburns. In this celluloid synopses of realistic living the songs were perfectly on cue, as enhancers of atmosphere and empowered co-narrators.
For the insatiably inquisitive, there were a few other nuggets in store. The culture of offices as marked by the regimented yet irreverent attitude towards bosses, who never failed to demonstrate their ethnic eccentricities. To be duly noted is the rich friend-poor friend equilibrium, cash in hand most definitely a precious presence. On romance, his undeniable leitmotif, he was liberal about age and class, most determined to unite every twosome who qualified in intuitive algorithms. On contextual detailing, there was sincere clarity for restaurants like Samovar and Kamling as well as the public commutes, which unified home and work.
What I found most fascinating was the optimality of ambitions, as mentioned earlier in the piece. Material upgradation was never usually the main motivator, an uninterrupted status quo with incremental improvements was highly acceptable. This was also the brand world of Amol Palekar and Vidya Sinha, the two stalwarts among the talented many who resonated with his creative camera angles. In their seemingly untainted visages lay the tale of that forgotten India, where a Bajaj Chetak was a luxury that had to be attained. I was born in that era and remember clearly how the lives of my extended family unfolded, not much different from these movies. Where polka dotted shirts and chiffon sarees were the pinnacles of indulgence, especially when journeying on a metered taxi and not a fare-paying bus.
If 2020 was a normal year, then Basu Chatterjee could be respectfully dismissed as beautiful nostalgia, but this has not turned out to be a normal year. A lot more potent than every other physical threat is the prevalence of complexity, in every form of human relationships. We are assuming the existence of enemies when none exist and trust towards friends is reaching recessionary lows and this is perhaps just the beginning. Even the content we are lovingly consuming is veering towards reality, be it the scintillating Paatal Lok or the imminent big screen releases. Our news channels and messenger groups succumb daily to these circumstances as our defensive instincts invade the intuitive strains of simplicity.
Which is exactly why I am earnestly seeking a comeback of that arguably naive yet definitely straight-bat world, where humanness scored over insecurities. Insecurities which are today validly rooted in survival and not just one upmanship, as has been the pattern of the capitalistic world. A world where people fall in love for the simplest reasons which may well be a glimmer in the eye or a genteel turn of phrase or indeed, just a glorious gait. Where conflicts are resolved over coffee in an art gallery and the monsoons surpass the finest theme park that money can access. Equally a world of honest arguments, where all in the mind is said sincerely and thus resolutions appear with consistent briskness. Most crucially, it is a world where humanity is the governing power, undeterred by the disturbing forays of wealth and territory or every such vice.
Quite truthfully, I do not have the game plan for resurrecting the values of Basu Chatterjee in this super-charged 2020. What I do know is that it makes tons of sense to board a time machine, PPE kits and masks in tow. To rediscover the musings of an otherwise defective and insufficient era, which happens to be a timeless benchmark in lovable living.
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