Asit Sen birth centenary: An unnoticed one

“Asitda was a glorious figure in Bengali middle cinema in the ’50s and '60s. His films were aesthetically rich and had appreciable content. His sense of lens use was really good and I shared warm support with him.” -Goutam Ghose

Kolkata: After the internationally famous trio of Indian cinema, Ray, Ghatak and Sen, Tapan Sinha, Ajay Kar and Asit Sen were directors who contributed significantly to the development of Bengali Cinema. Asit Sen was influenced by Hollywood and British cinema. He surely was not an art-house filmmaker in the true sense of the term. Yet his directional ventures like Chalachal, Agun, Deep Jwele Jai, Uttar Phalguni and Jiban Trishna are evergreen films.

In the mid-’90s, Asitda told me during an interview, ”I opted for literary-based themes as translating literature on celluloid was a challenge for me. My favorite creations remain Chalchal and Deep Jwele Jai. Handing actors, I discovered the unquestionable fluidity of Pahari Sanyal, the versatility of Uttam Kumar and the skill of Bikash Roy. Arundhati Devi needed to be brought out of her low-profile shell. Suchitra Sen needed control at right junctures.”

Asit Sen went on the sets with a well-written script. He improvised at work but never went for unnecessary commercial compromises. Asit Sen’s sense of music was superb. The entire theme of Deep Jwele Jai musically presented by the majestic whistling of Hemanta Mukherjee made the title sequence sublime. Suchitra Sen’s poetic close-ups in hundred lens effects were brilliant. Asit Sen with his back to the camera sat on the chair during the song sequence.

His sense of editing was also crisp. The climax of Chalachal where Arundhuti Devi walks with confidence as a nurse was a piece of true cinematic editing. As Bikash Roy delivers dialogue with two modulations in the court scene of Uttar Phalguni, Asit Sen proved how well he could handle actors. Says veteran director Tarun Majumdar, ”Asitda possessed the rare ability to keep the audience glued to their seats with his films. He respected the viewer’s opinions and cared for constructive criticism.”

Bhupen Hazarika made his debut as a composer in Bengali films with Jiban Trishna directed by Asit Sen. Hemanta Mukherjee, Asit Sen’s beloved music director fondly made space for Bhupen Hazarika. The songs of Jiban Trishna are memorable. Asit Sen requested Bhupen Hazarika to use the bamboo flute and violin counterparts for Jiban Trishna’s music scores. For one scene Asit Sen requested Uttam Kumar to lightly bite his lower lip to convey a romantic expression to Suchitra Sen in Jiban Trishna. Suchitra Sen reacted with an angular look and the shot was canned in one take.

Asit Sen shifted to Mumbai in the mid-’60s. He remade Uttar Phalguni as Mamata but it lacked the golden touches of the original Bengali version. Khamoshi the Hindi remake of Deep Jwele Jai was even poorer. V.Shantaram, Hrishikesh Mukherjee and even Dharmendra repeatedly requested Asit Sen to return to his roots in Bengal. He did not pay heed, got lost in mundane Hindi commercial cinema and took to drinking heavily. Mumbai film world was Asit Sen’s Waterloo.

He showed flashes of brilliance only in Annadata in 1972. Remembers Jaya Bachhan, ”Asitda made superb use of my close-ups in collage form picturising the sang Raton Ka Sayo Ghane. He handled emotions well.”

During the shooting of Bairaag, Asit Sen completely lost form and it was curtains for a memorable career.

Asitda returned to Bengal but could never revive his Midas touch. Paying him a rich tribute after his death, Mrinal Sen broke down and said, ”There will never be a second Asit Sen.”

Ranjan Das Gupta

is a Kolkata-based independent journalist. He has been doing freelance work for more than 3 decades and writes on arts & culture, cinema, politics, healthcare and education

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