15 Jan : Master story teller Tapan Sinha, whose cinematic works focused on the struggles of the common man, died in Kolkata on Thursday after prolonged illness. A Dadasaheb Phalke award winner, Sinha, 84, was suffering from pneumonia and septicaemia, hospital sources said. He is survived by a son. His actress-wife Arundhuti Devi died in 1990.
The veteran film-maker had been in and out of hospital over the past few years and was undergoing treatment at a hospital since December last year.Charles Dicken’s ‘A Tale of Two cities’ and its film version prompted Sinha to join films and he went on to become an uncompromising film-maker in a class of his own.
An avid follower of American directors like William Wyler and John Ford, he entered the film world as a technician. He completed his journey there with 41 films, 19 of which won National Awards and laurels from international film festivals of London, Venice, Moscow and Berlin.
His cinematic works were mostly down to earth depictions of the struggles of the common man.His first film ‘Ankush’ was released in 1954, a year before Satyajit Ray’s ‘Pather Panchali,’ and despite making classics like ‘Kabuliwallah,’ ‘Ek Doctor Ki Mauth,’ ‘Nirjan Saikate,’ ‘Haate Bazare’ and ‘Admi aur Aurat,’ Sinha is possibly a lesser discussed director compared to his peers.After completing M.Sc in Physics from Calcutta University, Sinha joined the New Theatres Studio in 1946 as assistant sound recordist.
Two years later he shifted to the Calcutta Movietone Studio and in 1950 he got the opportunity to work in the Pinewood Studio in London.There he got to watch the works of greats like Federico Fellini, Vittorio De Sica and work in director Harles Cryton’s unit as sound engineer.
He used the trip to learn in totality the art of film-making. After returning, he made ‘Ankush’ (1954) with an elephant belonging to a ‘zamindar’ as the central character, a whole new idea at the time, but it bombed at the box office.
Sinha’s next two films Upahaar (1955) and Tonsil (1956) were somewhat successful, but it was Kabuliwallah (1957), his fourth film, that gave him solid footing and from there he did not have to look back.
Kabuliwallah, based on a short story by Rabindranath Tagore, won the President’s Gold Medal for the best film of the country.
The film, however, was not technically sound and Sinha was to later write that Satyajit Ray and Raj Kapoor had told him about its poor technical quality.
Like his favourite directors Wyler and Ford, Sinha had a large canvas and he never made two films on the same subject. Lauha Kapat (Life in Jail, 1958), Khudito Pasan (Haunted House, 1960), Jhinder Bandi (Prisoner of Jhind, 1961) till his last film Daughters of the Century in 2002, the list is endless.
The strong point of Sinha’s work was that he was a master storyteller. He never believed in presenting his ideas in a complicated way to his audience. His films were quintessentially focused on middle-class Bengali life.