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The Humdinger’s Allure

The Humdinger’s Allure


Cinema is an art form which has become an extension of one’s imagination to an extraordinary degree of fantasy

By Somashis Gupta

Satyajit Ray’s oeuvre has been mesmerizing us irrespective of our generations for a very long time. By the way, the word ‘mesmerize’ comes from the last name of 18th century German physician Anton Mesmer, who believed that all people and objects are pulled together by a strong magnetic force, later called mesmerism. This is an information many of us may have acquired from Ray’s Shonar Kella. Probably Sidhu Jetha(a character from Feluda) was none other than Ray himself. Well, that is a different discussion all together.

Cinema is an art form which before long has become an extension of one’s imagination to an extraordinary degree of fantasy. The creation of the characters and the plots are an enigma in themselves, which requires understanding of psychology, marketing, languages, mythology and so much more.

So how does a filmmaker come up with such concepts? As someone said, “I keep observing my surroundings and the people near me, and I get my characters.” Probably this is the same way the maestro had formed his character Bhuthnath in his story Bhuto which was published in the magazine Sandesh in 1981.

Ray was probably a trifle more passionate about gathering news and events of all sorts across the globe than others of his times. This definitely gets reflected in his writings, movies and his other art forms. One such was ventriloquism -an ancient religious practice. The name comes from the Latin words ‘venter’ meaning belly and ‘loqui’ meaning to speak…. The ventriloquist would then interpret the sounds, as they were thought to be able to speak to the dead, as well as foretell the future. This art was later adopted by Fred Russell in his stage performance with his puppet Coster Joe.

Ventriloquist Probir Kumar Das with his famous puppet Michel
Ventriloquist Probir Kumar Das with his famous puppet Michel

In India ventriloquism was pioneered by Yeshwant Keshav Padhye way back in 1920s, however it was much later that it got popularised by sorcerer Probir Kumar Das. Das with his puppet Michel left the Indian audience awestruck with his performance. There was comedy, satire. Das picked up topics from day-to-day life and it was truly a charming ensemble. Amongst many others one such aficionado was Satyajit Ray and subsequently Bhuto was created.

Much later an incident which probably is a perfect example of comedy of errors revolved around Bhuto. It was the time when the television entertainment industry was dominated by Doordarshan. It was probably Sandip Ray’s initial days as a full time director that he was experimenting with a series called ‘Satyajit Ray Presents’ a collection of short stories of Satyajit Ray for Doordarshan. One such was Bhuto which cast Utpal Dutt and Pankaj Kapur.

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One morning, the city of Calcutta woke up to one of the most horrifying news of the era… “Utpal Dutt is no more”. Sandip Ray reading this was shocked and panicked as more than half of the shooting of Bhuto was yet to be completed. A mourning Sandip Ray along with some crew members rushed to Dutt’s residence with a bunch of white flowers. To their utter surprise, relief and happiness they found Utpal Dutt greeting them himself in the front yard. The events which led to this uproarious incident are worth mentioning. So here it goes…

Pankaj Kapur as Nobin and Utpal Dutt as Akrur Chaudhury in Satyajit Ray Presents "Bhuto"
Pankaj Kapur as Nobin and Utpal Dutt as Akrur Chaudhury in Satyajit Ray Presents “Bhuto”

The Hindi screenplay for this series was written by Akshay Upadhyay. As per the script of Bhuto,  a sequence shows Nobin (Pankaj Kapur) reading an article on Sunmarg (a newspaper) on Akrur Chaudhury’s (Utpal Dutt) death. Uapdhyay was mentioning about this that he will formulate a picture of Utpal Dutt along with the news. However perhaps because of the linguistic difference between a Hindi speaking Upadhyay and a Bengali journalist led to this confusion and the next day’s headlines wrote… ‘UTPAL DUTT PASSES AWAY’. But all is well that ends well and Utpal Dutt lived for many more years thereafter.

Such is the art of cinema which brings colour to our lives.

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