Seldom we can find a person who qualified to be a fighter pilot, becomes a film maker instead. He was a musician, a singer and a film maker simultaneously. Such was the versatility of Shakti Samanta. We celebrate the Maestro’s 96 birth anniversary with this story by Sid Ghosh who was in conversation with Shakti Da’s son Ashim Samanta
Illustration by Indro Ganguli
While Yash Chopra is regarded as the ‘King of Romance’ in Indian cinema, Shakti Samanta undoubtedly is the ‘King of Emotions’. His Epic movie “Amar Prem” starring Rajesh Khanna and Sharmila Tagore clearly validates this given title. Besides Amar Prem, masterpieces like Amanush, Aradhana, Kati Patang and many more amaze us even today.
This year, we celebrate the Maestro’s 96th Birth Anniversary on 13th of January. Shakti Da, as we fondly called him was born in Bokra a village in the district of Bardhaman. He was probably more passionate about movies than his friends, which gave him a dream, a dream to be an actor in Bollywood Film Industry. He grew up in Dehradoon, so, after completing his education, he moved closer to the city of dreams “Bombay” now Mumbai, to fulfill this dream to become an actor in the Hindi film industry. The initial days were tough. He did a few odd jobs like school teacher or a banker with Punjab National Bank for few months in order to sustain.
In 1948, in spite of having no acquaintance in the industry, he managed to assist director Satish in Raj Kapoor starrer “Sunhere Din”. This marked the beginning of a new era. Soon doors of Bombay Talkies opened for him. He started working with film makers like Gyan Mukherjee and Phani Majumdar. It was here that his fluency in Hindi helped him immensely. The two Bengali directors whose Hindi was ineloquent found Shakti Da as an asset. He easily translated from Bengali to Hindi and could fluently converse with the crew. This made him their favorite and can be called the genesis of his success. He learnt the art of film making under the great director Gyan Mukherjee and also befriended another great personality – Ashok Kumar.
Bahu, 1954, was Shakti Da’s first work as an independent director. In 1957, he started his own production company, Shakti Films and made the murder-mystery Howrah Bridge starring Ashok Kumar and Madhubala. Interestingly, “Howrah Bridge” was born in a hospital bed when Shakti Da was recovering from an accident in a hospital. He narrated the story to Ashok Kumar, who almost immediately agreed to do the film. Kumar even convinced Madhubala to be a cast in the film.
The film received a predominant positive review on the basis of the direction and music, which was composed by OP Nayar. The iconic number “Mera Naam Chin Chin Chu“, by Geeta Dutt, and “Aaiye Meharban”, sung by Asha Bhosle, are still being listened to.
Shakti Da started making films on Social themes like Aradhana(1969), Kati Patang(1970), Anurodh(1977) and Amar Prem(1971). It was Shaktida who gave us the “First Superstar” of Bollywood Cinema – Rajesh Khanna. Shakti Da and Rajesh Khanna shared a beautiful friendship. Besides Khanna his friends included the story tellers, lyric writers and music directors. These creative people occupied most of his leisure time. One such was Pancham da, who used to visit him on regular basis. On the 4th of January 1994 Pancham da returned from a party at Shakti da’s residence. The same night RD Burman left us forever. Pancham’s death came as a shock to Shaktida. He missed his dear friend.
Shakti Da’s love for music clearly gets depicted in his movies. His profound knowledge in playing the flute was well appreciated, so was his ability to sing. While making the film Aradhana, Shakti Da bonded with RD Burman, Anand Bakshi and Rajesh Khanna. “Amar Prem” gave Lata Mangeshkar one of her finest classical solo of “Raina Beti Jaaye”, Kishore’s “Chingari koi bhadke”, “Kuch to log kehenge” will be remembered by generations. In an interview Shakti Da mentioned that Amar Prem was his favourite.
Shakti Da’s son Ashim Samanta, remembers the long music sessions where they used to sit for hours. Rajesh Khanna used to join the trio – Shakti Samanta, RD Burman and Bakshi Saab more often. Ashim mentioned “Dad wanted to join the Air force, and got through it as well. But when my grandmother came to know about it, she was very upset. She didn’t give him the permission, as we lost our grandfather when my dad was just 2 years old. He made Rajesh Khanna’s son – an Air force pilot in the movie Aradhana.” This way his dream of becoming an Air Force officer could come to life.
“Dad was an avid reader and he used to love Sarat Chandra the most. He had read all his books. He often used to tell me to read Sarat Chandra because you can never get any better emotions ever. He used to say you’ll get a lot of inspiration from Sarat Chandra’s stories that will help you in making films. Dad used to have his outdoor shooting often during our holidays may be because those were good months to shoot in hill stations. He used to take me along with him. I remember during “Kashmir ki Kali”, we were in Kashmir, while shooting “Saawan ki Ghata”, we went to Ooty. While shooting for the famous “Mere Sapno ki Rani” from Aradhana, we were in Darjeeling during the Diwali holidays. He used to take me for the music recordings as he knew I was very fond of music. So, right from my childhood, I have attended a lot of shooting and music recordings. He was an institution all by himself. It helped me make my movies later”, remembers Ashim Da.
Shakti Da directed 43 feature films, which include 37 Hindi, and 6 Bengali films. He worked with few of the Titans of Bollywood cinema like Shammi Kapoor, Rajesh Khanna, Uttam Kumar, Sharmila Tagore to name a few.
Today, to celebrate the Maestro’s birthday, I’m going to watch Shakti da’s and my all time favourite “Amar Prem” once again. People die but their stories stay forever.
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Sid is a dangerous addict… films, theatre, music, food, graphics, comics… name it and he is into it. His dreams are as wide as the sky. Blue, without suffering the blues. Chirpy, open, with a clear idea of sensing what a prospective client would find to be most comfortable with, he has a long list of organisations he has worked and what have you. His alchemy is a must concoction that readers will find exhilarating as they go along.