A contemporary of golden-age Bengali film-makers Satyajit Ray, Ritwik Ghatak and Mrinal Sen, Tapan Sinha has passed away at the age of 84. He was one of the true greats of Indian cinema.
Born in Kolkata and educated in Patna, Tapan was sympathetic to Gandhi’s Quit India movement founded in 1942. He also found common accord with the great British and American directors of the period who focused on social issues — directors such as John Ford, Carol Reed and Frank Capra. His love of Dickens and film-making was inspired by the 1935 version of A Tale of Two Cities with Ronald Colman in the lead role.
Tapan joined the movie industry in the late 40s in Kolkata, firstly for New Theatres and then Movietone. His work as a sound engineer was soon appreciated and he was invited to work for legendary British director Charles Crichton at Pinewood Studios in the UK. It was during this period that he discovered the Italian Neorealist cinema directors Federico Fellini, Roberto Rossellini and Vittorio De Sica, who further influenced his vision.
Returning to India in 1954, Tapan began making his own films. His first work was Ankush (1954) which had the audacious idea of using an elephant as the lead character. His first big hit was Kabuliwala (1956) about a migrant Afghan fruit seller. A stunning performance by its star Chhabi Biswas led to a nomination for the Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival. Kabuliwala was based on a story by Tagore and over the next ten years, Tapan completed a trilogy of works based on Tagore’s oeuvre with Kshudita Pathan (1960) and Atithi (1965). Both won National Awards
Tapan’s fame grew and Bollywood stars began asking to work with him. Dilip Kumar and Saira Bainu starred in Sagina (1974) in both Bengali and Hindi versions. One of his more unusual films was a children’s movie — Aaj Ka Robinhood, released in its English version as The Return of Robin Hood.
Tapan’s last film was Ek Doctor Ki Maut (1991) bringing him into the modern age of Bollyood. It starred Shabana Azmi and Irrfan Khan. Tapan finished his career by winning the National Award as Best Director. He then shifted to television making Daughters of the Century (2001) again with Shabana Azmi and also Nandita Das.
In 2008, Tapan Sinha received the Dadasaheb Phalke Award from the Indian Government in recognition of his contribution to cinema. Two of Tapan’s fims will be shown at the Edinburgh International Film Festival (18-20 June) in a retrospective of Bengali cinema.
Tapan Sinha (1924-2009)