Biswajeet – Memories
Though I was born in Calcutta, we kept shifting from one state to another — wherever my father was transferred. He was an army doctor. Being the only son, I was very close to my mother, who had an artistic temperament. At 13, I was grief stricken when she died. On the other hand, my father has always been a practical and conservative man. When he got to know that I was more inclined towards acting in plays and films, he was not very pleased. In fact, once he knew how serious I was about pursuing this profession, he feared for me.
Moreover, we lived in a joint family, and my relatives kept instigating him. I don’t blame my father for being wary. They painted such a sordid picture of an actor’s life, raising foolish objections like, ‘Who’ll want to marry into an actor’s family?’ They were the ones at fault.
In spite of my seat being reserved at the Dehradun Military Academy, I refused to continue with my studies. My father was livid. I made things very clear and declared openly that I only wanted to be an actor. I was thrown out of the house. With the money I had on me, the only alternative was to find work. I checked into a hostel and joined a professional theatre group called Rang Mahal, as an extra. It was only later, when my father saw me perform on stage, that he realized that I was good at my job. One of my directors played a crucial part in bringing us together again later, during the shooting of a film. Initially, the romantic scenes used to worry him. But when he learnt how we performed in front of everyone, he understood. From then on, he inspired and encouraged me to reach the top and be a success at the profession I had chosen.
While I was doing a play in Calcutta, I noticed Guru Dutt, his wife and Abrar Alvi in the front seat. Later, they came backstage and invited me to dinner with them, at the Grand Hotel. In the play, ‘Sahib Bibi Aur Gulam’, I had played the hero. Guru Dutt wanted to make it into a film and offered me the same role. I came to Bombay and he introduced me as a hero, to Meena Kumari and Waheeda Rehman.
It was my misfortune that I could not work with him. The problem was, he wanted me to sign a five-year contract with him. I was very hesitant, especially after Hemant Kumar and Hrishikesh Mukherji advised me, that Guru Dutt was a very whimsical man. What if he didn’t make a film? I took my decision and went back to Calcutta. After which, he played the hero in the Hindi version and Uttam Kumar, in the Bengali version.
In Calcutta, my film career began with a small role in Dakharkara. I even played Krishna, in a mythological film, Kansa. After Maya Mrig, which was a big hit, I was a big success, an established actor. I gave many silver and platinum jubilees.
During this time, Hemant Kumar came to see me. He was planning Bees Saal Baad and wanted me to play the hero opposite Waheeda. I accepted, and quit Calcutta to come to Bombay once again. In spite of being a Bengali, I didn’t have any problems with Hindi, because I had stayed for long periods in Delhi, Meerut… In fact, many people thought I was a Punjabi boy. The film was a big hit and I shifted permanently to Bombay.
My father was always worried that I would get involved with some ‘drama karne wali’. So once I made it, he decided that it was time for me to get married. Since I had already revolted once, I could not protest. This time, I wanted to please him and I did. But when I shifted to Bombay, she (my wife) preferred to stay on in Calcutta. Right from the beginning, my marriage wasn’t at all smooth sailing. But it’s difficult to put the blame on anyone. I was too busy those days, so I couldn’t be very attentive to her. Plus, there was the gossip that she had to contend with. It’s destiny… Much later, we separated mutually. I have two children from this marriage — a son and a daughter. To date, they’re both with her.
Even though Waheeda was already a star during Bees Saal Baad, she was very cooperative and made me feel very comfortable. After a long gap, I recently worked with her again in Allah-Rakha. I have a lot of respect for this dignified lady.
I went on to do Do Dil, Shehnai, Sagai... with Rajshree. She was a lovely person. At that time though, she was a little childish. Impulsive, she would keep hugging everyone, jumping around and was always up to pranks. When I was in Los Angeles recently, she phoned me, when through the newspaper, she got to know that I was there. All my heroines were friendly with me, because I used to make them feel very comfortable. For instance, I knew Sharmila from her Calcutta days. And during Yeh Raat Phir Na Aayegi, Tiger would drop in during the lunch hour, and we’d talk at length.
Those days, my competitors were Shammi Kapoor, Joy Mukherji, Rajendra Kumar, Sunil Dutt… But each one had his own kind of image. After my first film, I was called the ‘suspense hero’ but I didn’t get slotted. I went on to do many romantic musicals like Mere Sanam, Kohra, Yeh Raat Phir Na Aayegi, April Fool. And social films like Do Kaliyaan, Nai Roshni, Aasra… Those days, action was not in. Though I did do the Bond kind of roles in Kismat, Night In London, etc. I even did an off-beat film called Raahgir, in which I had a deglamorized role. Though it didn’t do well commercially, it got fascinating reviews and I was nominated for the National Award.
Basically, I am a lover of music and in a way, I have been very lucky. Throughout my career, I’ve had wonderful songs picturized on me, like ‘Bekarar karke humein…’, ‘Yeh nayan daare daare se…’, ‘Pukarta chala hoon main…’, ‘April Fool banaya…’ Not only that, I’ve even sung many numbers for HMV and Polydor.
My maximum number of films, were with Mala Sinha. Phir Kab Milogi, Tammana, Pyar Ka Sapna, Do Kaliyaan, Aasra,.. We were very good friends and shared a wonderful rapport, which made things comfortable. Of course, there were plenty of rumors, a lot of gossip about us having an affair, but… Even today, when we met at Jayshree T’s wedding, we talked till midnight. The photographers kept clicking us together, but there was no awkwardness at all. In fact, I offered her a lovely role in the film I’m producing, but she’s given up acting. So I signed Moushumi instead.
During the shooting of Phir Kab Milogi in Kashmir, her husband used to sing Nepali songs to us. He was very friendly with me, a truly loveable person.
Without peace of mind, it’s very difficult to concentrate on your work. Especially when you’re in a creative field like films. I was very disturbed because of the way my marriage and personal life was going. Obviously, it started affecting my work. I started drinking and smoking a lot.
During this time, I produced and directed Kehte Hain Mujh Ko Raja, with Rekha, Dharam and Shatru. Since I was already making Bengali films, I decided to try my hand at Hindi films too. The film didn’t do well and this was another setback for me. Due to this, I signed many Bengali films. The Bombay producers started feeling that because I’d turned producer, I was not interested in doing their films. Moreover, I was in Calcutta most of the time, because of the films I’d signed.
It was not long before I remarried. And my second wife pulled me out of the rut I’d fallen into. She saw me through this lean phase. I was never a shrewd businessman, hence I got into a couple of wrong set-ups and many took advantage of me. In production there’s always a lot of leakages. One can’t do everything and I suffered a severe loss. Even then, I continued to produce many Bengali films. Not only that, I even directed films for other producers, of which many have even won awards.
Recently, I launched a tri-lingual film — Hindi, Bengali and Oriya, titled Raat Pyar Bhari, with Tapas Pal and Namrata. There was a lot of speculation regarding the casting, since my own son Prasanjeet, signed Pehlaj Nihalani’s film, as his debut making film. Yes, I did hear of his statement to the Press, that he didn’t want his name associated with mine. On my part, I tried to make an effort at patching things up, but he’s not willing to meet me halfway. He has a one-track mind and has decided things in his mother’s favor. But I don’t repent for anything I’ve done and it doesn’t hurt me either. I’m not forcing him to acknowledge me as his father. It’s entirely his wish. Can I deny being my father’s son? He can deny it if he wants to, but the fact still remains! (As told to Santosh Sud in 1990)