Rinki Roy Bhattacharya has cinema in her veins, daughter of Bimal Roy, she married Basu Bhattacharya and collaborated on his films. Her book, The Man Who Spoke in Pictures, shows Roy’s spare storytelling and nuanced understanding of the human condition that are reflected in classics like Devdas, Sujata and Madhumati. In this book, his Bombay years are recorded through a collection of analyses and anecdotes from leading literary and cinematic luminaries, including Nayantara Sahgal, Gulzar, Naseeruddin Shah and Khalid Mohammed.
Here’s an excerpt where Shashi Kapoor reminisces his fondest memories of Dada.
I was little more than a boy when I first met Bimalda. I think it was at a movie premiere that we first met. He was a soft-spoken gentleman and I still remember his interesting eyes. By 1959, I was on my own with a small family and urgently in need of work, and of course, money.
We met again at a dinner at the Ritz Hotel in Churchgate. The Filmfare magazine had organized a talent contest; I did not go for the contest but went to the dinner later. I had to borrow a Jodhpuri coat for the occasion from Tiger (the Nawab of Pataudi). Within a week of this meeting I got a message from his company, Bimal Roy Productions, that he wished to meet me. I rejoiced at this news and literally flew to meet Bimalda at Mohan Studios.
Many of his assistants had assembled outside his room. Amongst them were Hrishida, Basu, Raghunath Jhalani and S. Khalil. They informed me that Bimalda was going to start two new films Bandiniand Prempatra (a remake of the successful Uttam–Suchitra Bengali film Sagarika). They suggested that I choose Prempatra as it had a good romantic role. For me, there was no question of choosing. Uppermost on my mind was the irresistible longing to work with Bimalda. Finally, I stepped into his room. He was having a quiet smoke, and after a long silence he said,‘Shoshibabu, ek picture banayga. . . I want you.’ I said, ‘Yes.’ Since that day when I first met him, I knew we liked each other. I was young, eager and excited at the prospect of working with Bimal Roy.
When I came out I met his assistants, all still sitting outside the room. They were curious to know. Gulzar asked me, ‘What happened?’ I said: ‘Dada is asking for dates.’
‘For which one?’ they asked me. I said I did not know. Dharam (Dharmendra) was also waiting outside Bimalda’s room. After almost a month we heard that Dharam was to be cast in Bandini while I was selected for the romantic lead in Prempatra. One day Bimalda asked me how much money I expected. I, quite frankly, felt awkward about talking money with him. He sensed my discomfort and said, ‘All right, tell me how much money is B. R. Chopra Productions paying you?’
‘Twenty-five thousand,’ I answered.
He was surprised and asked, ‘Are you sure they will pay you so much?’
‘Yes, they are pretty big producers,’ I replied
‘All right,’ he said. ‘I will pay you the same.’
Then shooting for Prempatra started. Bimalda, being the shy person he was, had forgotten to introduce me to Sadhana, the heroine. It was also her big film. So we introduced ourselves. I realized that whenever Bimalda was pleased with me, I would get to share his tea—special tea made and served by his man Friday, Ganpat. I was very proud to share his tea. Later, during the filming of Benazir, Meenaji was also invited to share his tea. We were both pleased by Bimalda’s affection for us.
I must tell you about another interesting incident. I was going to England in 1961 and Dada wanted some ambience shots taken in London for Prempatra. I was touched by the incredible faith he showed in me. He explained that due to the economic constraints and tight shooting schedule of Bandini he could not go to London. He explained the required shots and made me write them down, gave directions explaining the shots in detail. I protested, ‘Dada, but I have never shot a film.’
He simply said, ‘I know you can do it, I have seen you on the sets and know you can do it. My man in London will contact you, organize the camera but you take your own shots.’
‘All right, if you say so,’ I replied. We took the shots and some of them were used in the film.
Prempatra did not fare too well at the box office. That made Bimalda feel guilty, I do not know why, and whenever we would meet socially at premieres or other places, he would say, ‘Phirse tumko lega, hum ek saath kaam karega. . . you are one of us at BRP.’