Fifty-nine years after its release, Bees Saal Baad’s evergreen chartbuster, ‘Bekaraar karke humein yun na jaayeye, aap ko humari kasam laut aayeye’ still haunts, taking me back to Biswajit’s debut Hindi film. Hemant Kumar’s first Hindi production was an adaptation of Ajoy Kar’s Bengali film Jighansa (1951), for which he had composed the music. Both films drew their inspiration from the Sherlock Holmes murder-mystery, The Hound of the Baskervilles.
Bees Saal Baad opened in 1962, premiering to a full house in Mumbai’s now-defunct Lotus theatre. Satyajit Ray and Dilip [Kumar] sahab were among the guests and Biswajitda watched the film sitting between Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle. “After the screening, Lataji invited us to her home for dinner. Her praise of my film and performance made the day even more special,” reminisces the actor who played Kumar Vijay Singh, who returns to his ancestral home to get to the bottom of a decades-old curse that hangs like a shroud over the Thakur family.
With Lataji’s compliments ringing in his ears, he then accompanied his mentor-producer to Delhi where he was introduced at a press meet in Hotel Ashoka. By then the film was already a blockbuster and the gathered media had plenty of questions for the debutant actor. While some wanted to know if he had been really terrified while filming in the daldal (swamp) in the dead of the night others quizzed him on his career in Bengali theatre and cinema before moving to Mumbai. “I answered the questions in flawless Hindi. Impressed, the local journalists surmised that I was a Punjabi actor, like the Daljits, Indrajits and Surjits they knew, who had gone to Bengal, learnt the language and made a mark there like other North Indians, like KL Saigal sahab,” Biswajitda laughs.
He would have corrected them had his producer not signalled him to keep silent. “It was only when Hemantda took the stage that he informed them that my full name was Biswajit Chatterjee and I was a true blue Bengali babu who had been born and brought up in Kolkata. It gave him great pleasure to dispel their galatfahmiya (error in judgement) and prove his protégé with his faultless zubaan (diction) was a perfect fit for not just his film but Bollywood too,” he adds.
The film had been a gamble for Hemant Kumar too. He was going through a career low and put all the money he earned from his film assignments and concerts into it, urging both Biren Nag and Biswajitda to give it their best. They didn’t disappoint. The latter who stayed with him when in Mumbai, was not only on the sets all day, he even turned up for music sessions and wanted to listen to the songs after they had been recorded. “I would rush home to Kolkata immediately at the end of a schedule, but I would return a couple of days early for the next, prepped up and ready to get going,” Biswajitda shares.
His infectious enthusiasm and unflagging energy paid off. Bees Saal Baad earned him the adage of ‘Suspense Hero from Bengal’ and by flagging off a new trend, he carved a niche for himself in Hindi cinema even while he continued to do a couple of Bengali films every year.
He remembers that when he flew down to Kolkata for the promotions of Bees Saal Baad, he had to wait it out in the office of Montu Basu, the owner of Basushree Cinema, after news of his arrival spread. “Had Montuda not stopped me, I would have been mobbed that day,” he admits, grateful for all the love he still gets in his home state and to Hemantda for giving him a dream launch. He had wanted to pay a musical tribute for his mentor on his birth centenary on June 16, 2020, but the coronavirus-induced pandemic hit his plans for a six.
“I was all set to do it this year, but the virus continues to rage. I don’t know when we will do the concert now but Hemantda, a great singer, composer and person, continues to live on in his music,” he asserts, humming “Mere geet tere dil ki pukar hai, jahan main hoon wahin tera pyaar kai, mera dil hai teri mehfil, zara dekh le aa kar parwana, tere kaun si hai mazil, kahin deep jale kahin dil...”, his favourite from the treasure trove his mentor has left behind.