13 January 1926: Shakti Samanta, film director, was born

An Indian film director who made such memorable films as ‘Aradhana’, ‘Amar Prem’, ‘Kati Patang’, and ‘Howrah Bridge’ in a career spanning five decades, Shakti Samanta was born on January 13, 1926 in Burdwan,West Bengal.

After completing his education in Dehradun and Calcutta he took up a teacher’s job near Bombay so that he could be close to the film industry and try his luck at becoming an actor. But he became a part of the film world in 1948 as an assistant director to Satish Nigam in the film ‘Sunhere Din’. He worked with other directors as well in films like ‘Tamasha’ and ‘Dhobi Doctor’, eventually directing his first film ‘Bahu’, which released in 1955 and starred Karan Dewan and Usha Kiron.

He followed this with films like ‘Inspector’ and ‘Hill Station’. In 1957 he started his own production company Shakti Films. The first film under the new banner ‘Howrah Bridge’, starring Ashok Kumar and Madhubala, did well at the box office. Featuring such memorable songs as “Mera Naam Chin Chin Choo” (picturised on Helen and sung by Geeta Dutt) and “Aaiye Meherbaan” (picturised on Madhubala and sung by Asha Bhosle), ‘Howrah Bridge’ was a crime thriller.

The film critic Anupama Chopra writes: “Madhubala plays Edna, a club dancer who falls for the mysterious man fromRangoon, played by Ashok Kumar…O.P. Nayyar’s delightful soundtrack included ‘Mera Naam Chin Chin Choo’, which propelled a young Helen to fame. Howrah Bridge’s other pleasures include beautiful, soaring shots of Kolkatta and Madan Puri as the oriental villain Mr. Chang sparring with K.N. Singh…”  

In a 2009 piece in The Hindu on the film Vijay Lokapally wrote: “There are some rare shots of a sleepy Calcutta but surprisingly not one involving a tram, which was the most popular mode of transport in those days. In keeping with the cinema of the 50s and 60s, most shots have been caught by a static camera but then the close-ups of Madhubala make up for the drudgery that creeps in when Shakti Samanta struggles to maintain the pace in the second half.”  

In the 1960s Samanta made entertainers like ‘ChinaTown’ (1962), ‘Kashmir Ki Kali’ (1964) and ‘An Evening in Paris’ (1967). It was towards the end of the decade, however, that he made one of the most memorable films of his career. ‘Aradhana’, released in 1969, starred Rajesh Khanna (playing the role of Arun/Suraj, an air force officer in a double role as father and son), and Sharimla Tagore. In the film the legendary playback singer Kishore Kumar became the voice behind hit numbers featuring Khanna, a beginning of a very successful actor-singer pairing. With songs like “Roop Tera Mastana” (sung by Kishore), “Mere Sapno Ki Rani” (Kishore Kumar), “Kora Kagaz Tha Yeh Man Mera” (Kishore Kumar, Lata Mangeshkar) that remain popular to this day, the film was a big hit and made Khanna a superstar.

As M.L. Dhawan wrote in The Tribune in June 2009: “As Arun driving an open-jeep, serenading Vandana (Sharmila Tagore) to the strains of ‘Mere sapno ki rani kab aayegee tu...’ through the winding routes of a hill train in Darjeeling, he became an instant favourite. Also in the film, Rajesh Khanna made pre-marital sex permissible for the first time on the screen in an age of conventions and conformism.”

Samanta’s films of the 1970s include ‘Kati Patang’, ‘Amar Prem’, ‘Anuraag’, ‘Amanush’ and ‘The Great Gambler’.  

The 1972 film ‘Amar Prem’, based on a Bengali short story by Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay, features Sharmila Tagore in the role of a prostitute and Rajesh Khanna as a businessman who falls in love with her. Looking back at what made the film click, film critic Dinesh Raheja wrote in rediff.com: “The treatment of Amar Prem’s story and characters may not be entirely grounded in reality…but the film’s emotional appeal is undeniable. It probably lies in the in-built romanticism of the story and the heart-in-your-throat evocation of the supreme selflessness of lovers. ‘Amar Prem’ contends that true emotional fulfilment need not necessarily lie in a fructified relationship which ends with a marriage and the average two kids; it can also be found in a nameless bond between a man and a woman that transcends convention.”

Samanta who made fewer films after 1980 donned the director’s hat one last time in 2002 in the Bengali feature ‘Debdas’. He died on April 9, 2009 after suffering a cardiac arrest.

After his death the film critic Baradwaj Ranjan wrote in The New Indian Express: “[Samanta] hailed from the now-classic tradition of journeyman directors once contracted to studios and assigned to work on films of every stripe…what he lacked in auteurist ambition or signature, he made up for with his ability to skilfully shepherd everything from a glancingly noirish thriller like ‘Howrah Bridge’ to a social melodrama like ‘Amar Prem’ to a blessedly bubbleheaded romp like ‘An Evening in Paris’. There aren’t many filmmakers like that anymore.”

Also on this day:

1938 — Shivkumar Sharma, Santoor maestro, was born

1949 — Rakesh Sharma, the first Indian to travel in space, was born 

1985 — Madan Puri, Hindi and Punjabi film actor, passed away

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