In many instances, the relationship between a director and an actor can transcend the mentor and muse dynamic, and grow into a cherished friendship.
For Gulshan Ara Champa, a Dhallywood diva and prolific actress of her time, it was her relationship with critically-acclaimed Indian filmmaker Buddhadeb Dasgupta, a mentor with whom she would forge an almost familial bond.
Having starred in Dasgupta's award-winning film 'Lal Darja' in the late 1990s, Champa had been yearning to work with him again and the last time they spoke, the director even promised her another role in the near future.
Two months had passed since that conversation and although she had been intending to call him for the last few days, she never followed through.
But now, it is too late. The 77-year-old Dasgupta passed away in his sleep on Jun 9.
"I knew that he was suffering from kidney ailments, but never imagined his demise would be so sudden," a rueful Champa said.
Taking a trip down memory lane, Champa recalled the guidance and tips on acting she received from the directors which she treasures to date. Dasgupta won the National Film Award in India for the movie Lal Darja in 1997.
The cast included Champa, alongside her compatriot Raisul Islam Asad and Indrani Haldar from India.
"He used to love me like a younger sister and fondly called me 'Didi'. A friendship had developed between his family and mine while working for the movie Lal Darja."
"His wish will remain unfulfilled," she said.
Born in West Bengal's Purulia in 1944, Dasgupta was the recipient of countless national and international awards throughout his illustrious career. After graduating from the Scottish Church College in Kolkata, he initially started his career as a lecturer in economics.
But he would soon find his calling in filmmaking, starting with several documentaries in the late 1960s. Following the release of his first feature film 'Dooratwa' in 1978, Dasgupta went on to become a leading light in the parallel cinema movement in Bengal throughout the 1980s and 1990s alongside others such as Goutam Ghose and Aparna Sen.
Dasgupta was also a respected poet. Among his more notable works are ‘Suitcase’, ‘Himjog’, ‘Govir Araley’, ‘Coffin Kimba’, ‘Chhaata Kahini’, ‘Roboter Gaan’, ‘Sreshtha Kabita’, and ‘Bhomboler Ascharya Kahini O Ananya Kabita’.
Champa caught Dasgupta's eye with her performances in 'Padma Nodir Majhi', directed by Goutam Ghosh in 1993, and the Hindi film 'Target' by Sondip Roy in 1995.
"After watching those two movies, Buddha da felt that I'd be ideal for the lead role in Lal Darja," Champa said. "He managed to get my number and called me. 'I want you to do the lead role in this movie. I’ll announce it if you agree,’ he told me."
Champa did not think twice as she agreed to the offer over the phone.
“In those days, actors had to go for an audition to land a role in a movie. But he was convinced by my performances in the two movies and decided not to hold an audition for me.”
Champa went to Kolkata a few days before the shooting for the film started to come to grips with her make-up and looks for the movie, while rehearsing with her co-actors.
“While working with Buddha da, I learned a lot about acting. He taught us that an actor can internalise the role she is playing once she practices properly for it.
Highlighting Dasgupta's methodical approach to filmmaking, Champa recalled the lengths he would go to in order to ensure that she stayed in character.
"When I had to shoot a serious scene, he wouldn't let me talk to anyone leading up to the shot. He asked me to keep quiet and stay in the make-up room. I wasn’t allowed to talk over the phone. This is because he believed that talking to others could hamper an actor's concentration, which would, in turn, affect the role she is essaying."
“For dubbing, he always chose the morning, as people tend to have a deeper voice at that time of the day. He used to ask me not to talk to anyone after waking up in the morning, so I could give my best for the dubbing sessions. These are the things that I learned from him."
The two had been in regular contact since the release of Lal Darja and Champa would meet the director every time she travelled to Kolkata. The last time they met was before the coronavirus pandemic broke out.
“Once I had told Dada (Dasgupta) that I haven’t worked with him for a long time. He said his recent works didn’t have any roles that were suitable for me. 'If I am well, I’ll definitely make another movie with you in the near future,’ he said.”
Recounting her last conversation with Dasgupta, Champa continued: “He told us to be safe. He said he needed to go to the clinic sometimes for kidney dialysis but that he was still trying to be safe.
Despite his ailments, Champa remembers Dasgupta being strong mentally and speaking in a normal voice.
“We talked about the old days and remembered the small anecdotes from our shooting and dubbing sessions," she said.
The director had asked Champa to visit him after the pandemic abated. While the two were not fated to meet again, for Champa, the memories are sure to live on.
[Translated in English by Sabrina Karim Murshed, rewritten by Turaj Ahmad]