Shabana Azmi regards Basu Chatterjee as the true father of Middle Of The Road cinema.
"I loved the lines he wrote for his characters. They were so close to real life, I didn't have the audacity to change even a word of what he asked me to say on screen," Shabana Azmi recalls to Subhash K Jha about working with the late Basu Chatterjee.
"Basuda had a fierce temper," Shabana adds. "He would come down on erring actors and technicians in a jiffy. But not me. I never faced his fury. The only director who has ever lost his temper with me was John Schlesinger during Madame Souzatska. To pacify him, the crew would immediately serve him his favourite food, and he'd be fine."
"Basuda needed no such supplements to calm down. He was by nature sensible and restorative."
Shabana made three films with Basu Chatterjee.
"Swami and Apne Paraye were adapted from Sarat Chandra Chatterjee's stories. They were very powerful subjects with strong roles for me. In Swami, I played Soudamini who thinks she is married into the wrong family until she gets to know her husband closely."
Shabana recalls how she had a long discussion with Basu Chatterjee on the clothes her character should wear.
"We decided she should wear hand-bought inexpensive saris. Basuda asked me, 'I hope you know what sasti sariyan means? I bought them from those street hawkers in Kolkata who would go from door to door selling saris wrapped in a white cloth. Some of the saris were for Rs 300."
"If they looked elegant, it is because I inherited my sense of aesthetics and colour from my mother. She would say, 'Look at Nature. Every colour combination looks good in Nature, then why not in the clothes we wear?'"
Shabana also starred in Basuda's Jeena Yahan.
"Jeena Yahan got neglected. It is a little seen, but relevant film. I remember an incident during its shooting. I was supposed to be singing a song dangling my feet from a boat in the river. I told Basuda 'I thought there were crocodiles in the water', but he retorted with a straight face, 'That's okay. We are only focusing on your upper torso. The crocodiles are welcome to chew off your feet.'"
"And then he stuffed his handkerchief in his mouth and laughed his head off."
Shabana regards Basuda as the true father of Middle Of The Road cinema.
"He bridged the gap between art house films and mainstream cinema. He made films about true life stories and characters that were accessible to the average moviegoer. His attitude to cinema and to his characters was unsentimental to the point of seeming brusque," she says.
"But like Ismat Chughtai, Basuda's art was deeply compassionate."
"He was a master creator and a pleasure to work with. I wish I had met him again before his death."