Prominent director of Bengali and Hindi films, Nabyendu Chatterjee is known for films such as Mansur Miar Ghora (2000), and Aaj Kal Parshur Galpa (1981). Recipient of the National Award for his much acclaimed feature film Parashuramer Kuthar (1989), he made more than 20 feature and documentary films in the course of his career. A protégé of the renowned Ritwik Ghatak, he was known for making hope-filled films which portrayed the triumph of the human spirit over all adversities. He also tackled topical issues such as corruption and social apathy as seen in films like Shahider Baba and Mastermoshai. He occupied a special place in the Bengali intellectual circuit.
Born in 1937, he grew up with five siblings and a strict father—his mother had passed away when he was little. The creative urge in him led him towards writing poems and stories, which he found fulfilling. He imbibed his artistic leanings from his father who was a veterinary doctor by profession and a musician by passion.
He started his career as a radio artist, doing it all from plays to talks. However, he didn’t feel the medium answered his artistic longing. Things took a different turn once he met acclaimed director Ritwik Kumar Ghatak. Becoming inclined towards cinema, he began to see the wide scope of cinematic language. It was a meaningful beginning and he worked with Ghatak, and learnt a lot from him.
Starting his career in 1962 as an actor, he soon took to direction. Also credited occasionally as Nabyendu Chattopadhyay, he worked as an assistant with Bengali director Aravind Mukherjee from 1962 to 19655. In 1967, he made his first feature film in Hindi, Naya Rasta. It apparently went unreleased due to financial issues. It was soon followed by his Bengali directorial, Adwitya (1968). He continued directing in Bengali cinema, exploring several vital themes. If his Aaj Kal Parshur Galpa bemoaned the passing of his notion of village life in Bengal, in Chopper (1985) he depicted the Calcutta middle-class sense of disorientation which turns politically and economically weak men into violent oppressors of women. The women in his films tended to stand for the values of a pre-modern patriarchal order. He evidently tried to extend Mrinal Sen’s early-70s approach in the 80s.
Films like Aaj Kal Porshur Galpa (1981) and Chopper (1985) established him as an off-beat filmmaker. Known as an independent, offbeat director in the parallel and art film genre, some of his notable films include Sharisreep (1987), Parashuramer Kuthar (1989), Atmaja (1990), Shilpi (1994) and Mansur Mianer Ghoda (2000). His Ranur Pratham Bhag, a Bengali drama film which he directed and produced, was based on a story of the same name by Bibhutibhushan Mukhopadhyay. It earned child artiste Neera Maliya the National Award for Best Child Artiste. His Parashuramer Kuthar was based on a story by renowned author Subodh Ghosh. It won lead actress, Sreelekha Mukherji, the National Film Award for Best Actress for her performance.
As a writer, he also penned the screenplays of the films Adwitya (1968), Chithi (1973), and Shilpi (1994). He also translated literary stories into film scripts himself. In 1981, Chatterjee made Sarisreep based on Manik Bandopadhyay's story. His last finished work Mansur Miyar Ghora attracted a positive response soon after release. He could not complete his last film, Sanskar, a project he had pursued for years.
Inspired by his own struggle, he explored film as a journey of discovery. From studying a woman’s pain to an old man’s dreams, his films brought the realisation that every journey has its share of pain. He believed that just when he was discovering new things, had come into his own and started understanding the medium, the journey appeared to be reaching a close.
Nabyendu Chatterjee passed away following a massive heart attack in his North Kolkata residence on 14 January, 2009. He was 71.