Hindi and Bengali film actress, producer and director, Protima Dasgupta is known for films such as Chhamia (1945), Pagle (1950) and Jharna (1948). She established her own production company – Protima Productions.
She was born in 1922 in Bhavnagar, into a wealthy family. She went on to study briefly in England, and then at Rabindranath Tagore’s Santiniketan, where she was said to be a favoured student. She made her film debut in Naresh Mitra’s Bengali drama film Gora (1938) based on Tagore’s novel of the same name. She played Lalita, in the tale that revolved around Gora and Mahim, two sons of Krishna Dayal. Binay, Gora's childhood friend introduces him to a Brahmo Samaj family. Conscious about his Hinduism, Gora likes to represent himself as an orthodox Hindu. His Hinduism comes in conflict with the Brahmo way of life. Dasgupta’s performance in the film is said to have apparently satisfied the renowned author himself.
In 1941, she made her Hindi film debut in Modhu Bose’s trilingual The Court Dancer: Raj Nartaki, written by Modhu Bose, Manmatha Ray, and J B H Wadia. She played a character named Riya, in this Sadhona Bose-starrer.
Jiban Sangini (1942) saw her play a character named Molly in this Gunamoy Bannerjee directorial, written by Sourindramohan Mukherjee, with a star cast that included Ratin Banerjee, Chhabi Biswas, and Chhayadevi.
She would act in three films directed by actor-filmmaker Kishore Sahu. Of these, Raja (1943), the first film from the newly established Purnima Productions, was a social satire, starring Sahu and Dasgupta in the lead. The music was composed by Khan Mastana, and Sahu sang the songs picturised on him. The film performed well at the box-office in centres like Delhi and Bombay. Filmindia editor Baburao Patel wrote that the film “remains a milestone of art and skill in motion pictures.”
The Sahu-directorial Kunwara Baap (1942) also featured her alongside Sahu, in this Acharya Arts production. The film revolved around a ‘bachelor father’ Prannath, who finds an infant abandoned in his car on his engagement day, leading to several comedic situations in the film.
She also featured in Sahu’s Shararat (1944), a comedy film produced by Hindustan Chitra Productions, with music by S N Tripathi and Khan Mastana. The film was about a young woman pretending to be insane in order to avoid an arranged marriage.
In 1950, she acted in Tathapi, directed by Manoj Bhattacharya, and written by Bimal Roy, the cast of which comprised Bhanu Bannerjee, Gangapada Basu, and Bijon Bhattacharya. The film is remembered mainly for introducing several key Bengal IPTA figures to the cinema. With a plot revolving around a mute girl, the film provided a “refreshingly untheatrical observation of life.” Bimal Roy apparently supervised the direction of this film.
Dasgupta was one of the rare women who turned director, at the time. In 1945, she debuted as director with Chhamia, starring her real-life sister-in-law Begum Para, and supported by David, Dixit, Arif, Auzurie, Gulab, Kiran, Shakir, Amir Banoo and Dasgupta herself. The film was based on Pygmalion and was a big success.
She went on to direct Jharna (1948), starring Begum Para again and written by Akhtar-Ul-Iman. Produced by her Protima Productions, it had music by Gyan Dutt and lyrics by Pandit Indra and Hasan Lateef. The film ran into trouble when the chief minister of Bombay presidency, Morarji Desai banned it for what were considered sexually explicit scenes. The film turned out to be a financial disaster.
On the personal front, she was married to Major Manzoor Ul Haq, the brother of Begum Para, who hailed from an open-minded, liberal family. It was after she married and moved to Bombay that she would go on to play the main lead in Kardar’s film Namaste (1943).
Image courtesy: https://hindi-movies-songs.com/joomla/index.php/hindi-films/articles/2326-musing-966-protima-dasgupta-j-53