Kolkata: Sharmila Tagore was supposed to act in three more Satyajit Ray films, besides the five that she appeared in. The actress made her debut in Ray’s Apur Sansar (1959) and went on to work for him in Devi (1960), Nayak (1966), Aranyer Din Ratri (1970), and Seemabaddha (1971).
Speaking at a Ray memorial event in the city today, Sharmila said, “I was supposed to appear in Ray’s Kanchenjungha, Charulata, and Ashani Sanket. He had sent the script of Charulata and had asked me to read Rabindranath Tagore’s Nashtanir from which the film was adapted.”
Sharmila however said that she has no regrets of not working in Charulata. “Madhabi Mukherjee was wonderful in the film,” she said, adding that by Ray’s own admittance, Charulata was the best film in his career.
Besides Sharmila, Ray had planned to cast Kali Bandyopadhyay as Chaurlata’s husband Bhupati in the film, while her brother Umapada was supposed to be played by Anil Chattopadhyay or Basanta Chowdhury. However, Shailen Mukherjee and Shyamal Ghoshal went on to play Bhupati and Umapada respectively.
“Ashani Sanket,” Sharmila said, “was almost finalised but Ray always had to battle the perennial problem of finances.”
Bangladeshi actress Farida Akhter aka Bobita was roped in to play the female lead in Ashani Sanket as there were reportedly some contractual obligations.
The 73-year old actress said, “After Apur Sansar and Devi, Ray told me to do Kanchenjungha. But I was appearing for my Senior Cambridge examinations at the time when the film was shot in Darjeeling. According to his script, Ray needed to show the mist in the hill town, and shooting had to be held in December. Unfortunately for me, the shooting coincided with my exams,” she added.
Alokananda Roy went on to play the female lead in the 1962 film.
It may be recalled that Soumitra Chatterjee was initially supposed to play the male lead Ashoke in Kanchenjungha but couldn’t be a part of the film because of other commitments. He had later said, this was probably the only time that Ray failed to zero in on the most appropriate actor for one of his films. Soumitra was already an established actor when Kanchenjungha was made. If he played the male lead, the story would have been too predictable for the audience, the three-time national award winning actor had said.
Ashoke was played by Arun Mukhopadhyay who made his film debut in Kanchenjungha.
Recalling her long association with Ray, Sharmila said, he approved most of his shots in one or two takes. “At least three-four films can be made with the amount of retakes that directors waste these days. Ray would just say, ‘excellent, next shot’, and we would know that the job was perfectly done. His homework was exhaustive before a film went to the floors and he always had a clear idea of what the final product would look like. This reduced the production time and costs.”