A Tribute to the legendary actor Sri Anup Kumar
nup Kumar is one of the most underrated actors in Bengali cinema. Though he did around 500 films in a career spanning more than 50 years, Bengali film history credits him with little more than just a few paragraphs of a career-sketch. That he was later reduced to inane roles to generate laughter even in good films. This is a fate carved for many character actors in cinema and theatre across the world. Bengali cinema is no exception.
Anup Kumar is one of those rare actors who made his debut as a child actor of eight in Halbangla (1938) directed by the famous D.G. (Dhirendra Ganguli). Anup Kumar was the son of Dhirendranath Das who was a noted singer and musician of the stage and he introduced his four-year-old son first to Star Theatre and then into films. The actor did not have any recall of what he played or did in this film. He never did another film as child actor but broke into the cinema world in Ardhendu Mukherjee’s Sangram (1946.) Though Anup Kumar would record Sangram as his first film as a grown-up actor, he brought notice to himself as the younger version of Ashok Kumar in Debaki Kumar Bose’s Chandrashekhar. His first portrayal as the hero was in Dhatri Debata. He passed his Matriculation from the Calcutta Jubilee Institution. In 1986, he married actress Aloka Ganguly.
His years on the stage were mentored first by his father and then by Nata Samrat Sisir Bhaduri who he considers his two gurus in acting. He was with Star Theatre for many years and having performed with other groups, finally joined Rangana Group in Aghatan. He also took part in jatra performances prominently. Jatra is travelling-theatre-in-the-round that runs in rural areas and mofussil towns in villages of Bengal during the winter season. Even when he was deeply involved in films, he directed and acted in theatre simultaneously and was an active member of the Indian People’s Theatre Association.
Though he was stereotyped as a comedian, he did very serious roles as well and his work was appreciated even in serio-comic roles that offered relief in serious plots and storylines. It is difficult to find a parallel of Anup Kumar in Bengali cinema specially in serious and comic cameos that sometimes brought out his performance in sharply when juxtaposed against the other actors in a given film. Though trained in theatre, his cinema acting was bereft of stage mannerisms his peers were noted for at that time.
Among his milestone films are Borjatri, Bornochora, Kanamachhi, Palatak, Amrita Kumbher Sandhanne, Balika Bodhu, Basanta Bilap, Mouchak, Nimantran, Thagini, Baghini, Phuleshwari, Dadar Keerti, and so on. He is also known to have played important character roles in films starring the legendary Uttam Kumar. Among these are Bidhilipi, Agnipareeksha, Pathey Holo Deri, Sagarika, Nishi Padma, Ekti Raat, Teen Adhyay, Kalankita Nayak, Manjari Opera. He spanned directors of three generations in Bengali cinema beginning with D.G. and closing with box office masters like Anjan Choudhury, Prabhat Roy and Haranath Chakraborty. He also worked under the direction of Mrinal Sen and in some Odiya and Hindi films. He stepped in as Jatayu, the writer of detective stories in Sandip Ray’s films based on the adventures of Feluda.
The peak of his acting talents came to the fore under the directorial wand of Tarun Majumdar who knew how to get the best out of this chameleon actor. He played a negative role in his Baghini who raped the heroine and gets killed by her. In Nimantran and Palatak, he was the protagonist, two completely different kinds of roles he enacted to perfection. In Nimantran, adapted from a novel by Bibhutibhushan Bandopadyay, he portrayed Hiru Ganguly, a city-bred boy who loves his geography, recites Tagore with aplomb and falls in love with the village he comes to along with the young girl Kumudini but cannot express his love and goes away. When he returns years later, successful but unhappy, he finds Kumudini trapped in a marriage as unhappy as his own. But when he approaches her to take her along, she refuses.
In Palatak, based Manoj Bosu’s Angti Chattujje’r Bhai, he plays Basanta, the younger brother of an affluent landlord of a Bengal village. He is an incorrigible wanderer who refuses to be trapped within the chains of a normal, mainstream life. He gatecrashes his way into small village groups, enchanting them with his songs and his ready repartee throwing his brother’s name to ward off rejection. His pairing with Sandhya Roy under the direction of Tarun Majumdar was extremely popular with the masses not only for their screen chemistry but also for the wonderful stories picked from literature, the rural setting and the unforgettable music and songs. Anup Kumar is also remembered for his brilliant comic timing in many films. In Dadar Kirti, he portrayed a comic role with a negative slant who plays pranks on the innocent hero but finally, his jokes fall back on him. In Balika Badhu, he plays the son-in-law of the house and regales the audience with his lovely banter, jokes, songs and bonhomie.
In 1964, he was bestowed the Bengal Film Journalists' Association Award (BFJA Awards) for Best Actor for his performance in Palatak. He received a silver medal from the Star Theatre. In 1988, he won the West Bengal Natya Academy Award. In 1989, he was awarded the Siromoni Award and in 1991, he was awarded Best Director for his jatras. In 1997, he was recognized by the BFJA Awards for completion of 50 years in films. In 1996, Kumar stood for election to the Vidhan Sabha as representative from Cossipore, but didn't win and he passed away in 1998 of a heart attack, leaving the industry in shock.