By Tirthankar Mitra
Usually every actor aspires to be a hero. But even when told by a maestro like Satyajit Ray on his face that a hero never looks like him the plain speak could not dampen Rabi Ghosh’s spirit; he was comfortable with facts.
For it was not a rebuke nor a recrimination. As Ghosh’s92nd birth anniversary was observed on November24, one wonders whether it was a backhanded compliment from the great director. Had not Ray cast Ghosh in some of his most acclaimed films which arguably would have been difficult to make in the absence of this versatile actor? Ghosh was one of the handful of actors in Ray films who did not hold him in awe. Ghosh died in February 1997 at the age of 65.
Ray had an eye for an actor in every actor and his/her mannerism in his films. Before Ray cast him in Abhijan, he had asked Ghosh whether he can whistle. Of course, I can, pat came the reply. After all, I have grown up among the taxi drivers of Kalighat, Ghosh had added.
It was as a taxi driver’s sidekick, Rama that Ghosh made his maiden appearance in his first Ray film. The association of between tall and dark Ray and short and well built Ghosh continued for decades.
It was also his first association on screen with Soumitra Chattopadhyay, Ray ‘s favourite actor. Without a whit of discredit to Chattopadhayay, Ghosh stole a scene from the hero when he jumped over a sitting cow, an act which was not a part of the meticulous script of Ray.
A most fruitful cinematic journey began. But then Ghosh was not new to acting having started his acting career from the stage when he joined Little Theatre Group (LTG) headed by Utpal Dutt. Love of the stage was in Ghosh’s genes. He had formed a theatre group named Bandhumahal in his early youth.
When his father Jitendranath Ghosh Dastidar learnt of his son’s penchant for acting, he had remarked that young man would always be given a servant’s role. His words were not all prophetic.
It was Tapan Sinha with his penchant for making films on varied topics decided to make Galpo Holeo Sotti. He cast Ghosh as the central character in the role of a hardworking and resourceful servant in a joint family. It was a role of a lifetime for Ghosh and the film went on to be a resounding box office success.
But there seemed to be much cinematic appeal ensuring a hit to the storyline of this Sinha film depicting the life of a middle-class Bengali household. It was remade as Bawarchi in Hindi in Bollywood.
Rajesh Khanna, the superstar of the day was cast as the central character like Ghosh. He did justice to it, the film was a hit but many felt that Khanna’s histrionics fell a shade shorter to that of Ghosh.
Theatre was Ghosh’s first love. When he first joined LTG, work assigned to him was that of an odd-job man. But then proving the old adage that one cannot keep a good man down, Dutt recognised the potential of the ever jolly youth and started casting him in small roles.
Ghosh came to the limelight after essaying the crucial role of Sanatan Mondal in the LTG play Angar. There was no looking back thereafter. His debut film was Pathik..Ghosh’s unconventional looks combined with comic timing led to his getting plum roles not only in Ray films but others as well.
An unlikely suitor who tries to rape his beloved in Baghini, a con man’s assistant in Thagini, a youth who is unfazed by the material success of his friends in Aranyer Din Ratri, a drum player Bagha whose beats have magical powers in three Goopi Byne, Bagha Byne films, a middleman in Jana Aranya are some of his remarkable feats in celluloid. Remember the play, Byapika Biday where his acting had the audience in splits?
Ghosh believed in Left politics and was a fellow traveller of the movement till his last breath. But his political belief never stood in the way of making friends with persons of divergent political views.
Neither ashamed of his short stature or his ideology, Rabi Ghosh did not mind if he lacked Uttam Kumar ‘s charisma or Soumitra’s good looks. He knew where he belonged- the top bracket where there is place only for thespians. (IPA Service)