Bimal Roy was one of the greatest ever directors of Indian cinema. In his films we see a romantic idealist to whom any form of exploitation - social, religious or economic was unacceptable.
Born in 1909, Bimal Roy came from a well to do Bengali family and entered films as a cameraman with New Theatres Pvt. Ltd. where he photographed films like Devdas (1935) and Mukti (1937). His first film as Director was Udayer Pathey (1944) in Bengali, which was remade as Humrahi (1945) in Hindi. The film was a big critical success. Right from his first film, Bimalda was able to introduce a realism and subtlety suited to the cinema.
Bimalda migrated to Bombay after the collapse of New Theatres. His first film there was Maa (1952) for Bombay Talkies, a typical melodrama starring Leela Chitnis, Bharat Bhushan and Shyama that was redeemed only by Roy's innate reserve and good taste. He then formed his own production unit and made his breakthrough film, Do Bigha Zamin (1953).
The film, heavily inspired from the neo-realistic films of Italy and Vittorio de Sica's Bicycle Thief (1949) in particular, was a moving tale, which Bimalda projects with sympathy and simplicity. The film followed the travails of a poor farmer who migrates to the city and works as a rickshaw puller to make ends meet and earn money to get his land back from the moneylender. After a series of misfortunes, he returns to his village to find his farm taken over by a city developer. The film, boasting of a superb central performance by Balraj Sahni, was a moderate commercial success and a huge critical success and won Bimalda awards at Cannes and at the Karlovy Vary Film Festivals. Even back home when Raj Kapoor saw the film, his reaction was, "How I wished I had made this film."
Followed three adapatations of Sarat Chandra Chatterjee, Parineeta (1953), Biraj Bahu (1954) and Devdas (1955). In between Bimalda also directed the emotional Baap Beti (1954) and the sensitive Naukri (1954), often unjustly excluded from Bimalda's list of memorable films.
The films, in spite of having their moments, were not too successful commercially and so Bimalda turned to two films that were more in tune with mainstream Hindi potboilers - Madhumati (1958), a reincarnation drama and Yahudi (1958). Both the films were smash hits. The former, written by Ritwik Ghatak was brilliantly photographed with much of it outdoors unlike most Ghost stories. Salil Choudhury came up with perhaps his best ever musical score and the haunting melody Aaja re Pardesi was ranked by Lata Mangeshkar among her ten best songs ever!
Bimal Roy's two much acclaimed films with Nutan, Sujata (1959) and Bandini (1963), saw him returning to realistic imperatives. Sujata, dealing with caste prejudice is more human than most films made on this subject while Bandini is considered to be by many his finest work, even ahead of Do Bigha Zamin. The film tells the story of a woman prisoner charged with murder. The story, told in flashback from the woman's point of view is unraveled in a manner such that by and large she is always there or from where she can overhear the goings on in the past rather than the general practice of telling the whole story. In the film Bimalda beautifully used imagery and sound to convey the various moods of Nutan. As she is seated in the corner of her gray, grim cell facing the prison's high wall, she can hear the hoofs of the horse pulling the carriage taking away her lover, or that masterful scene in which Nutan murders her lover's wife with the hammering of a welder in the background thus heightening the drama!
In between he did two films Parakh (1960) and Prem Patra (1962) both starring Sadhana. Parakh sees Bimal Roy venture into satire territory and is a witty, perceptive film and looks at how greed and money affect the behaviour of people. The film finds Bimal Roy truly enjoying himself as he blows the lid off so called respectable people and shows to what levels people can stoop to for money. Released in 1960, Parakh went on to win for Bimal Roy yet another Filmfare Award for Best Director making it a hat-trick following Madhumati and Sujata the previous two years. Parakh proves that a small well made film can be equally good if not better than the big budget film with big stars because it is the content that ultimately counts. It is a shame that a small gem like this is often never considered or brought into discussions on Bimal Roy's cinema because Parakh is a fine film in its own right and is in fact a film extremely relevant for today's mercenary times.
Bimalda's last production before he died was Benazir (1964) directed by S Khalil. He was working on aproject to star Dharmendra and Sharmila Tagore when he passed away in 1966 after a long illness.
Recently Bimalda's son Joy Bimal Roy has made a short film - Images of Kumbh Mela out of footage that Bimalda had shot in 1960. The footage was thought to be lost but accidently discovered by Joy last year. The footage more than reaffirms Bimalda's genius and mastery as a filmmaker.