Balraj Sahni, Anushka Sharma and Satyajit Ray Celebrate Birthdays on May 1 and 2

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While Satyajit Ray, the God of Cinema, was born on May 2, Balraj Sahni, who lived the characters he portrayed with realism, shares his birthday with bubbly, bouncy Anushka Sharma, on May 1. The actress has shown acting prowess. Smriti profiles the three Bollywood birthdays this week, in her regular column, exclusively in Different Truths.

Balraj Sahni: He Lived the Characters that he portrayed in Cinema

He immortalised Tagore’s Kabuliwala. Indian men still copy his rendering of “Ae meri zohra jabeen” to woo their counterparts. He was genuinely rustic when playing a farmer in Do Beegha Zameen, and equally suave and sophisticated when playing a magnanimous businessman in Ek Phool Do Maali.   One of the finest and natural actor of Hindi film industry, he is Balraj Sahni, born as Yudhisthir Sahni on 1st May 1913, in Rawalpindi, now in Pakistan.

Balraj was very well educated. He had a Master’s degree in English Literature from Lahore University. In late 1930’s he joined Tagore’s Visva-Bharati University, Shantiniketan, as an English and Hindi teacher. He even worked for BBC, London, as a radio announcer. He was a very good writer too. The noted Hindi writer Bhisham Sahni is his brother. Despite being so multi-talented, it was his career in acting that gave him the fame and recognition. He is considered to be the greatest actor ever in the Hindi movies.

In 1946, he moved to Bombay, now Mumbai, along with his wife Damayanti and son Ajay, and joined IPTA. Balraj debuted in the movies with Insaaf in the same year followed by a few other films. His wife also earned a name for herself as an IPTA Actress and both worked together in the film Gudia. Sadly, Damyanti died young, in the same year, 1947, in which their film Gudia was released. Till then Balraj’s journey was a very ordinary one.

For his deserving fame and acclaim, Balraj had to wait till the release of Do Bigha Zameen, directed by Bimal Roy, in 1953. His essaying of the role of an indebted farmer, struggling to earn money, to get his land released from the zamindar, won him accolade from all and his forte as an actor was recognised by all. The movie also won an award at the Cannes Film Festival.

He followed this by another iconic portrayal of a Pathan in Kabuliwala. There was no looking back for him from here on. With his confidence and a natural flow of acting, he starred in many commercially movies, with almost all the top heroines of his era.

However, his best came in his last movie Garam Hawa, which was set against the background of India’s partition, where he played Salim Mirza, an Indian Muslim stuck in the dilemma of leaving his roots and moving to Pakistan or staying back. Unfortunately, Sahni could not see the completed film as he died just after the day he finished dubbing for the film.

His journey as a writer continued simultaneously with his acting career. He wrote a number of short stories, poems and contributed to Punjabi magazine. He even wrote his autobiography called, Meri Filmi Aatmakatha.

Balraj Sahni passed away on 13th April, 1973, after being in a depression for quite some time, due to the sudden death of his daughter, Shabnam. But Balraj Sahni is still alive in the hearts of all movie lovers through his various roles, which he immortalised by his simple, genuine, inherent acting skills.

Anushka Sharma: Bollywood’s Hot Veggie is Versatile Actress

The Times of India has listed her as one of “Bollywood’s hottest vegetarian celebrities.” She was also named as the “hottest vegetarian of 2015” by PETA. Born on the first day of May in 1988, like a true Taurean, Anushka Sharma is an avid animal lover.  In October 2015, she launched a campaign “Pawsitivity”, to create awareness about the ill- effects of noise, air, soil, and water pollution on animals. Besides working for the betterment of animals, Anushka is also associated with many social causes such as women and girl education.

The actress, who held the fifth position, on the Times of India’s “Most Desirable Woman” list of 2011, on her debut in Bollywood, was considered a plain Jane, who lacked sensuousness mandatory for a Bollywood heroine. But Anushka’s defence background and determination have established her as one of the top heroines of today’s Hindi cinema.

Born in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh, Anushka was raised and educated in Bangalore. She is a graduate in Arts from Mount Carmel College and intended to pursue a career in modelling and journalism. Becoming an actress was never her aspiration, but, as destined, while modelling she joined an acting school and started giving auditions for films.

Her first offer came from Yashraj Films, with whom she signed a three-film contract, Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi being the first of them, to be released. The film was a major commercial success and won her the Filmfare nomination for Best Actress and Best debut. Her next two releases with Yashraj films, Badmaash Company and Band Baaja Baaraat were moderate successes, but Anushka was appreciated by the critics, who cited her performance inBand Baaja Baarat, as her best performance to date. Anushka’s evolution had started. She went on to playing diverse roles and gained immense popularity and praise for her acting skills. She has many hits to her credit, such as “PK,” ”Ladies vs Ricky Bahl,” ”Patiala House”. She also won the Filmfare Award for Best Supporting Actress for Yash Chopra’s swan song, “Jab Tak Hai Jaan.

From just acting Anushka went on to produce films and opened her production house under the name, Clean Slate Films. Two films, NH 10 and Phillauri were produced by her, and, both have been praised by the critics and lauded by the masses.

But like any other young, beautiful girl, Anushka has had her share of affairs and heartbreaks. At present, she is supposedly in a relationship with cricketer , though Anushka maintains her silence on the topic.

Besides being in the news for her films, she also raised many speculations, when according to some grapevines, she underwent a lip correction job, which went all wrong. Anushka denied these rumours stating that she had some lip enhancements for a role she was playing.

There is no doubt that Anushka symbolises today’s woman, a woman who is strong, determined, independent,  can stand and fight for her rights in a world dominated by males.

On her birthday on 1st May, we salute this young lady, who by her strong convictions and determination has carved a place for herself in the film industry in such a short span of time.

Satyajit Ray: The God of Cinema

He is a cultural icon of India and the Bengali communities . A legendary director acclaimed in his native country as well as in foreign lands. His awards list is a long one, including almost all the prominent ones, be it Indian or International.

Meet Satyajit Ray, a master storyteller, director, producer, screenwriter, lyricist, music composer, calligrapher, illustrator, whose films are a rare blend of emotions and intellect.

This 6-feet-4-inches tall, handsome, multitalented man was born on 2nd May 1921, to Sukumar Ray, an eminent poet, and writer in Bengali literature. Satyajit’s grandfather, Upendra Kishore Ray Chowdhury, was also a writer, philosopher, astronomer, and ran a printing press by the name of U. Ray and Sons. Despite his interest in fine arts, Ray did his graduation in Economics from the Presidency College, Calcutta. On his mother’s insistence, he reluctantly went to Visva-Bharati University, Shantiniketan, where he started appreciating the Oriental Art, and, learned a lot from the famous painters Nandlal Bose and Benode Behari Mukherjee. He was also awarded an honorary degree by the Oxford University.

Ray started his career as a commercial artist, with a British-run agency, where, though he was treated well, he was not happy with the agency, as the Indians were paid less than the British employees. He later joined Signet Press, where he designed covers for many books. He designed the cover and illustrated Pather Panchali, a classic Bengali novel by Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay, and was deeply influenced by the work. This formed the base of his first movie in 1955, by the same name. This was the first of the “Apu Trilogy”.

The movie won him immense praise and fame. It won eleven international awards, including, the inaugural Best Human Document Award at 1956 Cannes Film Festival. The movie which won him so much accolade was made with much financial difficulty. He took amateur actors and crew members and started the shooting with his personal savings, which were not enough. Due to this the shooting was halted many times due to lack of funds, finally, he could complete the film, by getting a fund from the West Bengal state government.

Fortunately, the movie had a good run, both, in India and abroad. The Times of India wrote, “It is absurd to compare it with any other Indian cinema … Pather Panchali is pure cinema.” Lindsay Anderson of the United Kingdom gave a glowing review but the public response was not very positive. Francois Truffaut, the French director supposedly said, “I don’t want to see a movie of peasants eating with their hands.” Bosley Crowther one of the influential critics of New York Times gave a withering review of the film, but it was a huge success when released in America.

Ray’s international film career started fervently after the release and success of Aparajito (The Unvanquished).The film won the Golden Lion at the Film Festival and critics like Mrinal Sen and Ritwik Ghatak rated it better than his first film. The “Apu Trilogy” was never in Ray’s mind until he was asked about it in Venice. He completed the trilogy by making Apura Sansara (The world of Apu), in 1959, and introduced two of his favourite actors, Saumitra Chatterjee and Sharmila Tagore in the movie. The Bengali critics gave excruciating reviews to the film and Ray, who avoided reacting to his critics, wrote an article defending himself. Whereas critics like Robin Wood and Aparna Sen consider it to be the best among the Trilogy.

In between the completion of the Trilogy, he made two other films, one a comic, Parash Pathar (The Philosopher’s Stone) and Jalsaghar (The Music Room), depicting the decadence of the zamindars. These two films are also considered as one of his most important works. His Hindi movie, Shatranj Ke Khiladi, a soft social satire, based on a novel by Premchand is another work of brilliance.

In his career, Ray directed 36 films, including feature films, documentaries, and short films. He made a film on the British Raj, Devi, a documentary on Tagore, a comic film, Mahapurush and his first, on an original screenplay, Kunchenjungha. If the movies made by him are taken together as a series, we see very compassionate, and deeply felt portrayals of female characters.

The writer in him motivated him to revive the children’s magazine, Sandesh, once published by his grandfather. He wrote several stories and essay for children and made illustrations for the magazine too. The detective, ‘Feluda’ and the scientist, ‘Prof. Shonku’ are one of the most popular fictional characters created by him.

Recipient of 32 Indian National Awards, Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian honour of India, a Golden Bear, two Silver Bears and a number of additional awards at international awards, which includes an Oscar for Lifetime Achievement, Ray influenced many Bengali directors, such as Aparna Sen, Rituparno Ghose, and Hindi film directors like Shyam Benegal, Vishal Bharadwaj, Dibaker Banerjee and Sujoy Ghosh. Besides Indian directors, many international directors, Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, James Ivory, Abbas Kiarostami, Elia Kazan, a few names among many, acknowledged his film craft and were influenced by his movies. He is the God of Cinema.

With accolade, Ray faced criticism too for his work. On one side, Japanese director Akira Kurosawa said, “Not to have seen the cinema of Ray means existing in the world without seeing the sun or the moon,” on the other hand, his detractors said he was immensely slow, found him lacking in modern ideas, new modes of expression and shy of experimentation. His critics accused him of glorifying poverty, whereas Nargis Dutt, an actress, and an Indian MP, indicted him of “exporting poverty”.

On 23rd of April 1992, he breathed his last, at the age of 71, and the city of Calcutta came to a virtual standstill as thousands of people thronged to his house to pay their tributes and last respects.

But gods never die. They are immortalised through their work. Ray is one amongst them!

©Smriti Maheshwari

Photos from the internet.

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Smriti Maheshwari

Smriti Maheshwari

Smriti Maheshwari loves cooking, reading, mostly fiction and thrillers. She enjoys mythological stories too. She also loves meeting people and making friends, socialising, and is a big movie buff. A homemaker and a dreamer, she stays in Allahabad with her husband.
Smriti Maheshwari
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