Remembering Chhabi Biswas, one of the finest actors ever to have graced the Bengali silver screen, on his 57th death anniversary today.

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Remembering Chhabi Biswas, one of the finest actors ever to have graced the Bengali silver screen, on his 57th death anniversary today.

Chhabi Biswas was truly the first international actor of Indian cinema — an actor for whom probably no laurel is worth enough. Chabi Biswas had acted in more than 250 films during a span of 25 years and articles after articles can be devoted on his different andaz that was displayed on celluloid.

Chhabi Biswas, best remembered for his numerous roles as the quintessential aristocratic patriarch, was himself the scion of a rich and cultured North Kolkata family. He was born on 12th July, 1900. His father Bhupatinath Biswas was well known for his charitable works. He was christened Sachindranath but his mother nicknamed her handsome son Chhabi (a beautiful picture!) and the name stuck through out his life and career.

In 1936, Chhabi Biswas made his cinematic debut in a film called Annapurnar Mandir. The film was directed by Tinkari Chakraborty and Chhabibabu played the role of Bishu, the husband of the heroine. Trained in the over melodramatic acting style of the contemporary Bengali stage, Chhabi Biswas soon grasped the finer nuances of acting for cinema. He became a regular in films produced by the New Theatres and had major roles in Chokker Bali (1937), Nimai Sannyas (1940) and Pratisruti (1941). He was absolutely marvellous as a 90 year old ascetic in Debaki Bose’s film Nartaki (1940). Ironically, it was the success of his acting in Nartaki that limited his opportunities in lead roles but his reputation as a character actor par excellence was by now firmly in place.

At the peak of his career Chhabi Biswas directed two feature films, Pratikar (1949), an adaptation of a short story by the eminent litterateur Premendra Mitra, and Jaar Jetha Ghar (1949). Both the films were produced by New Theatres and were modest box-office successes.

In 1956, Chhabi Biswas played the protagonist in Tapan Sinha’s screen adaptation of Rabindranath Tagore’s short story Kabuliwala. As Rehmat Khan, the big burly Afghan dry-fruits merchant and money-lender with a golden heart who develops paternal love for the little Kolkata girl Mini (played brilliantly by Tinku, Sharmila Tagore’s sister), Chhabi Babu gave one of his most memorable screen performances.

Jalsaghar (1958), the Satyajit Ray classic brought Chhabi Biswas national and international recognition. His role as Biswambhar Roy, the music-loving feudal zamindar doomed to a lonely and tragic end, was according to the Screen magazine undoubtedly one of Biswas’s best characterisation on screen.

Satyajit Ray once remarked, “I doubt if I could ever make the film Jalsaghar without an actor of the calibre of Chhabi Babu. Probably not. Biswambhar Roy’s pride and recklessness, his passionate love for music and his obsessive love for his only son and finally the tragic downfall — only a genius like him could portray these myriad emotions.” Ray, the master of casting and actor-handling, was paying homage to Chhabi Biswas

His superlative class of performance had been acknowledged by brilliant directors like Satyajit Ray, Hrithik Ghatak, Raj Kapoor, Tapan Sinha, but he had remained unsung, unhonoured, unlamented.

Chhabi Biswas, a big-hearted jovial man was also an active philanthropist. Tragically, Chhabi Biswas died in an automobile accident on 11th June, 1962. After Biswas’s demise in 1962, Ray admitted that he did not thereafter write a single male middle-aged part that called for a high degree of professional talent.

His films should be preserved for the next generation to mark the level of excellence created by the greatest actor of Indian films ever.

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