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Saturday, 4 June 2011

Wish I had a 'Personal Assistant' like him

There used to be a time in the Bengali movie industry when films didn't much require stars. If the big actors took part, well and good. If not, the directors made up with a fantastic story and a tight cast of able character actors. If you rummage through many old Bengali vintage classic, you will come across a bevy of such masterpieces. Replete with a fabulous storyline, taut editing, lovely music and supported by a planet of super character actors, these films are just as entertaining as maybe a Uttam-Suchitra classic or a Satyajit Ray gem. And the best part is that these films are mostly comedies, balanced by a sweet romantic angle and laudable melody.

One such film is Personal Assistant. And, I declare right in the beginning that this should be watched by every fan of Bhanu Banerjee. He plays the lead here and it is marvellous to see him deftly balance comic and romantic tones with such elan. But then, this is Bhanu Banerjee whose talent is gargantuan when it comes to acting. This 1959 film is a rollicking romantic comedy that will catch you unawares with its delightful story and superlative execution. Bhanu here is supported by the earthshatteringly talented Tulsi Chakraborty and the always neglected Tarun Kumar. Ruma Guhathakurta plays the female lead and her role is so away from the usual heroine. She is the smart, educated and stern boss of a export-import company who leaves no holes barred when it comes to getting her man. Now listen how...
Ramapada Gupta (Bhanu Banerjee) is a free soul who is looking for a job. The film starts with his friend Joy Mitra (Tarun Kumar) taking him to a electronics repairing shop so that he can be employed as a radio mechanic. Joy calls him Rama (which is actually a girl's name and will soon be a topic of more discussion in the film) and helps him get the job. But Rama is more inclined towards the art rather than into repairing of broken radios. He daydreams about the moment when his poems and novels will be published and he will be honoured appropriately for them. In such a reverie he accidentally drops a radio and is fired. Next day, Joy asks him to apply for the job of a personal assitant to the managing director of Gargi Trading Company. News is that the MD prefers girls in her organisation but Rama applies nevertheless. The MD, Rubani Sen (Ruma Guhathakurta) justifies her partiality to her father (Pahari Sanyal) saying that woman are much more efficient. She mistakes Rama Gupta to be a woman, is pleased with the qualifications and calls 'her' for an interview. When Rama walks in to the office the next day and is balked, he shows his interview call letter. Rubani is flummoxed but is forced to accept his test. During the test, Rama shows off his skills. He is ambidextrous in shorthand, can drive, is a B Com and B A graduate, and has so many more qualities that Rubani cannot keep a count of. So, though grudgingly, she is forced to give Rama the job of her personal assistant. And the fun starts. Mind you, this is not a rib-tickling film. It is more of a subtle and quiet comedy that will leave you smiling and giggling in parts.
The women in the office pester Rama as he is the only man around. They recite poetry to him, feed him with chocolates and tug at his tie. Rama is just not impressed. One day while the ragging is on, Rubani catches them unawares and fed up with how her girls are behaving, she orders Rama to sit in her chamber from the next day. 
We've said before how Rama loves the arts. One day, while he is typing out a letter one of Rubani's friends visit Rubani in her chamber. Rubani is not there so Rama asks her to wait. Medini Debi (a fat but extremely pretty woman who I think is Molina Devi) hears his tap on the typewriter and feels like it is sounding like the piano. This woman is an item. She walks up to him and forces him to admit that he knows how to play the piano. She then forces him to go with her to her house and asks him to play a piece on the piano. Rama is baffled. But with his sharp improvisation, he imagines the piano keys to be the keys of the typewriter and 'types' out some tunes to floor Medini Debi. The fat woman gleans a promise out of him to tutor her in piano lessons and Rama acquiesces helplessly. This will have its effects later.
The other part of the story deals with how Joy convinces a measly old publisher (Tulsi Chakraborty) to publish Rama's poems in his women's magazine. The publisher is a widower but Joy tells him that he is too young to be alone. He fibs that the poems have been written by his sister Minoti Mitra and if he publishes them, then she just might fall in love with him and marry him. This is too much for the publisher. He salivates at the thought of marrying a young woman again and readily publishes the poems. Tulsi Chakraborty is too good. He looks funny, with two eyes on each side of his face. Whenever he is delirious those eyes start shining like black diamonds and he gives out that guffaw. He has a pot belly that accentuates his comic persona and he is spot on with his lines. Watch him in the last scene where he tries to dupes an audience about the intimate relation he shared with Minoti Mitra and how her poems were inspired by their love!! You'll roll over with laughter! Oh God! Why don't you make actors like him anymore?!?!
Rama is initially angry that his poems are being published under a pseudonym but then he relents after Joy tells him of the situation. What he does not realise is that this Minoti Mitra will soon become a bone of contention between him and Rubani Sen, who is slowly falling in love with him!!
Yes, Rubani who is Rama's boss, starts seeing a sensitive side to him. He loves flowers, is great with children, sings well and is a superbly efficient worker. He is humble, looks not bad in a suit also. What more could she want? Now when she gets to know that he might have a thing for Minoti Mitra, she does not like it at all and pulls all stops to curb him from mingling with this newbie poet of a woman!! Funnily contorted situation. She misconstrues his actions, spies on him from time to time and even tries to stop him from meeting this Minoti Mitra. And when Rama (for the obvious reasons) declares that he will not be able to leave Minoti, she is hurt and angry!! Great misunderstandings lead to much more fun here. Watch the drama yourself, I suggest.
Personal Assistant is a spectacular film. It rolls in romance, comedy and charming music. It shows a very soft yet funny side of Bhanu Banerjee. It displays Tarun Kumar's great comic timing. It features Ruma Guhathakurta in an unconventional mode that is so refreshing. Here is a woman who is in love with a man but is not able to say so. So, she tries everything in her might to win him over. She is smart and authoritative, but not in an overbearing fashion. The last scene is wonderfully done and Ruma looks pretty here, though I wouldn't say she was one of the better looking actors that Bengal had.
The winner here is of course Bhanu Banerjee. Subtle and superlative, he shoes how even with a not-very handsome yet a funny face, one could command respect delivering a superb performance. He is astonishingly good here and without being too loud with his jokes and histrionics. He shows how a character actor can easily slip into a leading man's shoes if given the right screen opportunity...


  1. I don't watch many Bengali films yet, but you seem to be an insider, so I'll keep writing your posts...

    Just found your blog, by the way - wonderful!

  2. A very well done review :)

    I have this DVD and have watched it several times too. Bhanu Bandopadhyay was a genius... and this movie has superlative performances from all the actors and no doubt is such a delightful watch.

    But the actor in the role of Medini Debi is not Molina Debi. However, I am not aware of her name...

    Yes, Tarun Kumar was hugely talented but perhaps did not quite get his due. Sad indeed... 'coz we were deprived of some great entertainment and some wonderful movies.

    And yours truly does not believe in 'character actors'. Wonder when and how this phrase came about. Each actor performs a role, and depicts a character, no?

    P.S. Look forward to more reviews on old Bangla movies... of the genre that I've already mentioned earlier.

  3. @Roshmi: I know. I so agree with you on all this. Sure, am going to post a few more on Bengali gems now. :) Watch this space!!

  4. Thanks for the review, sounds exactly like the genre I enjoy. I will add this to my shopping list.

  5. Sounds absolutely delightful! Will add this to my list of 'films I must watch out for'.

  6. your review is spot on,sharmidi[di COS i'm much younger than you are].I totally agree with you that bengali cinema is much more than UTTAM-SUCHITRA [ALONE OR TOGETHER] OR SOUMITRA OR SATYAJIT.Infact many great bengali films are there which do not star any of these above mentioned stars.AND yes,bhanuda is great.Some great comedies of bhanuda which you must see are-ASHITE ASHEONA,BHANU GOENDA JAHAR ASSISTANT,MISS PRIYANGBADA,KANAMACHI,BHRANTI BILAS,BHANU PELO LOTTERY AND HIS DEAD PEOPLE TRILOGY CONSISTING OF JAMALAYE JIBANTA MANUSH,SWARGA MARTYA AND MRITE MARTE AGMAN.THESE ARE FILMS WHICH NOT ONLY MAKE YOU LAUGH BUT ALSO MAKE YOU SMILE WHENEVER YOU EVEN THINK OF THEM.

    p.s:personal assistant is a personal fav of mine.

  7. @Madmusic: I've seen all these films and even have DVDs of them. And ya I enjoy them every bit. Not all if them maybe coz I find them a bit too loud for my taste but the others are great nevertheless.

  8. @Dustedoff: Please do. YOou'll love every bit of it. Watch out for the next post, it's another laugh riot again, with a poignant touch to it!!

  9. @Suja: Please go a buy it soon. This is a must watch. Enjoy!!

  10. @Madmusic: Yes I have :) It's awesome.

  11. you are the 5th person,i know who has seen this film.cheers

  12. Thanks for picking out some gems, did not hear of this film, will keep an eye out for it now.

  13. @Shilpi: Most welcome. Please see this one. It's a rare gem!!