Saptapadi is a milestone in the history of Bengali cinema, and also, in Indian cinema in a manner of speaking because it holds up to the world how the screen chemistry in a star couple can set the screen on magic and become a part of the unforgettable nostalgia for their fans who watched the film and a reason to revive and resurrect the film for the Y- generation who may not have seen the film.Ranjan Biswas belongs to the Y-generation. He is a highly skilled and trained Chef who decided to pay a tribute to the film by triggering off a chain of restaurants in Kolkata answering to the name Saptapadi. He is both Chef and Partner of this chain that began its run with a restaurant at Bagha Jatin near Jadavpur in Kolkata and more recently, at Purna Das Road very close to the Gariahat crossing. He has plans to open a few more to add to the chain that will carry the spirit of this film and all that it stands for among the older generation and among youngsters who are intrigued by the popularity of the film over a 55-year span since it was first released.
“Though basically, Saptapadi is a Bengali restaurant. I decided to create what I call Bengali Fusion Food, which, I describe as a “Never Ending Path” as it carries the spirit the film stood for, coming much ahead of its time,” says the warm and friendly Biswas. Why did he choose Saptapadi over many other films featuring Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen? “There are several reasons such as (a) its beautiful story placed against the backdrop of atheism versus belief, (b) the interspersing with a small scene from Shakespeare’s Othello that links with the racial and caste-centric links, (c) the wonderful musical score and song picturisations, (d) the touch of conversion from Hinduism to Christianity by the hero, (g) and the magic of romance spelt on screen by Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen without kissing or intimate scene,” says Biswas which logically explains his fascination for the innovative add-on called Bengali Fusion Food.
The restaurant serves both pure Bengali traditional fare as well as Bengali food innovatively blended with other Y-favourite dishes like sizzlers, Tex-Mex dishes, Mousses, Scottish dishes and so on, thrown up for choice for customers who dare to experiment with completely novel cuisine. Saptapadi released just after Durga Pooja on 20th October 1961. It ran without break for 15 long weeks drawing a full house in each show, bringing back four times the money invested. Saptapadi was the 23rd film in which Suchitra and Uttam were paired as star-crossed lovers. In the original story, there was no happy ending. The closing shot shows Reverend Mukherjee (Uttam Kumar) gathering a sick, confused but happy Rina Brown (Suchitra Sen) in his arms as the camera follows him walking towards a church in the distance till the final fade-out.
In justification of the name of the restaurant, the menu consists of seven different items to choose from under each section – starters, main dish, fish dishes, dessert, fusion starters, Bengali starters and so on. There are five variations on the thali. “I have selected exclusive pieces of specially made earthenware crockery in red-brown terracotta that looks beautiful with fine-grained Basmati rice in the middle while the thali is surrounded, typical Bengali style, with a semi-circle of bowls with different dishes. The rice is accompanied with five kinds of fried vegetable fritters, another Bengali speciality.
But what truly takes the cake is the carefully designed ambience that strikes you once you walk up the stairs to the first floor restaurant on Purna Das road that has a modest entry point. One wall of the main dining space divided into two sections with a wall in between is filled with a huge Black-and-White image of Suchitra Sen and Uttam Kumar riding on a motorcycle with that immortal song on their lips – ei path jodi naa shesh hoy, tobey kemon hoto tumi bolo to? An old motor cycle is also placed on a raised platform in front of that wall poster.
The song was picturised on a stationery motorcycle with the hair of the young lovers flying in the artificial breeze of a pair of standing fans, the landscape shot with back projection as the strategy is one of the most immortal sequences in the history of Bengali cinema. So is the song itself, with its question-answer mode expressed coquettishly by Sandhya Mukherjee for the female voice and Hemanta Mukhopadhyay for Uttam Kumar can still exude much more sensuality that a lip-lock could.
There is an antique wall-clock adorning one wall of the restaurant. The wash basin is actually a metamorphosis of a brass kadhai with handles. The cashier sits behind another antique table in one corner and there is also a classic hat stand that has become almost extinct since the British left the country. It is decorated with a tiny mirror on the crown. It is like travelling backwards into time through a strange and unique time machine called “food.”
“Food is not only about cooking and serving and eating and tipping,” says the very young Biswas. “It should form an unforgettable part of our culture, be it cinema, theatre or any other cultural medium. That is the idea behind naming this restaurant after the biggest hit of the Suchitra Sen-Uttam Kumar pair,” Biswas sums up.
Images courtesy Ranjan Biswas and Shoma A. Chatterji
Written byShoma A. Chatterji
Dr. Shoma A. Chatterji is a freelance journalist, film scholar and author based in Kolkata. She has 20 published titles, has won the National Award twice and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Rotary Club of Kolkata Metro. She has done her post-doctoral research on cinema and has juried at national and international film festivals over time.