Born in Bardhaman (or Burdwan), West Bengal, Shakti Samanta’s school education began in Dehradun. He returned to Bengal for higher studies. Calcutta happened to him. Admission into Calcutta University for bachelors saw him rise to a new level. He came out with an equal command of Hindi and Urdu. Bangla was his mother tongue. Dehradun’s school environment enabled him to attain bilingual prowess. His Urdu and Hindi skills made him a good critique of dialogues and lyrics. His knowledge of language helped him shape quality cinema.
With the passion to be a hero in films, Shaktida moved to Mumbai. Days of struggle followed at an Urdu school. While teaching, he developed a passion for talkies. The insatiable urge inside him guided Shaktida to studios in Mumbai. Bombay Talkies was his favourite spot.
At Bombay Talkies, he came in contact with leading actor Ashok Kumar. This brief meeting with the actor, fondly known as Dadamoni, transformed his fortunes forever. He was advised by the ever-green hero to opt for direction, which he took up with great enthusiasm.
To start with, Shakti Samanta became an assistant to Phani Majumdar. The association turned out to be so fruitful that he dropped the idea of becoming a hero forever, and took to direction completely. From then, Shaktida would commit himself to the art of filmmaking, as a director and filmmaker. In 1954, he got his first break as a director with the film “Bahu“.
In 1957, Shakti Samanta started his own film production unit under the banner “Shakti Films”, to become a producer/director. The golden decade of Hindi cinema, the period between 1960 to 1970, belongs to Shakti Samanta. Shaktida, under the aegis of Shakti Films, delivered some of the most cherished moments of Hindi Cinema.
Shaktida strongly felt that a good story, interspersed with enchanting music and songs, would go a long way towards the success of a film. The golden decade proved him right. The decade of romanticism and the emergence of Hindi Cinema’s first superstar – Rajesh Khanna, made Shaktida a trendsetter.
Although crime/suspense thrillers were his first love, Shaktida later switched to romanticism, which he delivered best. He would churn out film after film with the concept of social engineering, and touching musical hits to boot. His great insight ignited tremendous curiosity and demand for such films among the masses.
No surprise, Shakti Samanta’s movies achieved huge recognition and fan following, so much so that he became one among a legendary triumvirate consisting of him, Bimal Roy, and Hrishikesh Mukherjee. Together they carried forth the tradition of enriching Hindi Cinema despite the fact that Hindi was not their mother tongue.
Star-studded with actors like Ashok Kumar, Madhubala, and KN Singh, “Howrah Bridge” was his first film as a producer/director. “Howrah Bridge” has some immortal songs like “Aaiye Meharban” and “Mera Naam Chin Chin Chu“. OP Nayyar, Asha Bhonsle, Geeta Dutt contributed to this grand musical success.
For the next two decades, Shakti Films continued to churn out hit after hit. A good story with great music, lyrics, and dialogue remained the striking feature of all the movies made under the Shakti banner.
Shakti Samanta shuffled actors as per the need of the script and the screenplay. Rajesh Khanna, Shammi Kapoor, Ashok Kumar, and Uttam Kumar remained prominent faces of Shakti Films. Notable actors and actresses earned a name for themselves under Shakti Samanta and his banner.
“Aradhana” (1969) gave popular Hindi cinema its first superstar in Rajesh Khanna. Shaktida truly developed the idea of popular cinema with his films. His cinematic efforts and ventures provided an immortal space for social romanticism. The release of “Aradhana” became a turning point in the history of romantic films. “Kati Patang” (1971) and “Amar Prem” (1972) too proved to be game changers.
“Aradhana”, “Kati Patang” and “Amar Prem” placed Rajesh Khanna on top of an unshakeable citadel. The overwhelming response and success of these films and many other films that followed went on to enhance the image of the emerging superstar tremendously.
Rajesh Khanna’s superb acting skills, along with lyricist Anand Bakshi, playback singer Kishore Kumar, and musicians SD and RD Burman, made up the dream team. However, even the efforts of Shaktida failed to sail through the superstar’s sinking innings in later years. Salim-Javed’s action hero, the angry young man, diminished further hope for Rajesh. He failed Shaktida’s expectations, and their great association suffered.
Sanjeev Kumar (“Charitraheen”), Sunil Dutt (“Jag Utha Insan”), Manoj Kumar (“Sawan Ki Ghata”), Uttam Kumar (“Amanush”) are other top actors who worked with Shakti Samanta in his later innings, which also saw Amitabh Bachchan and Mithun Chakraborty appearing in his Bangla films.
Shakti Samanta’s winning efforts gave Sharmila Tagore, Uttam Kumar and Mausmi Chatterjee entry into Hindi cinema. Sharmila Tagore was the favourite actress of Shakti camp. She did “Kashmir Ki Kali”, “Aradhana”, “Amar Prem”, “An Evening In Paris”, “Amanush”, and “Anand Ashram” under the Shakti Films banner. Sharmila Tagore’s onscreen chemistry with Rajesh Khanna and Shammi Kapoor formed two of the most hit jodis (pairs) of Hindi cinema.
Post “Aradhana”, Anand Bakshi continued as the lyricist for most of Shakti Samanta’s films. He wrote some of his sweetest numbers for films such as “Aradhana”, “Amar Prem”, “Kati Patang”, and “Mehbooba”. Immortal hits like “Kuch Toh Log Kahenge”, “Chingari Koi Bhadke”, “Yeh Shaam Mastani”, and “Mere Naina Saawan Bhado” saw him at his best.
Kishore Kumar, too, shot to fame with “Aradhana”. The film transformed the fortunes of all associated with it. Kishore Kumar continued as the lead playback singer for most of Shakti Samanta’s films. Some of his most touching numbers were for films under his banner.
Shakti Samanta devoted his time in search of winning concepts. He committed himself to making meaningful social dramas with romance at the centre stage. A search for stories, suitable faces to match characters, and impressive musical chords remained his lifelong quest.
Music is essential to the storyline in a Hindi film – and this concept may not be appropriately appreciated if one were not privy to Shakti’s films. Shakti Samanta’s films contributed significantly to the totality of film music.
With the onset of the eighties, mainstream cinema gradually transformed, with action replacing romance. Salim-Javed’s creation, the angry young man, replaced Rajesh Khanna as the next superstar. Shakti Samanta ceased to be popular as a filmmaker as the audiences went for the new genre of action cinema, with the antihero taking center stage and the idea of romantic cinema slowly going into oblivion.
A version of this article was previously published here.