‘My heart is beating, keeps on repeating. . .’ remember the memorable lines from the 1970s Hindi movie ‘Julie’? Remember the Satyajit Ray directed film ‘Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne’ in Bengali and the mischievous Merlin-like magician Borfi? The tale of two simple village boys Goopy the singer and Bagha the drummer, who by a curious turn of fate, find themselves in the possession of boons by kindly ghosts.

Artist of the Free Spirit [Illustration by Shiju George]
Artist of the Free Spirit [Illustration by Shiju George]

Teeming with interesting, ‘other-worldly’ characters and the toothless Borfi in his pointy hat and glasses, a wizened creature who cast naughty spells on all and sundry. Including the king whom he put to sleep for years and years. No prizes for guessing who wrote the lyrics or who Borfi was. Borfi was none other than Harindranath Chattopadhyay!

But it wasn’t only mischief that this versatile personality was famous for. Everyone adored him for his satire and wit. His satire was earmarked by his appearance as a curd seller in his shows, an instant sell out. Harindranath’s first love was the theatre. He also loved to travel. The combination was devastating.

Harindranath was a jack of all trades and that too without formal training in any of them. Actor, poet, satirist, musician, singer and painter, Harindranath Chattopadhyay was a multi-faceted vibrant personality. In the year 2000, an exhibition of Harindranath’s vibrant and never-seen-before pictures was held at the Art Bazaar in Kidderpore in Calcutta. In fact close friends didn’t even know he painted!

Perhaps that is why everything he did had a wonderful, childlike quality to it. His paintings, like the rooster for example, are striking. Many of these were made of crayons, with bright colours as if drawn by a restless, talented kid. His paintings reveal that Harindranath was well aware of the styles of modern artists.

A free spirit, Harindranath hated the nine-to-five work routine. He was always the amateur and indulged in the arts without taking up any particular branch as a profession. He hosted shows abroad through which he showcased aspects of Indian life and culture. He would perform in them too. His most popular performance was as a curd seller. He would appear on stage carrying two vessels of curd, and recite catchy rhymes satirising day-to-day life or famous personalities. Audiences loved it and invariably after every performance would give him a standing ovation. He was invited abroad many times just to perform this show.

He enjoyed life to the fullest. In fact when he wrote the lyrics for ‘Julie’ he was quite an old man. The song was entirely in English -the first Indian film song in English – and the film, a teenage love-story!

Harindranath was the brother of the freedom fighter Sarojini Naidu who was also better known as the Nightingale of India. Born in a family of talented people, his father was Aghornath Chattopadhyay, who was the principal of Hyderabad Nizam College. Besides Sarojini, his brother Birendranath, assisted Lenin, the great Russian socialist. His other sister Mrinalini, was principal of a Women’s Training College!

He was popular with women. “He was an attractive man, with sharp features,” recounts artist and close friend Paritosh Sen in ‘The Telegraph’.

Harindranath died at the ripe old age of 93. But the world will not forget him in a hurry. His colourful personality has ensured that.

557 words | 5 minutes
Readability: Grade 8 (13-14 year old children)
Based on Flesch–Kincaid readability scores

Filed under: features
Tags: #indians, #paintings

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