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Kumar, already well established as the king of Calcutta cinema, plays royal lookalike Gauri Shankar Rai.
Call it what you will, it is the moment I most eagerly anticipated in Jhinder Bondi, Tapan Sinha’s 1961 adaptation of The Prisoner of Zenda and the first pairing of West Bengal’s most famous actors, Uttam Kumar and Soumitra Chatterjee.
Chatterjee, just a few films old after his debut in Satyajit Ray’s Apur Sansar (1959), is the kidnapper’s conspirator Mayurbahan, the story’s principal face of evil and the actor’s first stab at villainy.
When I first watched Jhinder Bondi, I had little idea who either of these men were and had no investment in them beyond how they were performing in the film at hand.
But there was a lot riding on this swordfight simply because I’d heard so much about it.
Everyone I asked about Jhinder Bondi, every write-up of the film online, implied some kind of epic confrontation, satisfying in the story of the film in itself but also significant for splashing onto the screen the kind of real-life celebrity conflict fans live to witness.
Jhinder Bondi is full of ingredients that implicitly promise some kind of mano-a-mano confrontation as well— arrogant men with blousy satin shirts and matinee mustaches clanking around with swords hanging from their belts. Mayurbahan throws a drink in the imprisoned king’s face.