The first time I met Ajit Das was in 1980 on the sets of the Odia film Bata Abata, a film directed by Brundaban Jena. He was already a famous actor while it was my first film. I was playing the role of the younger, college-going, bubbly sister of the character played by Mahashweta Ray. My character had to marry her brother-in-law after Mahashweta’s character dies in childbirth. I was aware that Ajit was an NSD graduate and a very accomplished actor. We had to shoot a scene where the doctors had given up hope about his life and he had requested his wife to wear her bridal finery like in the Hindi film Dil Ek Mandir, so that he could look at her tenderly and die in her arms. I suggested that it was not necessary for me to wear bridal clothes and that we both are trained actors so we would be able to express the emotions with our acting. We both improvised it and Brundaban Jena liked it very much.
After that, I met him on the sets of Ashar Akash produced and directed by my FTII colleagues, Jugal Debta and Gadadhar Puty. I found Ajit to be very professional and we had great chemistry. We shot a song at Puri beach where we both were wet from the sea waves and he was an absolute gentleman, which is a compliment.
Then one day he landed up at my Mumbai house to discuss a project, which would end up being Hakim Babu and assured that he would take the responsibility for my payment as he was like the executive producer. I had neither met the producer, Amiya Patnaik nor the director, Pranab Das before. I had no idea that my character profile was going to be a bit dark and thought that it was not befitting my stature to portray a role where the rich, educated girl is rude to her elders. So, I discussed it with our great dialogue writer, Bijaya Mishra and we wrote a scene just before the song “Mun tuma aina….” to give the point of view of my character. Ajit and I performed it impromptu. I was hurt when the producer and the director who are responsible for giving credit titles of the film, gave my name after Jaya’s name who had just done a bit role in the film Bata Abata along with a supporting role in Ashar Akash. I never asked Ajit about it and never contacted him till the pain got erased from my mind.
But in 1991, I approached him to play the role of a benevolent man Sanatan in my film Tara. Nobody else in Odia cinema could ever do such a role that portrays benevolence, grace as well as human imperfections. During a weak moment, his character expresses his feelings to the woman he admires and confesses that he is not what people expect him to be; that he is a normal human being with his desires even though he rebuffs the advances of a lady matron, previously. Ajit also contributed in some of the dialogues on the spot.
Tara was an art film, it had money restraints and so I was not able to use Ajit’s voice during the dubbing in Bombay and I feel bad about it. I had to take the voice of Alok Rath who had a great voice and was doing film commentaries in Mumbai. I also regret not telling him the compliments he received from several people like the Aradhana dubbing studio’s staff. They said he reminded them of the Superstar of Bengal, Uttam Kumar. I said indeed he was.
I got married and busy with my life and later shot my Hindi film, Abhaas in Talcher where I had no role for him. But I always wanted to cast him whenever I had a chance. He was there in my mind as well as my husband’s whenever we worked on a script or a project. Life went on. After that, I was globetrotting and did not get to visit Odisha often. Finally, in 2012, I saw him at a function where I was being honoured for a Lifetime Dedication Award. He was sitting two seats away from me and I was pleasantly surprised to see him. We spoke briefly.
Two years ago, Sanskar Bharti Pramukha Amir Chand-ji from Delhi called me from Bhubaneswar to say that he was with Ajit Das and he was directing a great play. I was happy to speak to him after a long time. I am deeply saddened by his sudden demise. It’s a great loss to Odia cinema as well as Indian cinema. I wish I could have got a chance to work with him in another Odia film by any director. He will remain my best Odia co-star forever.