In the last century the decade of 60s was the decade of comedians and vamps in the Hindi cinema. The vamps were rare in Bengali cinema, but 60s was the decade of comedians also in the Bengali cinema.
But this trend started changing in both the national and regional cinemas from the mid 70s. The roles of the vamps were shifted from the specialized actresses to the main female lead and the responsibility of comedy was taken care of by the male leads.
Now in the new millennium, the concept of comedy in cinemas, both in national and Bengali films has been changed a lot. Now this is the era of sit-coms and rom-coms, where the responsibility of comedy is taken care by the lead characters, who are not so called specialist in comic acting. Whether it clicks or not, is another issue, but there is no doubt that a major shift happened from the age-old concept of comedy.
The basic thing required for a comic acting is the timing. Who ever have that skill of timing better, is a better comic actor. Take the example of Ranjit Mallick. Ranjit Mallick was a hero material in Bengali films. Though he was not a typical actor like Anup Kumar, Chinmoy Ray, still he excelled in comedy acting only because of his that talent and sense about timing. The best example best examples for comedy acting in Bengali cinema are Utpal Dutt, Santosh Dutt, Rabi Ghosh and etc.
In early Bengali cinema, in every film there used to be specific comic scenes. At that time Nabadwip Halder with his typical voice modulation and Nripati Chatterjee with his typical appearance handled those comic scenes. People liked it and they become very popular. They didnt have to utilize their sense of timing. So, it is unwise to challenge their talents of comedy acting.
The scenario started changing when especially Kishore Kumar (in many Hindi films and in Lukochuri) appeared in the sense. He changed the dimension of comic acting in Bengali cinema. Then came the comic-duo Bhanu Banerjee and Jahar Roy. They actually ruled the comic empire for a long time. But in spite of their acting talent, both Banerjee and Roy was an extension of Nabadwip Halder and Nripati Chatterjee. Like Halder, Bhanu Banerjees main weapon was Bangaal-dialect and like Chatterjee, Jahar Roys main weapon was his appearance. But no doubt both Banerjee and Roy was a sophisticated version of their earlier counterparts. Shyam Laha was another comedian of Bengali cinema of those days. He preferred the Jahar Roy route.
"L-R: Anup Kumar, Utpal Dutt, Jahar Ray, and Robi Ghosh"
But in the films they acted in, one would hardly get any evidence of whether they were great actors.
Anup Kumar, though branded as a comedian in Bengali cinema, was an actor par excellence. He single handedly took the responsibility of the serious films like Natun Jiban and Palatak. Anup Kumar, was the first actor who started comedy acting with little bit of intelligence. He was a trained theatre artist. So, it was possible for him to bring in new dimension in his body language and dialogue-throwing. He never used any mannerism, dialect to generate comedy. It is surprising, that tough Bhanu Banerjee and Jahar Roy, both were regular stage actors; they never tried anything like Anup Kumar.
Chinmoy Roy was another comedy actor of that period. He was also an extension of Jahar Roy. He tried to utilise his appearance as the only weapon of his acting talent in creating comic situations. But both Jahar and Chinmoy were great actors which they proved in Satyajit Rays Goopi Gyne Bagha Byne.
Tulsi Chakraborty was a great actor of the late 40s. But he was always under-rated. In Saare Chuattor Tulsi proved that only he could take the burden of a total film. Without Tulsi Chakraborty and Molina Debi it would be impossible to imagine, Saare Chuattor the greatest comedy made in Bengali cinema. Satyajit Ray used his talent of comic acting in his film Pather Panchali and Paras Pathar. Rabo Ghosh was a disciple of Utpal Dutt. They both were great actor and they were great comic actors. Their sense of timing was so accurate, that their co-actors felt huge difficulty in coping-up with them. It is very unfortunate that Bengali cinema branded Dutt mainly as a villain. But his talent in comedy was evident in many Hindi films and in Satyajit Rays Hirak Rajar Deshe.
Right from the beginning Robi Ghosh was branded as a comedian. His presence was so powerful that he could create comic-ambience only by his sheer presence on the screen. Apart from his performance as Bagha Byne in Goopi Gyne Bagha Byne, Hirak Rajar Deshe and Goopi Bagha Phire Elo and Jana Aranya, Aranyer Din Ratri by Satyajit Ray, his performance in Tapan Sinhas Golpo Holeo Satti and Bancharamer Bagan and Tarun Majumdars Phuleswari, Sriman Prithiraj & Ganadebata were definite proof of his talent as an actor and comedian.
Who has the best sense of timing as comic actor in Bengali cinema? To me it was Santosh Dutta. He acted in several films, but his ten second appearance in Paras Pathar proved the class. His appearance as the king of Halla & Sundi in Rays Goopi Gyne Bagha Byne and as Lalmohan Ganguly alias Jatayu in Sonar Kella & Joy Baba Felunath would remain forever as example of superb comedy acting.
It is a general rule that if you want to be good comedian you have to become a superior actor first. Uttam Kumar is the proof of this theory. His acting in Chadmabesi, Mouchak, Brajabuli, Dhanye Meye and Ogo Badhu Sundari are example of superb comedy acting. But not always a better an actor become a successful comedian. Soumitra Chatterjee never becomes successful comedy actor in spite of his superb attempt in Basanta Bilap.