Bhaskar Roy Chowdhury: Dance, Horace, Dance!

Bhaskar as "Horace Bones"

Bhaskar as “Horace Bones”

The first thing you need to know about Bhaskar Roy Chowdhury (1930-2003)–satanist hippie cult leader in “I Drink Your Blood” was that he was a master hoofer. His specialty were the dances of his native India, and he had his own dance company, taught these dances at the university level, and was a celebrated choreographer–these talents were Bhaskar’s career: IDYB was a bit of a fun one-off, and something he probably didn’t see as playing any part in his legacy, even though it was his best known role on film.

One can read the high points of Bhaskar’s career on his IMDB page, but as is often the case with actors in exploitation cinema, this does not do nearly enough justice to his career.  It’s too bad that most references to Bhaskar–either online or in print–mention the great performance he turned in for IDYB and then simply regurgitate IMDB without probing any deeper.  To get beyond a simple listing of his film appearances, I tracked down someone who can help us get to know Bhaskar a little better–my contact worked with Bhaskar in the 1970s.  The association also gave her some insight into the parts of his life that are gaps for the usual sources of info and showed some areas where these sources appear incomplete.

Baskhar and Candace in a 1976 publicity shot

Baskhar and Candace in a 1976 publicity shot

My contact for the project of getting to know Bhaskar a bit better is Candace Hibbard Lillie, now living in Oklahoma.  37 years ago, about 6 years after IDYB was released, Candace was Bhaskar’s dance partner in his dance company–Bhaskar: Dances of India–and came to know him and his story pretty well.  I noticed her website dedicated to the dance company as I started researching this post, and I started e-mailing her with questions, which she was all too happy (I think) to answer.

Sri Bhaskar Burmin Roy Chowdhury Jr., was born into an elite family in Madras, India that was deeply involved in the arts.  His father was a painter, and his mother–an actual princess says Candace–encouraged Bhaskar to sing and dance.  He also had a short-lived boxing career, but a match with someone called “Tiger Terry” cost him his front teeth and that particular career path.

In the mid-1950s Bhaskar emigrated to the US, became a citizen, and was involved in several touring dance companies before starting his own.  Candace tells me that in 1956 he had a small uncredited part in a TV musical version of Marco Polo that starred the legendary Broadway actor Alfred Drake in the leading role.  Bhaskar was a comparative religion major in college, and married an American woman, who died very shortly afterwards of heart failure.

Within his dance companies, Bhaskar taught dancers, and he also occasionally taught in colleges, and held classes at the former Jerry Leroy Studio.  Bhasker suspected that Jack “the father of theatrical jazz dance” Cole (1911-1974) stole some of his moves that he taught at Jerry LeRoy’s place, which shut its doors in 2008 after 73 years as a dance studio.  Here is perhaps where is real legacy is seen: dancers he trained on a pro bono basis, often in their homes.  Leading directly to careers made.  Bhaskar was a hard teacher, but as many said of him at his funeral in 2004:

This man was impossible, he drove me crazy, he drank way too much, he worked me harder than anyone ever had before. Giving freely of himself, he taught me at no charge, put me on the stage, and I owe him more than I can ever say.

Bhaskar dancing as Brahma in "The Creation of Woman"

Bhaskar dancing as Brahma in “The Creation of Woman”

Bhaskar got his start in film in 1960 by choreographing and starring in “The Creation of Woman”–Indian creation myths, with some Christian elements as well–set to dance.  Bhaskar was already on top of his game and one gets the sense that securing him for the film was something of a coup for film producer Ismail Merchant.  The film, a 14-minute short, was nominated for best short at both Cannes and at the Oscars in 1961, but didn’t score either award.

The film is also notable for being the backdrop–during its run at Cannes–for the introduction of Merchant and American film director James Ivory, (who went on to helm A Room With a View, Howard’s Endand The Remains of the Dayamong many others) who, together established Merchant Ivory Productions, which developed more than 50 films, often set in India and/or period pieces like the above films for the next 40 years, earning 6 Oscars in the process.

DVD cover for "Pratidwandi," known internationally as "The Adversary"

DVD cover for “Pratidwandi,” known internationally as “The Adversary”

Back to Bhaskar, the decade after The Creation of Woman  was spent back at his dance company, but he returned to film in 1970 with a trio of films, The Epitaph, The Adversary, and of course, I Drink Your Blood.  The Epitaph is an Indian film which I cannot readily find much information, except that it too was nominated for best short film at Cannes 1970.

The Adversary, on the other hand was directed by the great Indian filmmaker, Satyajit Ray (1921-1992) and this film was the first of his “Calcutta Trilogy,” looking at social and spiritual malaise in urban India after colonialism and the partitioning of India and Pakistan.  Ray was a major influence on the Merchant Ivory films, and Ray’s early (1967) screenplay The Alien was copied and revised so many times in the Hollywood machine that it arguably became the basis of Steven Spielberg’s E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial in 1982.  (An argument Spielberg denies.)

Mark LaRoche's head!

Mark LaRoche’s head!

So, with a promising film career and already well established dance career, what would possess Bhaskar to seek out a role in a movie like I Drink Your Blood?  Candace seems to think Bhaskar ran into David Durston socially and/or Bhaskar needed the money.  Either way, Bhaskar did not consider IDYB to be any part of his artistic legacy.  Mainly, this was a fun break for him.

Turning to Bhaskar’s private life, in 1960, a few years after his wife passed away, Bhaskar became involved with Mark LaRoche, who had a bit role in I Drink Your Blood–mainly as a model for the severed head tossed around in the finale–and was so for the rest of his life.  Candace says Bhaskar and Mark were “married” in 1960–I’m not sure what that means most of a decade before Stonewall, but I take the point that they had a loving, committed relationship that stood the test of time, even if Mark’s head literally rolled in one movie.  As an aside–in a post full of asides–we may note other homosexual couples in the broader story here: I Drink Your Blood director David Durston was in a longterm relationship with John DiBello (also known as “Jack Damon,” who must be the “John Damon” playing “Roger Davis” in the film?)  Landis and Clifford in Sleazoid Express talk about a “gay sensibility” Durston brought to the imagery of IDYB.  Ismail Merchant and James Ivory of Merchant Ivory were also a longterm gay couple.

Bhaskar had three more film roles: in 1971 he teamed up again with Durston in Blue Sextet, in 1972 he was the male lead in the Bollywood film, Trisandhya.  More specific information on these two films is hard to come by, it seems.  In 1978 Bhaskar had a bit part in Ghar, another Bollywood film, this one about a couple dealing with emotional issues in the aftermath of the wife’s rape.

Tragedy struck Bhaskar on October 25, 1977 when he was rehearsing for a dance performance at Purdue University and took a 35-foot fall and was paralyzed from the waist down for the remaining 26 years of his life.  He lived for a while at New York City’s Rusk  Institute, and then went back to his apartment in The Big Apple’s Upper West Side.  He did one performance from his wheelchair, but for a man who never let others even see him brush his teeth, he found the idea of performing from the chair humiliating, and would not permit himself to become anyone’s object of pity.  After his accident, he won his lawsuit against Purdue, he took to painting, wrote (but did not publish) a children’s book.  He died in 2003 at the age of 74.

Bhaskar in his later years.

Bhaskar in his later years.

Next up in this series, the life of Jadin Wong.  But before that, some comments on Cannibal Holocaust and Cannibal Ferox for Nitrate Diva’s blogathon on Italian cinema.

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