Suchitra Sen - The End of an Era (1931-2014)
uchitra Sen, the greatest female star in the history of Bengali cinema, gave up her battle with death after 26 days in a nursing home in Kolkata. With her passing away, Bengali cinema mourns the passing away of the electric celluloid romance of the screen pair that perhaps breaks all records of hit screen pairing in world cinema. She shut herself from the world that lies beyond the four walls of her home, earlier a beautiful bungalow where Ritwik Ghatak once resided as tenant.
When this bungalow was given away to real estate promoters, she got four large apartments on the same floor of this new multi-storied construction. She lives in one of them. The other three belong to daughter Moonmoon and grand-daughters Raima and Ria. The one Suchitra Sen lived in was sealed off for visitors. Her last photograph in public was taken when she came to be clicked for her voter’s identity card in 1995. The photograph made it to the front pages of every Bengali newspaper the next morning, much to the shock of the star who had consciously disappeared from public view
She remained the uncrowned queen of Bengali cinema for 26 years, having made her debut with Shesh Kothai in 1952, a film that was never released. A large slice of her career is mapped by the magic chemistry of screen romance with Uttam Kumar. Bengali audience saw her for the first time in Saarey Chuattar (1953) in her first pairing with Uttam Kumar. Directed by Debaki Kumr Bose, Bhagaban Sri Krishna Chaitanya can easily be bracketed within the genre of musical film with strong biographical references to the life of the patron saint and was made both in Hindi and Bengali. One can see a very young and beautiful Suchitra Sen play the young wife of Shri Krishna Chaitanya portrayed by Basanta Choudhury.
Deep Jele Jai belongs to a phase in Suchitra Sen’s career where she made her powerful presence felt without her constant screen companion Uttam Kumar. The film was a box office hit without a romantic hero though it is a tender love story set against the backdrop of a psychiatric nursing home. It is perhaps one major film that featured a female protagonist that in no way offered a feminist slant on the film, the story or the character. Hospital, Uttar Phalguni, Saat Pake Bandha, Deep Jele Jai projected her as an actress who could carry a film entirely on her shoulders with a strong, author-backed story and a good director.
Suchitra Sen and Uttam Kumar became icons of Bengali romantic melodramas for more than twenty years creating a distinct genre unto themselves. Their films were famous for the soft-focus close ups of the stars particularly Sen and lavishly mounted scenes of romance against windswept expanses and richly decorated interiors with fluttering curtains. Some popular films of the pair include Shap Mochan (1955), Sagarika (1956), Harano Sur (1957), Saptapadi (1961), Bipasha (1962) and Grihadah (1967). They starred in 30 films beating the Spencer Tracy-Audrey Hepburn pair hollow.
She has left her signature with two powerful performances in two Hindi films - Gulzar’s Aandhi, based on an original story by Kamleshwar and Mamta, directed by the late Asit Sen, where she portrayed two diametrically opposite characters of the kothewalli mother of a sophisticated daughter who was a barrister. The two films were big hits though Aandhi ran into some censor trouble after its release because the similarities with the then-PM were too obvious and one scene showing the protagonist smoking was considered harmful.
She also acted opposite Dev Anand in Bambai Ka Babu and Sarhad, and in Bimal Roy’s Devdas and Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Musafir. Saat Paake Bandha fetched her the Best Actress Award at the Moscow International Film Festival. Most of these films featuring Suchitra Sen have stood the test of time and Suchitra Sen’s contemporary looks are as fresh as if she is a woman of today.