Scintillating Suchitra

MANJIRA MAJUMDAR pays a personalised tribute to filmstar Suchitra Sen

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Growing up as a puccataansh the slang for anglicized I was unaware of the Uttam Suchitra magic till a later age. Looking forward to the release of Hollywood greats such as “Sound of Music” and “Ben Hur”, I really could not, for the world, fathom why mother was so disappointed when she could not catch the whole of the film “Saat pake badha”; you see my brother, a very young boy then, started cawing like a crow every time the lights dimmed.  

Or was it one of Suchitra Sen’s earlier films? It does not matter because she became in my memory as someone very nyaka and most sepia tinted photographs of young ma, mashis and even sasuri bore such a strong resemblance to her, while these pictures actually reflected Suchitra Sen’s taste in saris, blouses and understated jewelry.  I was coerced to watch some of her films when DD beamed only old films on weekends.

But people change. So have I. Having rejected everything that is so very culturally specific you return home someday. Not literally but in your imagination and age or nostalgia have nothing to do with it. Let’s not get into the details but the love affair with Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen for me has only grown just as it has not slowed for Bengalis all over the world.

Born as Roma das Gupta in 1931 in Pabna, now in Bangladesh, she came to Calcutta in 1947 after her marriage to Dibanath Sen and gradually her deep love affair with the celluloid began. Re-christened Suchitra by Nitish Roy, the assistant director of her first released film, “Saat nomber kayedi” (1953), she obviously had that something between her two eyes, which spell stardom, though her own two real eyes, beautiful and expressive, were definitely contributory. So was an even set of teeth and a very determined chin. And what was remarkable is that she was not the screeching melodramatic kind of Indian heroine; instead, she exuded certain poise and underplayed her role even though they were not more than playing a young woman either in love or in love with the wrong man; spurned woman; possessive mother or the naughty girlfriend. One after another hits flowed like flood waters – “Chaoa paoa” & “Deep jwele jai” (1959); “Saptapadi “(1961), “Saat pake Badha” (1963) which fetched an award at the Moscow Film Fest alongside Fellini‘s 8 ½. The list goes on: “Harano Sur”, “Uttar Falguni,” etc.    

Suchitra had her tryst with Bombay film industry as well; in Bilmal Roy’s “Devdas” opposite Dilip Kumar in 1955 and as late as 1977 in “Aandhi” opposite Sanjeev Kumar.

Gradually Suchitra Sen did less number of film, to about one per year, going on to essay the role of a perfect grandmother to Raima and Riya in real life. She did not return to play the wicked mother-in-law on the small screen like several of her contemporaries and knowing how cloying fans can be, perhaps she took the right decision to stay away from the limelight. Her wishes were respected but I wonder how tricky it really was to stay away from people in a country teeming with millions.

Like Tom Jones crooned, “She‘s got style she got grace, she‘s a winner”. Same things perhaps can be said of Suchitra Sen who faded away forever on a Friday in January 2014.

Starting her journalistic career with Indian Express group, today Manjira Majumdar is an independent journalist. But she has been compelled to take up activism in trying to make society a little better place by helping change perspectives about the girl child.  When time permits, she writes stories for children and hopes to start her novel soon.