Tribute to Suchitra Sen on her 6th death anniversary
Suchitra Sen was easily the most popular actress that Bengali cinema has ever seen. Her ethereal beauty coupled with her phenomenon screen presence and immense box office popularity, particularly her on-screen pairing with the late Uttam Kumar, gave her a legendary cult status in Bengal. She in fact created a new image in Bengali cinema of the articulate if tragic heroine carving out an independence space outside that of family and tradition.
She was born Roma Sen, it is said, in 1931. Her film debut was in the unreleased Shesh Kothai made in 1952. The following year saw her act opposite Uttam Kumar for the first time in Sharey Chuattar. The film, an effervescent comedy, was also the breakthrough film of director Nirmal Dey and was a huge hit at the box-office. However, it is today remembered more for launching the pair of Kumar and Sen. They went on to become icons of Bengali romantic melodramas for more than twenty years becoming almost a genre into 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 and such mnemonic objects as bunches of tube roses etc. Some popular films of the pair include Shap Mochan (1955), Sagarika (1956), Harano Sur (1957), Indrani (1958), Chaowa-Paowa (1959), Saptapadi (1961), Bipasha (1962) and Grihadaha (1967). Of these, special mention must be made in particular of Harano Sur and Saptapadi, both directed by Ajoy Kar. Harano Sur, inspired by Random Harvest (1942) showcases Uttam - Suchitra at their peak of their delirious romanticism. In Saptapadi, a romance set against the backdrop of World War II, even today, every actress in comtemporary Bengali cinema considers the role of the Anglo-Indian Rina Brown essayed by Suchitra Sen as her dream role.
One of Suchitra's best known performances was in Deep Jweley Jai (1959). She played Radha, a hospital nurse employed by a progressive psychiatrist, Pahadi Sanyal, and is expected to develop a personal relationship with male patients as part of their therapy. Sanyal diagnoses the hero, Basanta Choudhury, as having an unresolved oedipal dilemma -the inevitable consequence for men denied a nurturing woman. He orders Radha to play the role though she is hesitant as earlier in a similar case she had fallen in love with the patient. She finally agrees and bears up to Choudhury's violence, impersonates his mother, sings his poetic compositions and in the process falls in love yet again. In the end even as she brings about his cure, she suffers a nervous breakdown. The film is full of beautiful often partly lit close ups of Sen which set the tone of the film and is aided by a mesmerizing performance by her. Asit Sen remade the film in Hindi as Khamoshi with Waheeda Rehman in the Suchitra Sen role.
Suchitra's other landmark film with Asit Sen was Uttar Falguni (1963). Suchitra carries the film single-handedly all on her own in the dual role of a courtesan Pannabai and her daughter Suparna, a lawyer. In particular, she is brilliant as Pannabai, bringing much poise, grace and dignity in the role of a fallen woman determined to see her daughter grow up in a good,clean environment. Suchitra as Pannabai is able to connect directly with the viewer and make him or her feel deeply for all that she goes through the course of the film thus giving her death at the end of the film a solid, emotional wallop.
Today marks the 6th death anniversary of Suchitra Sen.
The writer is a freelance contributor.