Uttam Kumar remembered on his 31st death anniversary falling this Sunday.
“Aaro Kache Esho”, a super hit Hemant Kumar number in Bengali, was lip-synced by actor Uttam Kumar effortlessly in the film “Kuhok”. In fact, no other actor has given so much dimension to Hemant Kumar's songs like Uttam Kumar did with his inimitable style. It was also the same for Manna Dey and Shyamal Mitra's numbers. In 1955, Arun Kumar Chattopadhyay, who had by then already adopted the screen name of Uttam Kumar, starred opposite Suchitra Sen in “Agni Pariksha”, directed by Agradoot. The Bengali cine-going audience was at once spellbound by the magnificent screen presence, the smile and voice of Uttam Kumar which was a perfect foil to the divine looks and acting abilities of Suchitra Sen.
Since then, there was no looking back for Uttam Kumar who rose to dizzy heights and became the uncrowned king of Bengali cinema and one of India's most versatile actors. He paired with all the leading ladies of his times, such as Arundhuti Devi, Supriya Chowdhury, Sabitri Chatterjee and Madhavi Mukherjee, with resounding success.
A popular anecdote about Uttam Kumar during the shooting of “Bicharak” with Arundhuti Devi is that, during the shooting of an intense emotional shot he understood that she did outclass him with one twitch of her eyebrow while playing the piano. Uttam Kumar requested his director for a second take in which he walked towards Arundhuti, his back to the camera with his hands in his pockets. So excellent was his performance and his physical demeanour in the second take that both Arundhuti and his senior co-star, Pahari Sanyal, clapped in admiration.
However, Uttam Kumar's greatest histrionic challenge was performing in Satyajit Ray's “Nayak” in 1966. As he was shooting the scene of washing his face at the basin of the Rajdhani Express, he gave a silent look to the mirror, his wet face conveying his inner turmoil. Ray was too happy with his first take but Uttam Kumar insisted on another as he felt his earlier shot lacked perfection. On his request Ray did take a second and even a third take. The last one was canned and cinematographer Subrata Mitra marvelled at the twenty facial veins of Uttam Kumar reacting simultaneously without his eyebrows moving unnecessarily. No wonder, once Ray admitted that there were flaws in his direction in “Nayak” but none in Uttam Kumar's performance.
Though he was a highly gifted actor, Uttam Kumar was thoroughly cooperative when it came to working with newcomers whom he found talented. Whilst working with Dhritiman Chatterjee in “Jadubanso”, directed by Partha Pratim Chowdhury, the director was concentrating his camera more on Uttam Kumar than the latter. Uttam Kumar noticed the uneasiness in Dhritiman Chatterjee's face and at once requested Chowdhury to first opt for a full close-up of Dhritiman's and then slowly pan the camera on him. The result was fabulous and till this day Dhritiman Chatterjee cherishes his experiences of working with Uttam Kumar.
Thirty-one years after his demise, Uttam Kumar still remains as he was in the '50s, the '60s and the '70s — in the hearts of countless Bengalis who worship this Mahanayak.