Master of expressions

Published - July 21, 2010 10:40 pm IST

OF GREAT CALIBRE: A picture of Uttam Kumar shot by Satyajit Ray in italy

OF GREAT CALIBRE: A picture of Uttam Kumar shot by Satyajit Ray in italy

The bond between Satyajit Ray and Uttam Kumar can best be described as one that grew on mutual admiration and respect. While Satyajit Ray found in Uttam Kumar a rare combination of a star and actor, Uttam Kumar understood Ray's vision and strength as a director. And, the opportunity for the duo to work together came in 1966, with “Nayak, The Hero”. That was the only instance Ray is said to have written a script with a star in mind. In fact, he had confessed to his close associates he'd have never thought of “Nayak” if Uttam Kumar hadn't been available.

Reaching stardom

“Nayak” was the story of Arindam, an educated youth who desires to reach stardom on sheer merit and hard work. Despite a lot of humiliation, he keeps the faith and attains stardom. The film is based on his journey via Rajdhani Express from Calcutta to Delhi to receive a coveted award. On the way, he is interviewed in the train by a thoroughly-professional journalist Aditi, played by Sharmila Tagore.

A large portion of the shooting happened on the sets of a Rajdhani Express in NT1 Studio, Calcutta, created by Bansi Chandragupta.

During the first few days of shooting, Uttam was said to have been nervous, and asked Ray how his work was. Ray is, apparently, said to have assured Uttam he was brilliant.

Ray said: “While directing Uttam Kumar, I noticed in him a rare spontaneity mingled with dignity and emotional depth. He took lots of efforts to fathom the depths of his character, and never tried to dominate me. His dialogue delivery was confident, highly modulative, and he spoke volumes with his expressive eyes.”

Uttam Kumar said: “In Manikda (Ray), I discovered a director who did not believe in compromise. I learnt many aspects of subtle performances under his direction. Fully confident, he never dictated me, but was like a teacher. With the exception of Tapan Sinha, I never worked with a director of such great calibre.”

To his credit, Uttam Kumar showed his versatility as well as dedication in every frame of “Nayak”. In the symbolic scene where superstar Arindam is losing himself amidst the glory of money, and crying in desperation: “Shankarda, ami hariye jachhi, amake bachao (Shankarda, I'm getting lost, please save me)”, Uttam Kumar's expressions are a lesson in acting. As are his verbal confrontations with Sharmila Tagore.

For the last scene, where he reaches Delhi, he comes out of the compartment, and is greeted by admirers as well as his hosts, but he looks for Sharmila Tagore. It is believed that he suggested to cinematographer Subrata Mitra a particular lens as the earlier shots were not being properly canned. Both Ray and Mitra is said to have agreed to this, and the shot was canned with expertise. Subrata Mitra once said: “Two actors I've worked with, with an amazing sense of camera are Uttam Kumar and Raj Kapoor. Uttam, specially, works as if he was never conscious a camera was following him.”

Effortless actor

After watching “Nayak” in London, actor Elizabeth Taylor is supposed to have expressed her desire to meet and work with a versatile and effortless actor such as Uttam Kumar. Perhaps the greatest tribute Uttam Kumar received, Ray said after his early demise: “I recently watched ‘Nayak' on Doordarshan. I admit there are flaws in my direction, but none in Uttam Kumar's performance. He is the most professional and equipped actor I worked with, after Chabi Biswas and Pahari Sanyal.”

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