Made for each other!

Maitreyee B. Chowdhury’s “Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen” revisits the life and times of Bengali’s cinema’s first couple

Published - August 23, 2013 07:42 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Be it gossip columns or intellectual escapades, on screen couples provide enough fodder for imagination. Over the years, Raj Kapoor-Nargis, Guru Dutt-Waheeda Rehman, Dharmendra-Hema Malini, Rajesh Khanna-Sharmila Tagore spurred the imagination of writers on cinema but somehow they missed out on the most prolific and perhaps the most popular on screen pairing of Suchitra Sen and Uttam Kumar. From Sare Chuattor in 1953 to Priyo Bandhobi in 1975, the duo did a whopping 30 films together. Though you find reams written on them in Bengali, when it comes to national landscape there is a vacuum. Now noted web columnist, Maitreyee B. Chowdhury has tried to fill the gap with “Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen: Bengali Cinema’s First Couple”, published by Om Books International.

A Bengali, who has grown up outside the State, Maitreyee says the films of Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen were her window to Bengali culture. She describes Sen as a fiery tempered lady while Kumar was an embodiment of benevolence and it is this image that they largely reflected on screen as well. It was a strange combination because generally we believe that our filmmakers, using the ruse of how the society is, want their heroes to be heroic while keeping their heroines subdued and vulnerable. Maitreyee finds it an interesting observation and gives it to the Bengali public for the films that Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen did together were mass entertainers. Maitreyee puts Sen’s image to her background as well. “Unlike many heroines of that period, Suchitra was not in the film industry to support a family. She came from a rich background and cinema was just a passion for her. So she could be selective about the roles.”

Though gossip columns were full of their affair and Kumar was one of the very few men who had the privilege to call Sen by her real name – Roma – Maitreyee says her research shows it was friendship. “They had tremendous respect for each other’s talent and shared an unmistakable chemistry.”

Maitreyee finds it strange that though so many filmmakers from Bengal made a name on the national scene, nobody cared to cast Sen and Kumar together in a Hindi film. May be the matinee idols of Hindi cinema saw in Kumar a potential threat. Perhaps, the personality of Sen didn’t fit into the soft, vulnerable type of Hindi film heroine in the 60s. In Hindi films like Devdas, Bombai Ka Babu, Mamta and Aandhi , she showed that she was in no mood to give a walkover to the hero. Picked by Dilip Kumar, as Paro in Devdas , she overshadowed Vyjayanthimala with her grace and impeccable use of silence leading to an unnecessary discord with the actress on the nomination for Filmfare Award. Bombai Ka Babu dealt with brother-sister romance. Dev Anand noted her lack of self consciousness in front of the camera in close shots.

Even, when some of the best films of Uttam Kumar were remade in Hindi, Uttam Kumar was not considered. Be it Jeebon Mrityu , Bhranti Bilash (remade as Angoor ) or Chhodobeshi ( Chupke Chupke ) Kumar was not considered. Maitreyee says the film magazines of that period suggest that Kumar was considered a stiff competition but goes on to add that both the actors had limitations with Hindi. “It was apparent in the films they did. In those times the line between regional and national were strictly drawn and actors from Bengal were not too keen to be seen in Hindi films as they held Bengali cinema with pride.”

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