By Subhash K Jha
MUMBAI: Moon Moon Sen speaks to Subhash K jha about her mystical mother Suchitra Sen:
“She was so loved by everyone…It’s hard to imagine she is gone.She was my entire universe.Beautiful memories seem so painful at the moment.I think everyone’s mom is very special. But she was special to not just me but all of Bengal , and beyond.I can’t think straight right now…But yes, I’ll tell you whatever I remember right now…
“What was she like? She was very undemanding as a person. She was the closest to me. But she knew I had my life to lead and came to terms with that. She liked being alone. But it’s not that she didn’t like meeting people. She liked meeting interesting people.
“As a child I remember her always working. I was put in boarding school in Darjeeling and then in England. It was a big joy and privilege for me to come back home for every holiday…thrice a year to spend time with her. Every time I was home I realized how special she was. When I left to go back to boarding school in Darjeeling and later in Surrey she’d cry more than I did. I was very spoilt and pampered.
“Later when I was studying in Kolkata even when she was at work she would ring up twice a day to find out about me, my meals etc…As I grew older I realized how special she was. During my vacations she’d bring me down from boarding school in England to any part of India. I remember my father driving me to the Taj hotel from the airport in Mumbai when she was in the city shooting for Aandhi.I had to be content with those three annual visits.
“After school during college I lived with her in Kolkata. We were very very close.When I got married (quite late) and moved out, it must have been very difficult for her. I looked after her when I was there. My going away must have been very hard for her. But she never expressed her anguish.I have a very kind husband. Every morning I went to see my mother and my husband never minded.My husband has always given me a lot of space….
“My mother not only dealt with the film industry on her own terms and also look after the home and me. She did everything that a man and a woman combined could do in a family. She was both father and mother to me. We slept in the same room,ate together and did everything together. I remember I’d be doing my studies and she would be in the next room just back from her shooting relaxing sipping tea and keeping an eye on me. I knew she was always there for me…I can feel her presence now too.
“When I was not in boarding school she would make sure she was home when I needed her, although she wouldn’t pick me up or drop me to school. She didn’t have time for that.We had a nanny for all that. Sometimes she would come to school to pick me up. People would not accost her. They respected her privacy all her life in Kolkata.
“When did I realize she was an iconic star? As a child I knew her as my mother at home and as the actress in the studio. She started the star-system in Bengal.
“No one had an aura like hers.But our most fun times were when I was in boarding school in England. Both my parents would come to pick me up and we would drive to Scotland and other destinations. There was no question of her privacy being violated during those precious family holidays in and around England. Even in India everyone respected her need for privacy. But it’s a myth that she didn’t meet people. She met everyone she had to and was extremely polite and easy-going in her social interaction. Of course she had a fierce temper which my daughters and I have inherited. She was very choosy about her friends and a stickler for punctuality. If anything didn’t go well while shooting my mother would be extremely upset and would make no effort to hide it. That’s because she was very particular about the quality of her work. One reason why she quit acting in the 1970s was the kitschy mediocrity that overtook Bengali cinema in the 1970s and 80s.Many of the directors she knew well and felt comfortable working with, passed away.The scripts that were offered to her were awful.Uttam Kumar passed away and she’d say, ‘Whom am I going to work with?’ Once she left acting she left it behind completely.
“When I started acting she would hardly ask about the film industry except maybe an odd question about how Gulzar Saab was doing. She was extremely fond of him. Otherwise she was totally out of cinema both Bengali and Hindi. She let her stardom go quite easily. But stardom never let go of her. I remember I was on a flight with Andhra Pradesh’s eminent producer D Rama Naidu. He said to me, ‘Tell your mother I’ve a blank cheque waiting for your mother whenever she decides to work with me.’ And Salim Khan Saab told me she refused Yash Chopra’s Deewaar.After she opted out they changed the whole script.From Ma and Sons it became just sons. …I think she missed the company of like-minded people.She had me and her aunts , sisters , nieces and very few friends. Initially my mom had 9 sister. Now it’s just 4 who are alive.They were here after mom’s passing away….Why am I do different from my mother? I don’t know! That’s just the way it is. I am more outgoing. But let me tell you, when she was working anyone could approach her.
“She was there to help quietly. She looked after her makeup man’s schooling. She looked out for her entire staff, visited their homes if they were indisposed. Her charitable work was not tom-tommed. She was a very generous soul.She had a great deal of self-respect mixed with a whole lot of humility. But she never allowed outsiders to come close to her. One thing she always taught me was to hold my head high. She taught me so many values that I find so credible now.She followed them herself. When we are younger we want to find out everything on our own.
“As we grow older we realize our parents were right. She never put any restriction on the way I dressed or behaved. When I joined the Hindi film industry many people smirked about Suchitra Sen’s daughter wearing a bathing costume. But my mother always let us swim. And I’d move around the house wearing sun-suits. When I grew older I wore mini-skirts. Not once did she comment on my clothes. She told me, ‘You aren’t comfortable wearing a Saree? Don’t worry about it unless we’re going to a Shraddh or something.’ It made no difference to me if the Hindi film industry thought I was wild because I wore a swimming suit.
“Now the Mumbai film industry has grown up a bit. During my days it was different. My behaviour seemed unconventional in Mumbai. I’d keep shuttling between Mumbai and Kolkata trying to keep a balance between my mother and husband in Kolkata and my career in Mumbai. I had this bunch of wickedly fun-loving girlfriends to keep me company in Mumbai and my husband would send his friends over to Mumbai to keep me company. I’ve been very lucky with my mother and my husband. After a point I stopped working in Mumbai and moved back to Kolkata because I wanted to be with my mother.I felt she was lonely without me. Now I am without her…
“For her final journey I dressed her up so beautifully. I made sure her face was covered from public view. What a pity that was! Because to the end she was so beautiful. She kept urging me to do a few more films and to write. I suppose now I will write again. Maybe a coffee table book about my mother.You know, I promised her I’d never write about her personal life. Keeping out her personal details it’d be very easy for me to write a coffee table book on my mother.I feel my daughter Raima can take over my mother’s histrionic legacy forward and my daughter Riya would take forward my mother’s spiritual legacy.During my mother’s final days Riya was holding her hand through the pain, giving her strength . My mother used to say Riya had the makings of a great comic actress. Now she’s gone leaving behind memories .They would never fade. I am certain of that.”