By Subhash K Jha
The name Suchitra Sen evokes immediate sighs from generations of moviegoers, even if they are not Bengali or born 35 years ago when Ms Sen chose to retire unconditionally and completely from public eye.
For decades now, Ms Sen’s only connectivity with the outside world were her daughter Moon Moon and her grand-daughters Raima and Riya.
Raima says she was deeply flattered when people compared her to her grandmother.
“There is a physical resemblance between my grand-mother and I. Sure. But I couldn’t imagine playing her on screen as a couple of filmmakers wanted me to. Her image, talent and aura are much too imposing for any actress to attempt to play her. And yet to us she was our grandmother, very caring and affectionate, always making sure we were comfortable,” says Raima.
Born in present-day Bangladesh in 1931 as Rama Dasgupta, Suchitra Sen’s aura and fame went much beyond the precincts of Bangla cinema. She made her screen debut in 1932 with Shesh Kothaay. But it was her pairing with Uttam Kumar in 1933 in Sharey Chauttor that established her as a woman of indomitable substance.
Bengali producers clamoured to cast the Uttam-Suchitra pair. But Suchitra was extremely careful about her projects. Sensible and shrewd about her stardom, Suchitra ensured she balanced out her Uttam Kumar starrers with hefty projects with other leading men.
Marriage to industrialist Dibanath Sen in 1947 did not dim her aura. Fans continued to look at Suchitra Sen with an awe that very few actors in India can match.
In 1963 her career peaked with Saat Pake Bandha, a powerful marital drama where she played the estranged wife to Soumitra Chatterjee. The film was remade as Kora Kagaz with Jaya Bhaduri in Suchitra’s role. Many of Suchitra’s classic were remade into Hindi, for example Asit Sen’s Dweep Jwale Jai which became the same director’s Khamoshi starring Waheeda Rehman.
Asit Sen’s Uttar Phalguni was remade as Mamta by the same director. Suchitra Sen played the double role of mother and daughter in both the versions. But somehow her career in Hindi cinema never really took wings.
Dharmendra, who co-starred with Suchitra in Mamta, remembers her as a quiet reserved and beautiful woman.
Says Dharamendra, “This is really really sad news. She was a darling co-star. A world-class actress has left us. I am terribly pained by this tragedy.”
Suchitra’s journey in Bollywood began with Bimal Roy’s Devdas where she covered herself in glory as Paro.
Next,Hrishikesh Mukherjee cast her in the experimental Musafir .She also appeared in the semi-experimental Bambai Ka Babu with Dev Anand where they played almost-siblings!
Though Suchitra was far more comfortable in Bangla films, one of her last screen appearances was in Hindi opposite Sanjeev Kumar in Gulzar’s Aandhi where she played a politician akin to Mrs Indira Gandhi. The film became controversial because of its content. Suchitra Sen, who shunned the limelight with vehement delight, hastily withdraw completely from cinema and the public eye.
One of Bengali cinema’s most prominent actors Victor Bannerjee recalls running into the reclusive Mrs Sen at the airport.
Says Victor, “This was the only time I actually saw her in person. She was hidden behind glamorous dark glasses on a misty Kolkata morning strutting with titillating allure on high heels at Dum Dum airport.”
How Victor wishes he had worked with Suchitra Sen. “Years ago she and I were cast in a play together. But she dropped out in characteristic style and left me deprived of what would no doubt have been a glorious experience. Alas, that was not meant to be! Another lustrous star has disappeared from our firmament.”