By Premankur Biswas
A few years ago, a popular Bengali news channel carried out an undercover operation. A journalist dressed as a hospital staff was sent to one of the most reputed private nursing homes of the city. His mission was to photograph an ailing Suchitra Sen, Bengal’s most celebrated female actor who also happens to be one of its most enduring mysteries.
For more than 30 years, Suchitra Sen had successfully averted the public eye to lead her life in her own terms. While the insensitive operation carried out by the channel may seem cruel to some, it also puts to fore Bengal’s obsession with Suchitra Sen.
Born Rama Dasgupta in present day Pabna District of Bangladesh, Suchitra Sen was the fifth child of Karunamoy Dasgupta, headmaster of the local school, and Indira Devi, a homemaker. She completed her formal education in Pabna before being marrying Dibanath Sen, son of a wealthy Bengali industrialist, Adinath Sen in 1947. She had one daughter, Moon Moon Sen, with him.
It’s difficult to point out exactly when did Suchitra Sen started embodying the quintessence of Bengali feminity. Was it her turn as the girl next door in her debut film ‘Sharey Chuattor’ (1953) that endeared her to the Bengali psyche? Was it her ability to be the perfect foil to Bengal’s undisputable mahanayak (megastar) Uttam Kumar or was it her on screen persona, a strong woman rooted in values but defiant when it comes to her ideals.
Indeed, it’s interesting to observe how Suchitra Sen gradually shrugged off the cloak of victimhood from the shoulders of Bengali leading ladies. If she was the woman trapped in a bad marriage in 1963’s Asit Sen classic Uttar Fhalguni (which was later made into ‘Mamta’), her character was empowered enough to walk out of it. In 1961’s Shaptapadi, which is arguably the most celebrated romance of Bengali cinema, Suchitra Sen’s Rina Brown is a complex, flawed protagonist who fights her destiny to be with the man she loves and takes to alcohol after losing him. She is an equal to Uttam Kumar in the film, never a passive object of his affection. In fact, if there was any actor who matched Uttam Kumar in terms of charisma and popularity, it was Suchitra Sen. Uttam-Suchitra starrers ensured one thing, the script will have a substantial if not equal role for the female protagonist.
Such was the impact of Uttam-Suchitra pairing that continued…