Veteran actor-singer Ruma Guha Thakurta, who breathed her last in her sleep at the age of 84 in her Ballygunge Place residence in Kolkata on Monday, will be known as that rare artiste whose creativity ranged from acting to singing. She worked in several critically-acclaimed Indian films. Apart from a long acting career, Ruma, who made her screen debut in Amiya Chakravarty’s Jwar Bhata (1944), later found fame as co-founder of the Calcutta Youth Choir, which she formed with music composer Salil Chowdhury. She continued to work with the choir for nearly 55 years.
Ruma, who tied the knot with Kishore Kumar in the early ’50s, and was the mother of playback singer Amit Kumar. She was exposed to choir singing at the young age of 10 as she used to attend the rehearsals of Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA) in Mumbai. Around the same time, she was also learning dance from the legendary dancer Uday Shankar. She later married writer-director Arup Guha Thakurta and moved to Kolkata. She has a daughter named Sromona and a son, Ayan, from this marriage.
The actor worked with some of the most prominent Indian directors during her career. Immediately ahead of her marriage with Kishore Kumar in 1951, she featured in Nitin Bose-directed Mashaal (1950) and Chetan Anand’s Afsar (1950). It is during the ’60s that she acted in some of the most acclaimed Bengali movies. Prominent among them are Satyajit Ray’s Abhijaan (1962), Tapan Sinha’s Nirjan Saikate (1963) and Sunil Bannerjee’s Antony Firingee (1967). She also played a cameo in Aparna Sen’s much-acclaimed directorial debut, 36 Chowringhee Lane. Her other significant movies are Ray’s Ganashatru (1989), Sinha’s Wheel Chair (1994) and Mira Nair’s The Namesake in which she played the role of Irrfan’s mother. She has also been a playback singer in some films including Lukochuri (1958) and Teen Kanya (1961).
Calcutta Youth Choir was formed in 1958. In an old television interview, Ruma had said that the idea of a choir came from Chowdhury, who was then basking in the accolades for composing the evergreen melodies of Madhumati (1958). “He suggested that we start the choir with his students and revive the IPTA songs. The choir performed a wide range of songs including those written by Rabindranath Tagore, Nazrul Islam, Prem Dhawan and lyricist Shailendra,” she’d said. By her own admission, she was never allowed to wrap up a show without a performance of the forever popular choir song, O Ganga tumi boicho keno, which was originally written and sung by musician Bhupen Hazarika. She was also trained under Mumbai-based vocalist Abdul Rehman Khan for a year.
Talking about the influence of Ruma on him, Kalyan Sen Barat, creative director of Calcutta Choir, says, “When I first saw Ruma Guha Thakurta perform on stage with her choir, I was very impressed by her presence and the way she conducted herself. Many artistes are not good organisers. She was an exception. What’s most interesting is that she introduced dance in choir performances. This helped in connecting with the masses.”
Expressing grief over the singer-actor’s passing away, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee extended her condolences. “Saddened at the passing away of Ruma Guha Thakurta. Her contribution to the field of cinema and music will always be remembered,” Banerjee tweeted.