A cultural icon who straddled multiple disciplines with ease, Ruma Guha Thakurta passed away in Kolkata on Monday, aged 84. Over a six-decade film career, Thakurta was a part of some seminal Indian cinema. Her initiation into the arts happened when she trained as a dancer under the acclaimed Uday Shankar at his Almora academy. Thakurta eventually moved to Bombay where she gained immediate eminence. Her debut as an actress had already happened by then, though. When she was just about 10 years old, she starred in Amiya Chakravarty’s Jwar Bhata (1944), which also marked the debut of Dilip Kumar. She went on to work with some of the biggest names in Indian cinema including Tapan Sinha (Nirjan Saikate, 1963), Tarun Majumdar (Palatak, 1963), Sunil Bannerjee (Antony Firingee, 1967) and, of course, Satyajit Ray. With Ray, she collaborated on Abhijan (1962) and Ganashatru (1989).
A remarkable facet of Thakurta’s ouevre has been her versatility. In contemporary parlance, she would be an exceptional “multi-tasker”. Around the time she was establishing her legacy as an actor, she was also creating a reputation as a successful playback singer. From Kamal Majumdar’s Lukochuri in 1958, featuring two popular duets with Kishore Kumar, who she married, to Dilip Roy’s Amrita Kumbher Sandhaney in 1982, Thakurta made her presence with her melody too.
Thakurta did not confine her interest in music within the movie industry. She left an indelible mark on the cultural landscape of Calcutta as co-founder of the Calcutta Youth Choir, along with Salil Chowdhury and Ray, in 1958. The Choir, helmed by Thakurta, soon gained acclaim for its performances: From performing in Dhaka at the first anniversary celebrations of the Bangladesh liberation to receiving Nelson Mandela when he visited India and welcoming Fidel Castro in the early-1990s. Thakurta leaves behind a rich history and an extensive body of work that is sure to resonate for long.