January 17, 2014

Rahein na rahein hum, mehka karenge – Legendary Suchitra Sen

Capturing the public's imagination for three decades through her ethereal beauty and intense celluloid performance, Suchitra Sen symbolized the golden age of Bengali cinema with memorable films like 'Agnipariksha', 'Devdas' and 'Saat Paake Bandha .

Long before Aishwarya Rai and Kareena Kapoor set out to prove that married actresses could be celluloid heroines, a 21-year-old actress single-handedly was leading the charge in Bengal. Mrs Sen was already married six years and was the mother of five-year-old Moon Moon.

The doe-eyed beauty turned a loner after bidding adieu to the world of films in the late seventies and was often compared to Hollywood icon Greta Garbo, who avoided public contact. No other heroine in Bengal since Kanan Devi caught the public imagination as Sen did. In an era of black and white movies, her powerful performances propelled her to stardom.

She had her first big hit in 1953's Sharey Chuattor opposite Uttam Kumar, with whom she made most respected and loved on screen couple. Over the next 20 years, Uttam-Suchitra became part of cinematic legend and Suchitra Sen one of Bengal's brightest stars.

Rama Dasgupta was born in Pabna, now in Bangladesh, on April 16, 1931 to a schoolteacher father and homemaker mother. She was 16 when she married Dibanath Sen, descendant of a wealthy business family in Calcutta, in 1947. The couple had a daughter named Moon Moon in 1948 and remained married, within rumors of trouble, all through Suchitra Sen's quick rise to stardom till Dibanath Sen's death in the '70s. 

In 1952, Suchitra, faced the arc lights for the first time in the ill-fated Shesh Kothay which was never released. Just the next year, Sharey Chuattor made her a star and launched the canon of Uttam-Suchitra romances. In 1955, the young Suchitra Sen starred as Paro in her first Hindi film, Bimal Roy's adaptation of Bengali classic Devdas, opposite Dilip Kumar and Vyjayanthimala. She appeared, with varying degrees of success in other Hindi films including Musafir (1957), Mamta (1966) and Aandhi (1975) in which she played a politician, reportedly a fictionalized version of Indira Gandhi. She was nominated for the Filmfare Best Actress award for both Mamta and Aandhi. In 1963, Sen became the first Indian actress to be honoured at an international film festival - best actress award for 'Saat Paake Bandha' at Moscow film festival.

Back home in Bengal, Suchitra Sen was incomparable. With Uttam Kumar, she made movie magic in films like Sagarika (1956), Harano Sur (1957) and Saptapadi (1961). She was also feted for her dramatic performances in films like Dweep Jele Jai (1959) where she played a psychiatric nurse who develops a relationship with a male patient as part of his therapy. Suchitra's other landmark film was Uttar Falguni (1963) with Asit Sen. Suchitra carried the film single-handedly in the dual role of a courtesan Pannabai and her daughter Suparna, a lawyer. Her performance won rave reviews.

In 1963, Suchitra Sen became the first Indian actress to win an international award, receiving the Silver Prize for Best Actress at the Moscow Film Festival for Saptapadi. 

As the '70s wound to a close, so did Suchitra Sen's career. She refused a film offer from Raj Kapoor and was unable to find dates for a film directed by Satyajit Ray. In 1978, she made her last celluloid outing in Pranoy Pasha opposite Soumitro Chatterjee, retiring not just from the big screen but from public life itself. 

She withdrew herself from public appearance that she was dubbed India's Greta Garbo, even refusing the Dadasaheb Phalke Award in 2005 because it meant travelling to New Delhi. Over the years, just a handful of people were admitted into her South Kolkata home apart from daughter Moon Moon and grand-daughters Raima and Riya Sen. 

In 2012, Suchitra Sen received the 'Banga Bibhushan' award from the government of West Bengal. She devoted her retirement years working for the Ramakrishna Mission. 

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