Capturing the public’s imagination for three decades through her ethereal beauty and intense celluloid performance, Suchitra Sen symbolised the golden age of Bengali cinema with memorable films like ‘Agnipariksha’, ’Devdas’ and ‘Saat Paake Bandha’ The doe-eyed beauty turned a recluse after bidding adieu to the world of films in the late seventies and was often compared to Hollywood icon Greta Garbo, who shunned 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 intense performances catapulted her to stardom. Such was the popularity of the Sen that during Durga Puja, idols of Lakshmi and Saraswati were known to have been modelled on her face.
Sen on January 17 died at the age of 82 after suffering a heart attack. Beginning her career with Bengali film ‘Shesh Kothai’ in 1952, Sen went on to receive a National Award for her performance in Bimal Roy’s 1955 Hindi classic ‘Devdas’, playing the defiant ‘Paro’ to Dilip Kumar’s ‘Devdas’. She formed an unbeatable romantic pair with Bengali cinema legend Uttam Kumar. The duo gave a string of memorable hits such as ‘Harano Sur’ (1957), ‘Agnipariksha’ (1954),’Saptapadi’ (1961), ‘Grihadaha’ (1967), ‘Indrani’ (1958), ‘Sagarika’ (1956), ‘Bipasha’ (1962), ‘Kamal Lata’ (1969), ‘Alo Amar Alo’ (1972), ‘Har Mana Har’ (1972) and ’Priyo Bandhabi’ (1975). Sen acted in 52 Bengali and seven Hindi films. ’Champakali’, with Bharat Bhushan, ‘Sarhhaad’ and ‘Bommbai Ka Babu’ with Dev Anand and ‘Mamta’ were some of her other notable Hindi films.
However, her most famous Hindi film after ‘Devdas’ was 1974’s ‘Aandhi’ by Gulzar. She earned wide acclaim for her role opposite Sanjeev Kumar in the film which landed in controversy due to similarities betwen her character and Indira Gandhi. After her 1978 movie ‘Pronoy Pasha’ with Soumitra Chatterjee flopped, Sen quietly left the limelight and even allegedly refused the Dadasaheb Phalke Award in 2005 preferring not to make a public appearance. As per her wishes, her family maintained secrecy even when she was hospitalised. The reason behind Sen’s withdrawal from public life remains a mystery.
A follower of the Ramakrishna Mission order, Sen spent her retired life in meditation and prayer. In 1989, when Bharat Maharaj of the mission passed away, she was seen publicly walking all the way to the crematorium from Belur Math near Kolkata. Her daughter Moon Moon, though a wellknown Bengali actress, could never overcome the large shadow that her mother’s beauty and acting prowess cast. Sen’s granddaughters Riya and Raima have also featured in some Bollywood flicks. 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. She was cast opposite matinee idol Uttam Kumar in 30 films from 1953 to 1975.
She earned both national and international acclaim for her performances as the quintessential romantic heroine be it in the role of ‘Vishnupriya’ in the fifties, ‘Rina Brown’ in the sixties or ‘Bijaya’ in the seventies. The actress was born as Rama Dasgupta at Pabna (Bangladesh) in 1931 to Karunamoy and Indira Dasgupta. Suchitra married Dibanath Sen from an aristocratic family in 1947, before launching a successful acting career. There were rumours that the marriage suffered due to her successful acting career. Initially, Sen was more interested in singing than in acting. In 1951, she auditioned as a playback singer, but was instead offered a role by director Sukumar Dasgupta. Dasgupta’s assistant director Nitish Roy named her Suchitra by which name she went on to achieve celebrity status.
Her first film ‘Sesh Kothay’ (1952) remained unfinished and ‘Sat Number Kayedi’ with Samar Roy as the hero in 1953 was her first film to hit cinema houses. That year three other films of hers were also released — Niren Lahiri’s ‘Kajari’, ‘Bhagaban Sri Krishna Chaitanya’ and Nirmal Dey’s ‘Sade Chuttar’ opposite Uttam Kumar. In 1954, ‘Agnipariksha’ played to packed houses for a record 15 weeks and the Suchitra and Uttam were on their way to success. The pair then had a string of runway successes due to their on-screen chemistry. But Suchitra’s talent ensured the success of her films even without Uttam as her co-star. ’Uttar Phalguni’, ‘Sandhya Deeper Shikha’, ‘Deep Jeley Jai’, with Basanto Chowdhury and ‘Hospital’ with Ashok Kumar, were also hits.