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Romance In Cinema – Uttam Kumar And Suchitra Sen – A Case Study

Many a literary pieces has been penned on Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen, yet the urge to know more about Bengal’s most legendary onscreen romantic pair seems unquenchable.

Harano Sur

The National Award winning film Harano Sur is considered one of the landmark films of the Uttam-Suchitra pair

Since time immemorial the popularity of romance in stories remains unparalleled, whether it is popular literature or films.  It is perhaps not surprising that one of the highest grossing film of all times is Titanic, a story of a passionate illicit affair between two people belonging to different strata’s of society.

The effect of such films on the audience is often similar to that of great tragedies, they seem to perpetuate the belief that romance and illusion lasts forever, especially through the actors they are played by.  If a Romeo and Juliet or a Tristan and Isolde make you believe that their romances can only last forever, even in death the film audiences are led to believe that much of this is true and that passion, between those playing such undeniable chemistry can also reflect in real life. It leaves the audience, with the feeling that such passion is eternal.

Cinematic history is replete with couples who steamed up the screen and had viewers flocking time and again to catch glimpses of that incredible chemistry that sets them apart from others. Eons have been written about their special magic.

Saptapadi (1961)

The romantic song ‘Ei poth jodi na sesh hoye’ (Saptapadi, 1961) shot on a bike showcase their effortless chemistry with each other.

Some of these special couples have been instrumental in resurrecting a film, out of a bad script or make fans still watch that really ordinary film. Some of these pairs still burn brightly in our memories, and often make for much of the nostalgia that yesteryear cinema is all about.

Legendary Hollywood screen couples who have burned the screen with their surreal chemistry and amazing togetherness have in many ways influenced the way the world has viewed romance, even set similar standards.

Amazing names such as Bogey and Bacall, Hepburn and Tracy, Burton and Taylor, Gable and Leigh, cross the mind in this context. In recent times of course, many such couples have recreated the magic of screen couples again, some of them being, DiCaprio and Winslet, Travolta and Newton-John, Gere and Roberts. The reason that couples such as these make it to romantic lists over and over again and inspire the greatest of romantic films to be filmed again and again or ignite in the audience that happy feeling of ‘happily ever after’ is because they sizzle together on-screen.

Films like Gone With The Wind, Casablanca, etc have romance set in the backdrop of surface action amid politics, and drama. These epic films had the iconic screen pairs responding to circumstance beyond their control, even while retaining the essence of romance in a grand and epic manner.

Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen 2

Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen have often been said to have delivered the best of their acting capabilities with each other.

The fine line that makes these people and their characters assume epic proportions is that their chemistry and love seem to surmount history, war and fate. In the end they are victorious in death or in life but always in love.

A look at some of the on screen legendary pairs would tell us that it is their  interactions between these characters is in a large way responsible for what makes the story special.

One remembers Casablanca in this connection where, it is the fine blend of chemistry, tension and nostalgia, between Rick and Ilsa, and their connection bridged by pianist Sam singing “As Time Goes By” ordered in the cryptic tones of “play it again, Sam”, as Rick’s wry bitterness is pierced by unexpected sentimentalism. Bogart, though known for some of his masterpieces like The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep, is fondly recollected for one of the greatest on screen pairings.

Closer home, Indian cinema has had its fair share of iconic star pairings, Raj Kapoor and Nargis, Madhubala and Dilip Kumar, M G Ramachandran and Jayalalithaa, Amitabh Bachchan and Rekha and Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen.

If one thought it was rare for actors to reunite and carry the special magic beyond one film and beyond the film into private domain and real life as opposed to the reel, one only has to see some of these pairs.

As a result, if you still have people sighing at the unfulfilled romance of Dilip Kumar and Madhubala, you have the never ending speculation about one time hot screen pairing Amitabh Bachchan and Rekha.

Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen in Har Mana Har

Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen have often been said to have delivered the best of their acting capabilities with each other.

In Bengali cinema too, the 50s to the 70s saw the birth of an iconic pair, which revolutionized how people would look at Bengali cinematic romance forever.

There have been numerous successful onscreen pairs before and after them and many much more commercially successful too, but what is astounding about this special pair is that in recent history in context with Bengali cinema, no one can separate the name of Uttam Kumar from that of Suchitra Sen even in memory and this in spite the fact that both of them have done numerous films with others! Perhaps it is this that we call chemistry.

Many a literary pieces have been penned on Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen, yet the urge to know more about Bengal’s most legendary onscreen romantic pair seems unquenchable.

Of course, Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen are names that need no introduction in the world of Bengali cinema, indeed they are icons in themselves and legends that have churned out hit film after film, where they have been romantically paired together. To an industry starved with funds and hit films that would drive the public to the theatres in droves, they were like manna from heaven.

If romance had to be given a face, the palette would be filled with Uttam and Suchitra romantic escapades on celluloid. Such was the power, charisma and chemistry that crackled between the two that for many a dreamy eyed fan they were the perfect combination just made for each other.

Devi Choudhurani  (1974)

Suchitra Sen with Ranjit Mullik in Devi Choudhrani (1974)
Suchitra paired successfully with actors like Soumitra Chatterjee, Ashok Kumar, Bikash Roy, Ranjit Mullick, Samar Roy in many films.

Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen went on to work with many other artistes and were quite successful too.

Suchitra Sen paired successfully with actors like Soumitra Chatterjee, Ashok Kumar, Bikash Roy, Samar Roy in many films. Some like Saat Paake Bandha in 1963, with Soumitra Chatterjee, and Hospital in 1960 with Ashok Kumar were extremely successful too.

On his part Uttam Kumar starred with several other heroines in extremely successful films like Jhinder Bandi in 1961 with Arundhati Debi, Deya Neya in 1963 with Tanuja, Basu Paribar in 1952 with Sabitri Chatterjee. But it is only with each other that they have been appreciated as much as what was termed as a ‘romatic juti’ (romantic pair).

Whether Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen had a romantic inclination for each other has always been up for public speculation. Much to the disappointment of many, Uttam and Suchitra did not as much as hint of any such liaison between them, much as the public would have liked them to.

Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen 4

The photograph that send gossip mills on an overdrive. Clicked by Dhiren Deb the picture added to the stories about their romance and special relationship.

What transpired between the two has of course largely remained within them since both chose not to comment on it. As insiders would have it, mutual respect, admiration for each other’s work and a mutual love of cinema were the factors that led to a mutual admiration.

Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen ushered in a successful romantic era to the Bengali cinema that set the cash registers ringing and making them into an idolized pair, comparable with the likes of Nargis and Raj Kapoor. Uttam Kumar, a Bengali romantic hero essayed roles in more than 200 films and was the first recipient of the National award for Best actor given by the Indian Government.

On her part Suchitra Sen was and remained a living legend of Bengali cinema. She was the leading lady of her times, and during the fifties, sixties and the early seventies, she made a huge impact on the audience, with her haughty demeanor, style of acting and classic good looks.

Together Uttam and Suchitra worked in about 30 films, their first with each other being Sare Chuattor, a romantic comedy about the antics of the occupants of a Boys hostel and their behavior on the arrival of a new girl (Suchitra Sen) on the scene.

The film was a hit, but more than anything else it is today remembered as the film that launched Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen as a celluloid couple. Though the romantic scenes in the film were at a minimum, yet in these few scenes they mesmerized the audiences with their onscreen romance.

The simplicity of Uttam was a perfect foil for the polished and glamorous look of Suchitra. Together they made romantic film history. Some of their hugely popular hits together include Saptapadi, Harano Sur, Sagarika, Shapmochan, etc.

It must be mentioned here that much of the duo’s popularity was contributed by the songs that showed them together. The team of Hemanta Mukhopadhyay, Sandhya Mukhopadhyay, Geeta Dutt was a very successful combination that brought melody and romance in the perfect tandem of melodrama that was portrayed in the Uttam Suchitra movies so effortlessly.

Songs like ‘Ei poth jodi na sesh hoye’ from Saptapadi, ‘Tumi je amar’ from Harano Sur showcase their effortless chemistry with each other, immortalizing them in the hearts of their fans.

Tumi je aamar (Harano Sur, 1957)
Singer : Geeta Dutt
Music : Hemanta Mukherjee

The duo gave hit after hit and inspired an entire generation who not only fancied their romance but also copied their mannerisms, hair styles and way of talking and smiling too.

Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen have often been said to have delivered the best of their acting capabilities with each other. Fans, critics and film historians have often wondered at the eternal charisma that bought together these two actors who seemed to have something special going for them.

Kamal Lata (1969)

Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen did two films based on two parts of Saratchandra Chattopadhyay’s celebrated novel Srikant – Rajlakshmi O Srikant (1958) and Kamal Lata (1969)

Wide speculations of an off screen romance remain till date an unproven fact, something that perhaps their fans would have wanted more than anything else.

It must be mentioned here that Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen are legends of Bengali cinema in their own right they did not need the support of anything else other than good cinema to prove their merit. However, it is in perhaps their wonderful and heart wrenching portrayal of lovers on screen that captured the imagination of their fans who will remember them forever as the golden couple of Bengali cinema.

Towards the end of their careers, Suchitra Sen retired untimely due to unknown personal reasons and even though Uttam Kumar delved in character portrayals and continued doing films till his death, nothing could compare to the magic the two had weaved onscreen for several years together.

Much might have changed in Bengali cinema, since the days the duo worked together. Newer and more commercially successful pairs might have been seen onscreen, but to most Bengalis who grew up in that era and even beyond, Uttam and Suchitra remain an inseparable name, as far as romance on celluloid is concerned.

(Some pictures used in this article are courtesy: Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen: Bengali Cinema’s First Couple, some are courtesy Internet)

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Maitreyee B Chowdhury is a web columnist, poet and creative writer. She is author of three books 'Reflections on My India', 'Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen: Bengali Cinema's First Couple' and 'Where Even The Present Is Ancient: Benaras'. She writes on cinema and art too. Maitreyee writes for Criterion Literary Journal; a journal of media studies 'Kottaka'; Indian Express (Bay Area); Indian Ruminations; YOMO Art Gallery (South East Asian Art House); Gallery 2000 (French Art House); The Sip of Life, etc.
All Posts of Maitreyee Bhattacharjee Chowdhury

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