L&C interviews Maitreyee Bhattacharjee Chowdhury on her recent book “Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen- Bengali Cinema’s First Couple”.
Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen – these two names continue to spark magic in Bengali hearts even to this day, more than 50 years after their romantic pair ignited the screens across theaters in Bengal.
Their on-screen chemistry has become part of folklore; their off-screen regard and respect for each other and buddying is well known; the songs they enacted together are still remembered, sung and celebrated as milestones in film music; the DVDs of their films are popular buys in music stores and online shops.
What made them such an iconic pair which till date has had no parallel in Bengali cinema? What went behind creating those simple, evocative yet everlasting movies that do not seem dated even in this age of technical razzmatazz?
Bangalore-based author Maitreyee Bhattacharjee Chowdhury delves into the reasons of success of this enigmatic pair in her recent book “Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen – Bengali Cinema’s First Couple”.
As Amitava Nag writes in his review of the book in dearcinema.com, “The book is carefully woven to first focus on the stars separately – as actors and as persons in their own lives and then taking on to the chemistry between the two and then discussing few of the high-points in the different films they worked together and some of the palpable reasons for their success – music and script. As the text mentions more than once, the dynamics of their chemistry is something which will remain a mystery – Suchitra Sen was probably the most glamorous Bengali actress of all times, a perfect foil for Uttam Kumar, the handsome smart debonair. It is a point of conjecture though as to why the couple looked so passionate on screen – whether they were involved in real life or not as well.”
The book, since its release, has attracted impressive sales and has been nominated for the Crossword Book Awards in the Non Fiction category.
In a candid interview to Learning & Creativity, Maitreyee talks about what inspired her to write on this pair whose on screen persona and chemistry has intrigued and impressed cine lovers through generations and how she went about putting it all together.
L&C: The most obvious question first – what inspired you to write about this iconic screen pair of Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen?
Maitreyee: Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen have been screen idols for many. Their beautiful togetherness were the reason many Bengalis turned towards cinema too. They emerged at a time when Bengali cinema was going through a rough patch and facing competition from Hindi cinema. Like many other Bengalis, I grew up outside Bengal and Uttam Kumar & Suchitra Sen were my window to Bangaliana in what was otherwise a very cosmopolitan childhood.
Much later, I realized that there were many like me maybe outside Bengal or even outside the country who had the urge to know more about the couple. Since there has been no book in English before this on the duo, it made for a logical choice too.
L&C: Uttam Kumar is no more today and Suchitra Sen lives the life of a recluse. Was it difficult gathering accurate facts about them, especially the not so well known anecdotes?
Maitreyee: Somewhat yes. But every book has a perspective and mine has a perspective in that I did not want it to become their biographies.
The book has aspects about growth and comparison of Bengali cinema (both art house and commercial cinema), the music and the stories that made their films so special, apart from the people who brought them together both in personal and professional life. I have tried to give a broader picture, apart from their special chemistry.
Also when two film stars of their stature come together there are different factors responsible for it, the book focuses on all of this and more.
Apart from speaking to people who worked with the stars, magazines, books and cine-lovers, who followed these two in great detail, formed the base of my research.
L&C: Both these actors are held in the highest regard by not only their fans but also the film industry in general. It is natural to be an emotional fan of these stars. How did you handle the challenge of keeping an objective, neutral view?
Maitreyee: Apart from loving their chemistry and writing a book on them, I also happen to write a lot on cinema, different kinds of cinema both Indian and world cinema. When one writes about Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen, one cannot ignore the fact that one is writing about a very important part of Bengali cinema.
As such only speaking from an emotional angle would make the book a frivolous one. The anecdotes form one part of the book, sprinkled throughout it, while other parts take a ring side view into their coming together in different ways.
L&C: What would you consider as the best film of Uttam-Suchitra as a romantic pair? And why?
Maitreyee: Uttam-Suchitra, have numerous romantic films in different shades of romance picturised on them. Some of them like Harano Sur, Saptapadi, Agnipariksha are immensely popular and all of these are good films based on good story lines and all other elements that make a film, enjoyable.
But my personal favourite is Kamallata. I cannot say, whether others would find it as romantic as I do or love it the way I do, because it is a mature romance different from what the audiences loved seeing them do. But for me that film also epitomizes the personal relationship that I believe the duo shared.
A relationship based on deep understanding, love and respect for each other, a relationship very different from what people could even imagine in those times, devoid of sleaze and based on mutual admiration and affection.
L&C: Uttam-Suchitra worked with some of the greatest directors of their times, such as Ajay Kar, Asit Sen, Agradoot. Which director would you think brought out the best in them, i.e. exploited their on-screen chemistry in the most engaging manner?
Maitreyee: I think it is difficult to comment on who brought out their on-screen chemistry the best. They worked with different directors. If they looked lovely in Harano Sur by Ajoy Kar, they looked equally mesmerizing in Anipariksha by Agradoot, again Shilpi one of their biggest hits was by Agragami.
L&C: They ruled in the black-and-white era. Cinema is all about technical glitz today. What makes this romantic pair continue to win hearts, even after all these decades?
Maitreyee: The very fact that they were so good together makes them a hit even today. Not every cine-goer understands or even likes the technological glitz available now. For them a good story with good actors works best even today.
Uttam-Suchitra had raw chemistry, good looks and loads of talent which need no adages. I think that is very plain to anyone who watches Bengali films. Moreover the pair is backed by good storylines and great music which make their films even more commendable. All in all a great package that doesn’t become old with time.
Apart from this the fact that Bengali cinema hasn’t been able to produce as charismatic a pair till today acts as a big advantage in their direction. There have been couples who are probably far more commercially successful but the adoration that these two generated in the hearts of the audiences is exemplary.
L&C: Your other book, ‘Reflections on My India: An Indian Insight’ is in a completely different genre than that of your second book, about Uttam-Suchitra. How did this book come about?
Maitreyee: ‘Reflections on My India’ is a book of essays. I had been writing a lot on Indian traditions and abstract philosophies, when I was approached by the publishers for this book. The book is aimed at the youth, many of whom are not aware of certain traditions in the Indian context. I also talk about some street philosophy here in extremely simple language and examples that most people can understand or relate to.
Buy Maitreyee’s book now available on Flipkart with the title “Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen Bengali Cinema’s First Couple”. Also available are great collections of their films.
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