'Suchitra Sen may have been lonely but she wasn't alone'
The Garbosque life of more than three decades and half had only mystified the aura around Suchitra Sen – the veteran actress who passed away at the age of 82 today, January 17.
Gopal Krishna Roy, the only journalist with access to her even in her reclusive years, narrates moments of an extraordinary friendship to Sujoy Dhar.
A screen star was born in Tollygune studio in 1953.
Mrs Suchitra Sen appeared in the silver screen in the early 50s with her first Bengali release in 1953. It was a film called Saat Number Kayedi (Prisoner Number 7). What followed is what you call history.
Mrs Sen (I would like to refer her as that) was born in a middle-class family in Pabna, now in Bangladesh.
She came to India in 1947 as a refugee.
Eventually, she got married to Mr Dibanath Sen, who was from an aristocratic family of Kolkata’s residential enclave for the rich and famous then, Ballygunge Place.
Her surname before marriage was Dasgupta. She was Rama Dasgupta.
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Veteran journalist Gopal Krishna Roy, who retired from UNI in 1994, has written four books on the late actress in Bengali.
Image: Suchitra Sen on the cover of Gopal Krishna Ray's Suchitrar Katha
'My acquaintance with the legendary actress began with a rather messed up incident'
The name Suchitra Sen was given by Assistant Director Nitish Roy since Rama Sen was very small and uninteresting for a movie star.
Many felt that her role as Bishnupriya in the film Bhagaban Srikrishna Chaitanya in the same year was the turning point of her career and the beginning of a magical celluloid journey.
My acquaintance with the legendary actress began with a rather messed up incident.
In the 1970's, there was a debate going on in Indian Parliament on whether government should allow kissing scenes in films or not.
The House vehemently opposed it. At the backdrop of the Parliament’s decision I (then a journalist with news agency UNI) prepared a questionnaire on kissing and sent it to ten celluloid luminaries, including Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen, Soumitra Chatterjee and, of course, Suchitra Sen.
Image: Gopal Krishna Roy
'Giving a kiss is not so easy'
All of them except Mrs Sen replied within a day or two.
I contacted Mrs Sen over telephone twice or thrice but each time she avoided me by saying, 'All Nonsense.'
One day, she asked me to telephone her next day.
When I called her, her reply was serious but rather intriguing.
She said, "Chumban dawa ato sahaj noi (Giving a kiss is not so easy)." And she laughed.
Then I told her that I will file my story without her comment.
That story clicked all over India and came out in various newspapers. She noticed.
Mrs Sen then rang me up and said: Koi amake toh bad dite parlena (You could not completely ignore me in your story). She meant the mention of her name in my story as one film personality who refused to comment.
She, however, invited me at her house for a cup of tea. I went and we became friends.
Image: Suchitra Sen
'Both of us called each other by our first names'
I had a four-decade association with Mrs Sen, both of us called each other by our first names.
She was loving, living, frank, smart and cheerful. She was both soft and modest and serious at the same time. A moody star, she has always been guided by her own temperament. I can recall a few instances.
It was her daily routine to walk on the Ballygunge Circular Road after 9 pm then.
Sometimes I accompanied her. One day a gentleman suddenly recognised her while she was on one of her walks.
He immediately came up to her and asked for her autograph.
She asked him for a piece of paper but he was carrying any.
The man was in a state of confusion since Suchitra had immediately agreed to oblige him with an autograph.
Then she pointed towards an empty cigarette packet on the kerb and asked him to pick it up. She signed her name on the interior white side of the packet. The man was completely stumped by her action.
Image: Suchitra Sen
The doctor who wouldn't let go of her hand
Once, when she was suffering from some urological problem, she asked me to find a good urologist.
Fortunately I was friends with one very eminent urologist. He came to Mrs Sen’s house in the evening to examine her one day. When he left an hour later, Mrs Sen burst out laughing.
Then she told me, "Your doctor held my hand for 10 minutes and wouldn't let it go."
Another interesting story, also related to her health, is when she had gone to be examined by a reputed lady gynaecologist, Dr Bulbul Bhattacharya.
Mrs Sen went to her chamber in the evening and sat with a horde of other patients, her face partially covered by her saree.
Some of the patients still recognised her and the place was soon buzzing with excitement. I had no option but to rush to the doctor’s chamber and request her to see her as soon as possible.
After returning from the doctor’s chamber Mrs Sen said something really whacky, "You know what the doctor told me? She said I am still a virgin.” It was crazy for the mother of Moonmoon Sen to say so, but then she was like that. We just laughed.
It was really difficult for any person to walk with her and not attract attention. Her confident and bold style of walking was easily identifiable by the people who had watched her on the silver screen for decades.
Image: Suchitra Sen
'Late late matinee idol Uttam Kumar starred opposite her in 30 films'
At the Dhakineswar Kali temple, she was nearly mobbed once, but her presence of mind saved her that day.
She went to the temple to offer puja but was identified by so many devotees waiting in the queue that we had to come back without offering prayers that day.
She acted in 53 Bengali films and in seven Hindi films.
Out of 53, late matinee idol Uttam Kumar was opposite her in 30. They became an iconic romantic screen pair. I doubt if you would ever see such onscreen chemistry and magic.
Suchitra and Uttam shared a deep respect for each other and were not romantically linked off screen.
She never shared much about him with me but after Uttam died, Mrs Sen kept silent almost a whole night and rushed to Bhowanipore -- at Uttam’s house -- to offer garlands to her costar of so many films.
Image: Suchitra Sen
'She shared a special friendship with her Aandhi costar Sanjeev Kumar'
She and Sanjeev Kumar were good friends too, and they would stay at each other’s place in Mumbai and Kolkata whenever they visited each other's city.
Since Aandhi days, they had forged a very special friendship. She was very saddened by the death of Sanjeev Kumar.
Legendary filmmaker Bimal Roy was the man who had almost brought her to film.
In 1955, she had acted in Devdas opposite Dilip Kumar, directed by Roy.
Roy was related to them in some way from her in-law’s side.
When Bimal Roy first saw her, he immediately said that Suchitra had every quality to be a film star. So when he himself decided to make Devdas, he called her to Bombay. Vaijayanthimala played Chandramukhi, a role that Meena Kumari also had wanted to do.
Once Raj Kapoor had come to her with an offer but she had refused the film for some reason.
She retired after the forgettable 1978 Bengali film Pronoy Pasha, opposite Soumitra Chatterjee, and never ever visited Tollygune studios.
She remained a recluse for 35 years of her life.
Image: Sanjeev Kumar and Suchitra Sen in Aandhi
'She wanted to play Kiranmayi from Saratchandra's Charitraheen'
Besides working with Uttam Kumar, she had also worked in three films with the Dadasaheb Phalke winning Bengali actor Soumitra Chatterjee.
Her 1963 film Saath Pake Badha opposite Soumitra will always be remembered and she had won international prize for her portrayal of the wife of a professor caught between her husband with modest means and her rich, interfering mother.
Mrs Sen was equally loved by Bangladeshi people.
Suchitra Sen wanted to act in the role of Kiranmayi, the strong and rebellious woman character of the Saratchandra Chattopadhayay novel Charitraheen (The Characterless).
Her last wish was also to play the role of Ma Sarada. That remained unfulfilled.
Is Suchitra Sen, who led the life of a recluse since 1978, lonely?
How was her life since her disappearance from limelight? Well there are many conjectures, but she once told me: I may be lonely but I am not alone.
Image: Suchitra Sen