Bengalis across the spectrum, across the political divide straddling what once was a united province in British India, across the diaspora they have built around the world, will take a long time to get over the reality of Suchitra Sen's passing. The reason is simple: Sen was a beautiful woman, past compare. And with that beauty came grace and elegance, a certain dignified sensuality one does not often spot in a woman. Beginning with her entry into the world of movies and continuing till her death, she was an individual whom age could not wither. She took care that the world remained lost in thoughts of her as she was in her youth. She became a recluse.
How much do we know about Suchitra Sen? Not much. And yet enough to understand why she has always mattered in our lives. She was a wife and mother when she came into films. Her marriage to Dibanath Sen was certainly not of an ideal sort, for they had their spats. Few men can stomach the reality of their spouses being more famous than they. We understand that. Dibanath Sen died suddenly in 1970. Initially grief-stricken, Suchitra eventually went ahead with the continuity of her career. It was a career that had her work in as many as sixty films, of which seven were in Hindi.
There is hardly anything new about that. All movie artistes of note act in that many films, and more. But what gave Suchitra Sen a special place in our hearts and souls was the way she clicked with Uttam Kumar in the celluloid world of the Bengali. There she was --- beautiful, large eyes; a perfect nose, lips a reminder of unending spring; a figure which was a reminder of divine creativity. She once did an advertisement for Bata. In her early adulthood, she yearned to be a singer. And indeed she did record songs which demonstrated her ability to enhance the quality of Indian music. But then, the trajectory of life changed for her. The rest is history.
Of course, Ranjan Bandopadhyaya has a different view of Suchitra Sen's place in the world of movies. She was vintage wine, as he sees it. MF Husain had something else in his Suchitra vision. For him, she was Mystique, a term as apt for the lady as spring is a celebration of life. Withdrawn, even haughty, Sen did not have very many friends. Of the few with whom she shared thoughts, Kanan Devi was one she respected enormously. For her part, Suchitra Sen demanded respect, for her privacy, for the right to be herself and by herself. Which is why she remained a recluse beyond 1978. Yes, it is said she did appear in public when Uttam Kumar died in July 1980. Deep in the night, she turned up at his home with a garland, placed her hand on his cold forehead and went away. That perhaps was a decisive moment. With Uttam gone, the world she had built with him, in that broad literary sense, fell through.
It is this woman of beauty and regal grandeur we do not forget. She lived a principled life, enacted bold roles in her movies. She was the first among Bengali actresses who noted the aesthetics of physicality on screen. She touched her leading men, went into the embrace of many, without inhibition. She told us, in so many words, that movies, like politics, had to be liberal or they would not be taken seriously at all.
Here was a Suchitra Sen? When comes another, in her mould and in her sophistication?
The writer is Executive Editor,
The Daily Star