Amidst her comatose situation, despite the ceding concern of a worldwide Bangalee following, and possibly beyond, a news item did brighten up her Bangladeshi following; that Rama Dasgupta, Krishna to her Pabna schoolmates, desired to have her last rites performed at her birthplace, the playground of her childhood, the ancestral home of her parents school headmaster Karunamoy Dasgupta and Indira Devi.
As Pabna at the other end of the umbilical chord went agog with the prospect of her enigmatic daughter returning home, and people from Dhaka and elsewhere started making travel plans to witness the sandalwood pyre in flames, the rumour fizzled out almost as soon as it broke; and it lacked credibility. She had no cause or history to return, for she did only once visit the north Bangladesh town after she and her family left Pabna quietly, as perhaps was necessary in the time of India being divided along Muslim and Hindu lines.
Suchitra Sen breathed her last at her adopted city's Belle Vue Clinic Friday 17 January at 8.25am, drawing the curtain on a truly illustrious career that spanned 25 years and a life that for no known cause remained sheathed in the meditative comfort and voluntary recluse of her Ballygunge mansion for another 35 years.
For a person who has not before a camera since her 1978 movie 'Pronoy Pasha' with Soumitra Chatterjee flopped, has not maintained any sort of social circle even with her friends and family, whose last public photograph dates back over 35 years, for that person to be tagged with teenage lovers of today certifies the greatness of the actress, the unfathomable depth of her personality, and her lasting memory. She lives on as the 40 year-old who remained a damsel all her life. She died at 82.
Not many married actresses have attained celluloid success as Suchitra. Whisked away to then Calcutta by her Calcatian marine engineer husband Dibanath Sen 1947, she launched her film career 1953 with the film 'Sat Number Kayedi' opposite Samar Roy.
No actor in any 'wood' would perhaps shun the great filmmaker Satyajit Ray, but as she delivered one hit movie after another, a busy Suchitra could not give schedule for shooting Ray's Devi Chaudhurani. And perhaps as a tribute from one film noble to another, Ray never sought a Devi in any other; the film was never made.
Said Suchitra, “In men, I don't look for beauty. I look for intelligence and sharp conversations. I had refused (Bombay's maestro showman filmmaker) Raj Kapoor's offer almost immediately. He came to my residence offering a lead role and, as I took my seat, he suddenly sat near my foot and offered me a bouquet of roses while offering the role. I rejected the offer. I did not like his personality. The way he behaved – sitting near my foot – did not befit a man.” (in Amitabha Choudhury's book Aamar Bondhu Suchitra Sen) Not every Bangalee is charmed by blatant camaraderie.
Not many have had the opportunity to know the softer side of Suchitra's personality. It has been reported that during one of her clandestine evening walks a passer-by recognised her and wanted her autograph. There was no paper at hand, and so as the tale goes, she picked up a discarded cigarette packet from the pavement, tore it open and on its clean side, and obliged the fame hunter.
Rarely is the name Suchitra mentioned without legendary Uttam Kumar, the pair making Bangla silver screen's Juliet and Romeo, unsurpassed in fame and appeal in the last six decades. Together with thirty films they reached the hearts of millions with remarkable films that have overcome the test of time, 'Agniparkisha' (1954), 'Sagarika' (1956), 'Harano Sur' (1957), 'Indrani' (1958), 'Saptapadi' (1961), 'Saat Pake Bandha' (1963), 'Grihadaho' (1967), 'Kamal Lata' (1969), 'Alo Amar Alo' (1972), 'Har Mana Har' (1972) and 'Priyo Bandhabi' (1975). 'Hospital'
Was she Uttam's priyo bandhabi in real life? Suchitra said, they were 'just good friends'. Their fanatic fans would like to believe that is what they all say.
Not many actors have carved a niche at both Tollywood and Bollywood. Suchitra did just that in 1955 with Bimal Roy's Hindi superhit 'Devdas', played by iconic Dilip Kumar and she as the obvious Paro went on to receive a National Award. Suchitra in fact appeared in seven Hindi films, among which notable also were 'Aandhi' with Sanveev Kumar, 'Champakali' with Bharat Bhushan, 'Sarhhaad' and 'Bommbai Ka Babu' with Dev Anand. Her leading men in Bangla hits included Soumitra Chatterjee (Saat Pakey Bandha), Ashok Kumar (Hospital), and Basanto Chowdhury (Deep Jeley Jai).
All these may never have happened because housewife and already mother of actress Moonmoon Sen, Suchitra auditioned in 1951 as a playback singer. In one of the swiftest career switches director Sukumar Dasgupta offered her a role in a film. That too was destiny as Dasgupta's assistant director Nitish Roy named her Suchitra; Sen she already was. Ironically, her first film 'Shesh Kothay' (literally, where is the end) (1952) was never completed, but she launched a 25-year long career in search of the end; she went on to act in 52 Bangla films after debuting in 1953 with 'Sat Number Kayedi' with leading man Samar Roy.
Her versatility as “a quintessential romantic heroine” spanning three decades came alive in “the role of 'Vishnupriya' in the fifties, 'Rina Brown' in the sixties and 'Bijaya' in the seventies”.
'Saat Pakey Bandha' won her the Best Actress award at the Moscow film festival 1963, and she bagged Padma Shri (India's fourth-highest civilian honour) in 1972. West Bengal government's highest award Banga Bibhushanon was graced by her name in 2012, by which time she was already a seasoned loner, and she did not leave her cocoon to receive the honour. That was not the case with Dadasaheb Phalke Award, Indian cinema's highest honour, for which she was named in 2005, but as she would not leave her heavenly abode to grant audience to the president of India, she had to turn down the proposal.
What has intrigued her followers since her long self-imposed isolation is the simple question 'Why?' The best that mortals could assume is that she was shell shocked after the flop of her 1978 movie Pranaye Pasha opposite Soumitra Chatterjee. She then “went to Belur Math, the headquarters of the Ram Krishna Mission just outside Kolkata”. Her religious guru Bharat Maharaj gave her a patient hearing.
Her friend and biographer, journalist Roy narrated: "I later heard she sat at his feet and wept and wept, and Bharat Maharaj told her, 'Ma, ghridho, lobh koro na, don't be greedy. And that, I think, Mrs. Sen translated into her own life by becoming a recluse."
Away from public limelight she was continuing to occasionally meet up with friends and relatives at her home when she was not meditating as a member of the Ram Krishna Mission. But that too stopped in the late 1980s, when she totally shut the door. The public got a rare view of her, and the last, in 1989, when after Bharat Maharaj passed away, Suchitra walked all the way to the crematorium from Belur Math.
Suchitra Sen, Rama Sen, and Krishna have once again taught the world two important lessons: One, whatever accolades a person may receive, the perfectionist is never truly satisfied, and secondly, in spite of all the glitter and gold, a person is in the end a lonely planet.