Suchitra Sen (Bengali: সুচিত্রা সেন) (Bengali pronunciation: [ʃuːtʃiːraː ʃeːn] listen (help·info)) (born as Roma Dasgupta) ( listen (help·info); 6 April 1931 – 17 January 2014) was an Indian film actress who worked in Bengali and Hindi cinema. The movies in which she was paired opposite Uttam Kumar became classics in the history of Bengali cinema.
Sen was the first Indian actress to receive an award at an international film festival when, at the 1963 Moscow International Film Festival, she won the Silver Prize for Best Actress for playing a disillusioned alcoholic in Saptapadi. In 1972, she was awarded the Padma Shri, one of the highest civilian awards in India. From 1979 on, she retreated from public life and shunned all forms of public contact; for this she is often compared to Greta Garbo. In 2005, she refused the Dadasaheb Phalke Award, the highest cinematic award in India, to stay out of the public eye. In 2012, she was conferred the West Bengal Government’s highest honour: Banga Bibhushan.
Suchitra Sen was born in Sen Bhanga Bari village of Belkuchi Upazila, now in Sirajgonj District, Greater Pabna in the present day Pabna District of Bangladesh, on 6 April 1931. Her father Late Karunamoy Dasgupta was the headmaster of the local school and her mother Late Indira Devi was a homemaker. She was their fifth child and third daughter. Ms Sen is a Grand Daughter of Famous Poet Sree Rajonikant Sen. She received her formal education in Pabna. Partition brought her family and her to West Bengal, where she married Dibanath Sen, son of wealthy industrialist Adinath Sen, in 1947, and had one daughter, Moon Moon Sen, who is a former actress. Her father-in-law, Adinath Sen, was supportive of her acting career in films after her marriage. Her industrialist husband invested a lot in her career initially and supported her in all possible ways.
Sen had made a successful entry into Bengali films in 1952, and then a less successful transition into the Hindi movie industry. According to persistent but unconfirmed reports in the Bengali press, her marriage was strained by her success in the film industry .
Suchitra Sen made her debut in films with Shesh Kothaay in 1952, but it was never released. The following year saw her act opposite Uttam Kumar in Sharey Chuattor, a film by Nirmal Dey. It was a box-office hit and is remembered for launching Uttam-Suchitra as a leading pair. They went on to become the icons for Bengali dramas for more than 20 years, becoming almost a genre unto themselves. She has acted in 30 of her 60 films with Uttam Kumar. She received a Best Actress Award nomination for the film Devdas (1955), which was her first Hindi movie. Her Bengali melodramas and romances, especially with Uttam Kumar, made her the most famous Bengali actress ever. Her pairing with Bengal’s King of Hearts Uttam Kumar created classic romantic hits (Agnipariksha, Harano Sur, Saptapadi, Pathey Holo Deri, Kamal Lata, Indrani, Sabar Upore, Suryatoran, Shaare Chuattor, Sadanander Mela, Jiban Trishna, Ekti Raat, Chaawa Paawa, Shapmochan, Bipasha, Naborag, Trijama, Rajlakshmi Srikanto, Har Mana Har, Alo Amar Alo, Ora Thakey Odhare, Grihaprabesh and others) that have enjoyed ageless popularity and are watched, loved and admired even to this day.
The skyrocketing popularity of this romantic pair created a benchmark that remains unchallenged to this day. No other romantic pair in Bengali cinema in the subsequent decades have been able to match up to the magic created by Suchitra Sen and Uttam Kumar.
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 Kumar 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.
Her films ran through the 1960s and ’70s. She continued to act in films even after her husband died in 1970 in Baltimore, Maryland, USA, such as in the Hindi film Aandhi (1974). Aandhi was inspired by India’s Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Sen received a Filmfare Award nomination as Best Actress, while Sanjeev Kumar, who played the role of her husband, won the Filmfare as Best Actor.
One of her best known performances was in Deep Jwele Jaai (1959). She played in a character name Radha Mitra, a hospital nurse employed by a progressive psychiatrist, Pahadi Sanyal, who is expected to develop a personal relationship with male patients as part of their therapy. Sanyal diagnoses the hero, Basanta Choudhury, as having an unresolved Oedipal dilemma. He orders Radha to play the role though she is hesitant as in a similar case she had fallen in love with the patient. She finally agrees and bears up to Choudhury’s violence, impersonates his mother, sings his poetic compositions and in the process falls in love again. In the end, even as she brings about his cure, she suffers a nervous breakdown. The film is noted for its partly lit close-ups of Sen, which set the tone of the film. Asit Sen remade the film in Hindi as Khamoshi (1969) with Waheeda Rehman in the Suchitra Sen role.
Suchitra Sen’s other landmark film with Asit Sen was Uttar Falguni (1963). She plays the dual role of a courtesan, Pannabai, and her daughter Suparna, a lawyer. Critics note that she brought a great deal of poise, grace and dignity to the role of a fallen woman determined to see her daughter grow up in a good, clean environment.
Suchitra Sen’s international success came in 1963, when she won the best actress award at the Moscow International Film Festival for the movie Saat Paake Bandha, becoming the first Indian actress to receive an international film award.
There is a scene in Saat Paake Bandha where Suchitra Sen has to tear the vest that Soumitra is wearing. Later, at a party thrown to celebrate the film’s success, she did a repeat of the scene and tore Soumitra’s shirt, much to the amazement of those present. Something that no one but her, could have even imagined doing in that age!
A film critic summed up Suchitra Sen’s career and continuing legacy as „one half of one of Indian cinema’s most popular and abiding screen pairs, Suchitra Sen redefined stardom in a way that few actors have done, combining understated sensuality, feminine charm and emotive force and a no-nonsense gravitas to carve out a persona that has never been matched, let alone surpassed in Indian cinema“
Suchitra Sen refused Satyajit Ray’s offer due to a scheduling problem. As a result, Ray never made the film Devi Chaudhurani based on the novel written by Rishi Bankim Chandra Chattopadhya. She also refused Raj Kapoor’s offer for a film under the RK banner.
Sen continued to act after her husband’s death in 1970, but called it a day when Pronoy Pasha flopped, and retired from the screen in 1978 after a career of over 25 years to a life of quiet seclusion. She was to do a film project Nati Binodini, also starring Rajesh Khanna, but the film was shelved mid-way after shooting when she decided to quit acting.
She assiduously avoided the public gaze after her retirement and devoted her time to the Ramakrishna Mission.
Suchitra Sen was admitted to the hospital on 24 December 2013 and was diagnosed with a lung infection. She was reported to have been recovering well in the first week of January. She died at 8.25 am on 17 January 2014, due to a heart attack.
Suchitra Sen’s death was condoled by many leaders, including the President of India Dr. Pranab Mukherjee, the Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina, and B.J.P.’s Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi. A gun salute was given before her cremation, upon the orders of Mamata Banerjee, the Chief Minister of West Bengal.
Respecting her fierce desire for complete privacy, her last rites were performed at Kolkata’s Kaioratola crematorium, barely five and half hours after she died, with her coffin reaching the crematorium in a flower decked hearse with dark-tinted windows. Despite being Bengal’s greatest star, referred to as „Mahanayika“, she had consciously chosen to step into oblivion and she remained an enigma till her last, although thousands of fans had converged at the crematorium to catch one last glimpse of their idol. Her entire medical treatment had also been done in seclusion and secrecy.
From 1953 to 1978, both in Bengali and Hindi, Suchitra Sen acted in 61 films.Among them 22 were blockbusters,13 were superhits,5 made profits above the average and the rest flopped.