“I’m to be seen only on screen because I am an actress”
– Suchitra Sen
Trenchant yet obsolete and preposterous remark in the times of apogee of social networking where the width between reel and real and quotient of being a ‘celebrity’ has reduced to negligible. What seemed as the cipher of fantasy once is now reliant on a few likes and up-votes. It needs an authenticated enigma as hers that continues to bewilder many hearts, to create an unaltered image as the queen of Bengali Cinema.
A rebel of the show business Suchitra Sen started her journey as a married woman and a young mother in 1953, with a film called Sharey Chuattor which became a big hit and commenced the 25 years long journey of 60 hits and history. She was the epitome of charisma and beauty, also the first Indian to receive an International award as the best actress at Moscow Film Festival in 1963. At the peak of her success and beauty, Suchitra Sen took an inexplicable exit from the film industry secluding herself behind huge walls of her house from 1978 till death, creating the still persisting “myth” around her.
Some say, “It was to preserve her youthful image among her countless fans”, while some consider it as the result of otherwise forgettable flop film Pronoy Pasha that upset her to an extent of seclusion from public gaze. Sen withdrew from the public eye, refusing to meet even top VIPs and her old friends from the film fraternity, blatantly turning down in 2005 the Dadasaheb Phalke Award, the highest honour in Indian cinema, as she would have had to collect it in person. When she ventured outdoors, she took all care to camouflage her identity. In 2012, the West Bengal government’s conferred its highest award “Banga Bibhushan” on Sen in absentia. Even during her acting years her personal life could easily have become the stuff of gossip but Sen preserved her privacy zealously. Everyone suspected her marriage was unhappy, but what she made known was that she had her father in-law’s blessings and when she was starting out as an actress and her husband had helped her establish herself. Sen and actor Uttam Kumar were the golden couple on screen, making hearts flutter when they looked into one another’s eyes, but there was no gossip about Sen’s love life off screen. The only little snippet she allowed the public to know of herself was that she was religious. Her inexplicable and sudden disappearance from public view made people even more interested in her while her determination not to be seen and the measures she allegedly took to maintain her privacy seemed to border on paranoia. Even in death she maintained her mystery: her final journey was made in a black-tinted hearse through which it was impossible to see her body. The veteran Bengali actor Mousumi Chatterjee said, “Suchitra Sen was class personified. She knew how to keep her private life separate from her public life.”
“I may be lonely but I am not alone”, shared the Greta Garbo of Bengali Film Industry with her single most friend Gopal Krishna Roy, the only journalist who had an access to the veteran even in her seclusion. Amongst many conjectures stated regarding the reclusive legend Suchitra Sen none could really shed much light on the myth surrounding her aura. It was the sheer zeal to protect her privacy from the public paparazzi and media glare that mystified her persona, elevating her image as the “kimbadanti nayika”, or a fairytale heroine of Bengal even after 36 years of seclusion, that still haunts people’s dreams.
– Sonu Anand