Suchitra Sen: Mystery of a face….
By Dr. Subbarayudu G. Kameshwara
Suchitra Sen passes on. For more than three decades, a recluse, Suchitra di apparently wished that her face not be seen even upon her death. The family respected her wish; and we are, interestingly, left with images of a charming and brilliant actor whose face could hold a thousand eyes in a simple black and white shot of fluttering eye-lashes. With Uttam Kumar she could drive staid folk into romancers of the first water. Bengal and Bollywood mourn the eighty year-old’s passing. Bengal’s filmy lore will be heard for decades.
But, like so many Bengali actors – Aparna Sen, Sharmila Tagore, Moushumi Chatterji - Suchitra Sen will be remembered by the rest of India for her performances in Bollywood. This transcendental, pan Indian image of the Indira Gandhi figure in ‘Aandhi’ is probably the abiding face of Suchitra Sen for Indian movie-goers.
For the non Bengalis, ‘Bambai ka Babu’, ‘Mamta’ and ‘Aandh’i define the charm and sheer acting talent of Suchitra Sen. The role in ‘Bambai ka Babu’ is probably one of the truly adult roles in early Indian cinema. In company with Dev Anand, who impersonates a brother he’d accidentally killed, she enacts a love story in which one can never be sure she doesn’t know that Dev Anand is corroding inside with love for her. The song 'Pa ma gaa... ma re ga... pa ma ga ma... Deewana mastaana mera dil ...' tests her mettle as much as “Chal rii sajnii, ab kyaa roye…” tests Dev Anand. The hints of a possible incestuous relationship, probably could not have been carried off by any actress less capable than Suchitra Sen.
Unlike Sharmila Tagore, Suchitra Sen’s Hindi was a little suspect. In ‘Mamta’ she plays a dual role of mother and daughter ; and matches Ashok Kumar moment for moment. The nautch-girl who emotes in typical Hindi cinema-fashion to the memorable song ‘Rahtey thay kabhi jinke dil mein hum jaan se bhi pyaron ki tarah / baithaen hain unhii ke koonchey mein hum aaj gunahgaaron ki tarah’ leaves no doubt in the viewer’s mind of her great talent when Hemant Kumar and Lata’s voices resonate in the theatre with ‘Chhupaa lo yuun dil mein pyaar mera/ ke jaise mandir mein lau diye kii’ (Despite her flawed spoken Hindi , Suchitra Sen carried her role with grace, dignity, and the confidence that comes from innate ability. It is Mamta that Suchitra , playing the daughter, says ‘tumhaara, unka kya dishta hai’ , using an initial Da sound for a Ra sound.
Yes… what indeed, is Suchitra Sen’s relationship with the average Indian cinema fan? It is the relationship that sustains Ashok Kumar and Suchitra Sen in ‘Mamata’: The Indian cinema fan keeps that relationship alive in his heart, like protecting the sacred lamp lit in a temple.
Only Waheeda Rehman's 'Bhanwra badaa naadaan hai' (Saahib, Bibi aur Ghulam) can match Suchitra’s portrayal of a mischievous, youthful nymph or a seriously troubled mature woman in psychological conflict. It is not a simple coincidence that Waheeda plays the role of the nurse in a psychiatric ward in ‘Khamoshi’ which is a Hindi remake of Suchitra Sen’s celebrated Bengali film ‘Deep Jwele Jaai’. Suchitra is known deeper down in South India for the Telugu remake of her acclaimed movie ‘Saat Paa ke Baandha’. The southern stars NT Rama Rao and Bhanumati played the central roles in the Telugu movie Vivaaha Bandham. Incidentally, a mid-1970s film with Vijay Anand and Jaya Bhaduri also was based on this Bengali-Telugu movie.
Imitation is the best form of tribute. Suchitra Sen’s relationship with Indian cinema is mimetic in the best sense of the term. The legend will live on (Apr.1931- Jan. 2014). The mysterious space of her absent face will always be filled with beautiful images from her career.