Saturday, November 8, 2008

Uttam Kumar

Uttam Kumar(3 September 1926-24 July 1980)
Uttam Kumar was a legendary Bengali actor. He is fondly called the Mahanayak or the "Great Hero" of Bengali cinema.His original name was Arun Kumar Chatterjee.He was born on 3 September 1926 at Ahiritola, North Kolkata but was called 'Uttam' by his maternal grandmother. His huge joint family had its own theatre group Suhrid Samaj which staged many amateur shows within the community. No wonder then, Uttam Kumar was bitten by the acting bug right from childhood itself. Besides acting, he was also into sports and physical fitness. He took up wrestling, swimming, lathi-khela (sparring with wooden sticks), horse riding and tennis. In fact he was the swimming champion at the Bhowanipur Swimming Association three years in a row.His school started in Chakraberia High School and later he shifted to South Subarban School.In 1936 young Arun with some of his friends founded a drama group named Lunar Club.There he acted the first play of his life and it was Tagore's "Mukut".At his very young age(10yrs),he won a trophy for acting in "Gayasur".In 1942 he passed Matric and was admitted to the Government Commercial College.That was the period of Swadesi Andolon,the period when Indians were struggling for freedom.During that time his compositions were heard in the morning rally.From the very young age he was a good singer.He started his vocal training under Nidanbondhu Bandhopadhya.After his schooling he went for higher studies in Goenka College of Commerce and Business Administration, an affiliated college of the University of Calcutta system.After graduation, the financial condition of the family forced him to take up employment as a clerk at the Port Commissioner's office. To supplement his salary, he also gave singing lessons at a music school.He joined as a cashier in Port Commissioners' Office at Kidderpore in 1944 and as a music teacher in Chakraberia HighSchool.During this period, he acted for amateur theater groups.Initially Uttam Kumar followed the Kolkata theatre scene avidly but soon became dissatisfied with the existing trend of theatrical acting and always aimed for a more natural performance in his films..But his heart,mind and soul was running at only on one place-Tollygunge Studio.At last he got chance as an extra but he first acted in the film "Mayador" which failed to release.Uttam's first released film was Drishtidan (The gift of sight) directed by Nitin Bose. However his breakthrough film was Sare Chuyattor (74 and a half) with a young actress called Suchitra Sen. This romantic comedy launched the career of the greatest romantic duo to grace the Bangla film industry.Uttam-Suchitra have ever since been a household name.He had been an actor, director and producer.Apart from acting in two films with Satyajit Ray, Nayak(The Hero) and Chiriyakhana (a thriller written by Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay in which he played the famous Bengali detective Byomkesh Bakshi).He has acted in some Hindi films like "Chhoti si Mulaqat" (with Vyjayantimala Bali), "Amanush" (with Sharmila Tagore), "Ananda Ashram" (with Sharmila Tagore), "Kitaab" and "Dooriyan".Some of Uttam's famous films co-starring, with Suchitra include Soptopodi (Seven Steps),Pothe Holo Deri (Delay on the road), Harano Sur (Lost Music), Chaowa-Paowa (Wish and Achievement), Bipasha (River name of Punjab), Jeebon Trishna (Thirst for Life) and Sagorika (Sagorika). It is however debatable as whether on-screen chemistry between the two actors translated to off-screen romance. Suchitra Sen turned down the marriage proposals of Uttam Kumar many times, during their long career together.Uttam Kumar tried his hand at the popular Bombay/Hindi film with the oft-criticised box office bomb Chhoti Si Mulakat, a film he produced and starred in, among others that were better received. But his towering contribution was to Bengali cinema, or Tollywood(as it is primarily located in Tollygungedistrict of Kolkata). Many of his Bengali films were directed by notable directors or directing groups of the sixties and the seventies, such as Agradut, Agragami, and Yatrik. Arguably, one of his most lauded appearances was in Satyajit Ray's Nayak (film) (The Hero). It has been rumored that Ray wrote the script with Uttam in mind. Later in his career, Uttam branched out into producing and directing much-lauded films such as Bon Palashir Padaboli.He had a huge phenomenal fan base which continues even to this day. Reruns of his films on television twenty five years after his death is still eagerly watched. Uttam Kumars time is considered by many as the golden age of Bengali (West Bengal)cinema.Uttam Kumar was rumoured to have off-screen romantic affairs with several of his co-stars including Suchitra Sen and Sabitri Chatterjee,although none of his affairs lasted long enough to be seriously considered as reasons for divorce with his wife. A notable exception to this rule was his relationship with veteran actress Supriya Devi which was well reported in the contemporary Bangla language print media. In her autobiography, Supriya Devi observed that despite co-habiting for some years, their relationship was strictly non physical in nature and was more based on mutual love and respect and shared passion for cinema.A strict workaholic, he was rumored to have said that his preferred demise would be on the floor of a studio, doing what he loved best, acting. Indeed, that is exactly how he died. While filming the Bengali film Ogo Bodhu Shundori in 1980, he died of a massive heart attack at the age of 54.Uttam Kumar's funeral -- mourned by hundreds of thousands of Bengalis spilling into the streets as a slow-moving procession with his garlanded body moved along the major arteries of Calcutta -- was an elaborate, yet ultimately a simple affair. With his passing, Bengal marked the end of an era as Tollygunge (the area in Calcutta where most of the film studios are located) slowly but inexorably transformed itself into Tollywood (marked by a slavish imitation of Bollywood -- the Bombay film industry, given mostly to lighter, more superficial 'vehicles' with the ubiquitous song and dance routines).As for actors -- to date, and arguably, there has appeared in Tollywood no adequate replacement with comparable star power, box office magnetism, as well as acting acumen.In 1966, he turned in a much-lauded performance in the Satyajit Ray directed film Nayak. When the Indian Government instituted the National Awards for Best Actor and Actress in 1967, Uttam Kumar was the first ever recipient of the Best Actor Award for his performances in Chiriakhana directed by Satyajit Ray, and Antony Firingi (1967).Uttam Kumar was the eldest among three brothers. His second brother Barun Kumar Chatterjee died young. However, his youngest brother Tarun Kumar Chatterjee (screen name Tarun Kumar) has acted in numerous Bengali feature films and considered a character actor of considerable repute. Tarun Kumar often paired onscreen with his real life wife, character actress Subrataa Chatterjee. The films where Uttam Kumar and Tarun Kumar have starred together include Saptapadi,Mayamriga, Agnishwar etc.Uttam Kumar's only son Gautam (a businessman ,who had no link with films) died of cancer.His grandson Gaurav is now an actor in Bengali movies.Satyajeet Ray uttered the following as a tribute to this Mahanayak ;"It is the demise of a leading light of the Bengali film industry…There isn't - there won't be another hero like him."

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