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Book Review: 'Suchitra Sen - The Legend and the Enigma'
The title of Shoma A. Chatterjee's book 'Suchitra Sen - The Legend and The Enigma' captures the essence of the towering life of a magnanimous personality - Suchitra Sen. Chatterjee's book is not a historical, chronological analysis of the life and events of Suchitra Sen.
Through a detailed analysis of her selective Bengali and Hindi films the author unfolds Sen- the actress and the star to the readers. The cover photograph of the book aptly symbolizes the glamorous star and actress. The author depicts the duality of her existence as a star and an actress and in the end how it converges to become one.

A detailed review of literature of Bengali cinema of that era with reference to movies where Suchitra Sen acted is worthy of utmost appreciation by any film scholar. The author has expressed the transition from Roma to Krishna to Suchitra to Mrs. Sen by referring to her childhood days and marital life, with anecdotes from her childhood friends.

Even though Suchitra Sen never worked with the legends of parallel cinema in Bengal viz. Ritwik Ghatak, Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen; she attained an iconic status through her charisma, glamour, and dignified screen presence. The book describes in details the on-screen romantic chemistry between matinee idol Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen in films they worked together, which includes Agnipariksha, Harano Sur, Rajlakshmi O Sreekanto, Saptapadi, Nabarang etc. They complemented each other very well on-screen thereby guaranteeing producers excellent box-office returns.

The author hints that in films where she played lead roles with Uttam Kumar, her ethereal beauty and glamorous screen presence occupied pivotal space, when often her character portrayal took a back seat or became secondary. In fact at times because of her glamour, her potential capabilities as an actress got over shadowed. In this context, Chatterjee makes a comparison of Suchitra Sen with her contemporaries reigning the Bombay film industry ( now Mumbai film industry).

The author aptly pointed out that stardom raises question about beauty versus talent in case of Nargis Dutt, Madhubala, Meena Kumari. Often it was found that in the Bombay film industry because of male leads such as Raj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand, the acting calibre of heroines got overlooked.

The author compares Suchitra Sen with actresses of her period such as Arundhuti Devi and Sabitri Chatterjee. Though both Arundhuti Devi and Sabitri Chatterjee had acting potentialities but none could reach the stardom that Suchitra Sen had achieved. Films such as Smritituku Thaak, Saat Paake Bandha and Uttar Phalguni established her command over Bengali films (without Uttam Kumar as hero), as an actress who could single handedly carry films upon her shoulder by her acting skills.

The chapter on Working Women, Bengali Cinema and Suchitra Sen will appeal to the students of Sociology and Film Studies in particular. Chatterjee's nuanced sociological analysis of the concept of working women (paid employment) combined with how such women are portrayed in Bengali cinema with reference to Sen's role as a working woman on-and off-screen in films such as Sabar Uparey, Indrani, Deep Jele Jai, Hospital is very interesting and worth reading. In films such as Hospital, she played a single working woman with a responsibility of a child born out of wedlock. Sen's enactment of such roles were much ahead of her time and thus progressive.

In Uttar Phalguni/ Mamta (the Hindi remake) she simultaneously enacted the role of a lover- Debyani, famous courtesan Pannabai, and western educated lawyer daughter Suparna -as near-perfect as it can be. The reader perhaps would like to know how Suchitra Sen experienced the difference if any, in enacting the same role in both the Bengali and the Hindi version. The author pointed out the warm relationship Suchitra Sen shared with Gulzar, the director of Aandhi.

But as readers and avid followers of her work, we are interested in knowing Gulzar's experience of directing a persona such as Suchitra Sen or off-screen moments related to that film with reference to Mrs. Sen.

Suchitra Sen, the actress never experimented with comedy or negative roles. Though she was not type-cast in roles, but time and again certain monotonous acting got expressed through facial gestures such as her axis like tilted face, rotating eyes or during delivery of dialogues. Though her physical beauty was flawless, but her Hindi required improvisation.

The author misses out on certain points such as her 'rationale' for choosing films; how she would prepare herself for different roles she portrayed on-screen. The book has photographs of Suchitra Sen with Dev Anand and Dilip Kumar in Bombay Ka Babu and Devdas respectively but her experiences in working with the Bombay film industry with Dev Anand, Dharmendra in Mamta is not mentioned.

Dilip Kumar and Vijanthilmala's views on her as a co-actor in Devdas (Hindi remake of 1950s) is seemingly missing in her book. Though pictures of Sen with Uttam Kumar in Shilpi, poster of Shaap Mochan is present in this book, yet the book does not take a note of films such as Bipasha, Suryoturon, Sagarika, Sabar Upore, Jiban Trishna, Meghkala, Pathay Holo Deri, Ekti Raat, Alo Amar Alo, Har Mana Har, Shilpi, Shaap Mochan where Suchitra Sen was cast opposite Uttam Kumar.

A detailed analysis of Sen's role in such films would be quite appreciated by her admirers and readers of the book. Also the movie Fariyad where Sen defied the conventional norm and acted as a bar singer in a hotel owned by Baren Mallick (Utpal Dutta) required a detailed analysis. In this movie Sen had brilliantly portrayed an exploited women, a vulnerable mother who compromised with everything in order to give her son a bright future.

While the book mentions Sen's film opposite Soumitra Chatterjee such as Saat Paake Bandha, Datta, Pronoy Pasha, no words on the legendary actress by Soumitra Chatterjee finds mention in this book. Soumitra Chatterjee is one of her contemporaries who is still living and perhaps could have thrown valuable insights on Suchitra Sen as an actress, as a performer, as well as an individual.

The author has analysed her voluntary with drawl from public space and leading a life of recluse from psychological and spiritual perspective. While focusing on psychological aspect, the author has pointed out how mental illness has been portrayed in Bengali cinema including the film where Sen acted. As a social recluse, the author has compared her with Hollywood actress like Greta Garbo, at the same time pointed out that Garbo's life story has no similarity with the life and career of Suchitra Sen.

Film personalities such as Tarun Majumdar, Ananya Chatterjee, Asok Viswanathan, Churni Ganguly have expressed their views on her social seclusion. It has been mentioned in the book that only twice she came out of her voluntary chosen seclusion-first during the funeral of Uttam Kumar, secondly she came out to get photographed required as a part of voter's identity card.

There are filmstars such as Basanta Chowdhury or Raaj Kumar in Bombay (now Mumbai film industry) who shunned their public life and lead an anonymous existence thereafter, which was quite similar to that of Suchitra Sen. Their death were made public after the last funeral rites were over, as per their wishes to live and die privately.

Suchitra Sen's daughter Moon Moon Sen mentioned that she respects her privacy but that Mrs. Sen during the last phase of her life, admitted in a private nursing home, met the Chief Minister is questionable but never mentioned in the book. Kolkata bid this legendary actress farewell in broad daylight in a coffin. She was cremated at Keoratala burning ghat with full state honours and a 21 gun salute. If Mrs. Sen wanted privacy in her later life, then it should have been followed and maintained even at her death. How can this behavior or attitude of her be interpreted from socio-psychological perspective requires a discussion.

Even though she remained an actress only, not spreading her wings on other spheres of film making (like Uttam Kumar or Arundhuti Devi) such as film production etc. the readers would like to know how she negotiated and bargained in the film industry which was patriarchal to its core. The book uncovers the multiple facet of Suchitra Sen - as an actress, star, single working woman and a mother. 

The diva's magic is still retained and for generations to come she will rule the heart of the audience. Suchitra Sen- the legend is immortalized. The book will serve as a platform for future film scholars and critics, to probe her life further.

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