New Delhi: When Bengal’s ace of hearts, the one and only Uttam Kumar breathed his last on July 24, 1980, he unleashed the kind of public hysteria unprecedented in the annals of Bengal’s movie history. Millions of Uttam fans, suddenly orphaned, kept asking just one question, ‘Is it true?’
To people outside Bengal (specially new age fans of dazzlers like Prosenjit, Jeet and the new red hot man Dev), it may be difficult to comprehend in full measure the kind of magic, power and hold Uttam had over generations. He evolved and embellished into his persona the charisma of Dilip Kumar with drawing power of Amitabh Bachchan. He with Suchitra Sen, redefined the whole equation of screen romance. It was indeed fitting that as the Numero Uno’s lifeless body was laid down in his Girish Mukherjee Road house that fateful day, Suchitra, in a fantastic cinematic re-play, garlanded him – one last time.
An ordinary clerk in the Calcutta Port Commission, Uttam’s early efforts on screen ran into such heavy weather that he seriously considered packing-up and returning to his nine-to-five routine. Mercifully, providence had other plans.
From Suchitra Sen to Aparna Sen, Uttam Kumar romanced them all on screen in his typical, heart stopping style.
His brand of acting, in an environment dominated by theatrics, came as a storm of fresh air to a new cinema-literate generation desiring natural, fluid, easy and relaxed mannerism. Uttam seemed to share a very special communion with the camera with this incredible range of heroines too, many of whom were in their nappies when his star first hit the firmament. From Suchitra Sen to Aparna Sen, even Sumitra Mukherjee and Moushomi Chatterjee, he romanced them all in typical, heart-stopping style.
Thirty two years have passed without Uttam but a mixture of memories persists. The charmer whose smile lit up the souls and fantasies of generations of women from 16 to 60, the ultimate icon whose Uttam-cut and Uttam-drawl were the cult models of males out to conquer female hearts; the warm and wonderful human being whose friendship, loyalty and helping hand launched so many to the big time; the mega star whose very name on the dotted line and marquee invited huge smiles from the trade, the towering personality whose very presence (commercially) defined the Bengal Film Industry.
Can the last scene of the legend’s farewell ever be forgotten? As the cortege inched through its seven hour route to the burning ghats of Calcutta, pulling out all the stops, collapsed. Schools and colleges declared half-holidays and theatres downed its shutters as wave upon wave of humanity (most of whom were women) used up every conceivable space, crying, screaming, swooning, and fainting to pay their last respect to their ‘Guru’.
And as the flames licked the air and hysteria hit an all-time high, one suddenly wondered about the future of an already crippled industry without its one solitary, dazzling luminary, and shuddered.
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