Oddly, nothing in the form of a biography has been written before about Bengal's most memorable actor, Uttam Kumar, in English. Veteran film critic Swapan Mullick's 'Mahanayak Revisited' goes behind the professional life and public face of Bengal's most idolized actor to reveal little-known details of the stars unconscious power in the film industry for more than thirty years,the dazzling achievements dampened by dud disappointments, the aberrations attendant on a life constantly in the floodlights as well as the human face that was masked by his towering image infront of the camera-all of which have resulted in, for cine lovers,an attachment that survives more than thirty years after his death. Mullick researches the reason for our undying worship of, and emotional links with, Bengal's most enduring screen hero, emerging with a gripping portrait of a true master of his art.
The author, Swapan Mullick, joined IBNLive readers for an interaction on his book 'Mahanayak Revisited: The World of Uttam Kumar'.
Q. What is your writing schedule like and do you write everyday? Asked by: Gunjan
A. I do write every day though not as an author but as a working journalist.This book was written over a period of five months based on research but mostly relying on a personal assessment of the icon and his work.
Q. What inspired you to write this book? Asked by: Jyoti
A. It occurred to me that the Indian cinema has seldom produced an actor whose films remain phenomenally popular more than 30 years after his death and who himself remains a kind of reference point for the new generation of actors as well as the Bengali film industry. I thought that the opportunity to look back on his work and personality would also place him in the social and cultural context of Bengal over the past 60 years.
Q. I want to be a writer too. Can you give some tips? Asked by: Isha
A. To begin with, you must love reading and writing. Begin by reading what others write on subjects of your preference and then try your hand at the same subjects.
Q. Hi Swapan, did you feel nervous about writing on Uttam kumar, considering he is so much revered. Asked by: Sucheta
A. If you are confident about what you feel and sincerely believe in yourself, then there is no reason to feel nervous. This is the policy I have followed during my years as a film critic.
Q. Mahanayak: why did you choose this name for the book. How is it different from other books written on Uttam Kumar? Asked by: Himanshi
A. Most of the books on Uttam Kumar so far - if not all of them - have been in the nature of hero worship. There have been large gaps in the narrative that were perhaps left because there was need to be polite or reverent. I felt that a critical assessment in the right spirit could preserve the respect while reflecting the true personality.
Q. Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing? Asked by: Pawan
A. I don't know what you mean by "challenging''. What I do believe is being honest to yourself and leaving the rest for the readers to judge.
Q. During the course of your writing this book, did you face difficulties in approaching people to develop content. Please throw some light on your research. Asked by: Rudraksh
A. Being a critical work, this book consists essentially of my own reflections. I didn't have to dig up details about the actor from people who could be offering only half-truths. Instead I thought of talking about his life and work from a subjective point of view relying on my long experience of watching films over the past 35 years.
Q. What books have influenced your life most? Asked by: fatima
A. A lot of my reading consists of news analysis, social criticism, documentation and this is the style that I have tried to carry into my critical assessment of the icon.
Q. As a film critic, please tell us which of Uttam Kumar's films you really liked and one which did not really make an impact. Asked by: Garima
A. Uttam Kumar acted in more than 200 films of which I have seen around 150. Most of them - as discussed in my book - can be passed over without regrets. But there were some popular films like Agniswar, Bicharak, Jatugriha which proved his class. The other popular films that reflected his maturity included Harano Sur and Amaanush. But of course the two films that remain permanently in the mind are Satyajit Ray's Nayak and Chiriakhana.
Q. Have you ever met Uttam Kumar. If yes, how was he. Would love to know his characteristics. Asked by: Upen
A. I did meet Uttam Kumar a couple of times but in a formal capacity. Those were the days when newspapers (I was working in one) never gave much space to actors beyond serious reviews of their films. Uttam himself never cultivated media people in the way film people do now.
Q. Is the book available everywhere to buy. Asked by: gaurav
A. Westland has ensured that the book is available at all leading book stores.
Q. Do you think your book can be taken as a case study on Uttam Kumar Asked by: Rakhi
A. I would hope so but that is for you and other readers to judge.
Q. Uttam Kumar ruled Bengali films. He was known to be the unconventional hero in Bollywood. Do u see any present day Bengali hero doing the same in Bollywood? Asked by: Sandeep Rao
A. Uttam Kumar didn't do much in Bollywood. He could have been a role model only in Bengal.
Q. Do you also review Bollywood movies. How effective is a crossover between Bengali cinema and Bollywood. Asked by: Harsh
A. Bengali films in the past had a culture of their own based on literary works though the dividing line later as far as popular films went when the literary inspiration disappeared. I reviewed all kinds of films made and sought to put them in the right context.
Q. Hi Swapan, it is so good to have someone like you on chat today. As a film critic, what are the 'pluses' and the 'minuses' of your profession. Asked by: Jigar
A. I have enjoyed being a film critic over the past 30 years but in recent times there is a crucial change in the matter of marketing agencies playing a proactive role and trying to negate the influence of supposedly "destructive'' critics.
Q. Swapan are you still active as a film critic. What do you think has changed in Bengali cinema over the last 20 years. Is it good or bad. Asked by: Dibyendu
A. The digital format of cinema has resulted in an explosion of films of many kinds. More than 100 films are being made in Bengal in a year - most of them indifferent productions that deserve to be ignored. But there is also a new crop of intelligent young film-makers with professional skills who hold out promise as the new generation.