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Chores and shoots, and fond memories

A felicitation from a fraternity that has been her extended family for over half a century is knocking at her Loudon Street door, but Supriya Devi scarcely betrays a shade of excitement. Age has subdued her smouldering looks and time infused a mood of resignation.

She prefers to be rooted in an almost humdrum diurnal routine — doing up the house, cooking and writing — and remain immersed in the splendid shades of memory.

“Several people from the film world would drop by for lunch or dinner. Raj Kapoor, Kishore Kumar, Sanjeev Kumar, Ashoke Kumar, Dharmendra and several other stars loved my cooking. At leisure, I jog my memory and jot down those recipes. I hope to turn it into a book,” she says, a serene smile lingering on her face.

Besides chores, facing the camera for films and TV serials also feature in her busy schedule. She has just finished work on a feature film by Spandan, Shatabdir Galpo. But the actress, who has steered some 200 films in her long career, seems a bit weary of the fresh adulation awaiting her on Sunday.

The West Bengal Motion Pictures Artistes Forum felicitated Supriya Devi on Sunday for her “contribution to the film industry” — to her unusual screen presence, combined with histrionics, that could captivate both the crowds and the critics; that saw the deglamourised working-class Neeta in Ritwik Ghatak’s Meghe Dhaka Tara so easily morph into the stunningly beautiful queen of Sanyasi Raja.

Limelight beckoned early in life, just after her family moved into the city “from Burma” in 1950. “Films happened in quite an odd fashion. One of Bonophool’s stories (the writer was Supriya Devi’s brother-in-law) was being filmed with actress Chandrabati Devi in the lead. I used to go to the studio to watch the shooting. She (Chandrabati Devi) offered me a role in Naagpash in 1950 and my father encouraged me to try it out. But I soon settled down to my normal routine. Six years later, I returned to the screen with Amrapali.”

With Komal Gandhar, Shudhu Ekti Bochhor, Bon Palashir Padabali and a string of successful sagas, she carved a niche for herself alongside reigning screen queens Suchitra Sen and Sabitri Chattopadhyay. “I was a character artiste, while Suchitra played romantic roles and Sabitri was more into comedies. Our acting styles were different and we occupied separate spheres which never clashed,” she explains.

She dismisses any suggestion that Uttam Kumar had influenced her acting style during their long association. “His mannerisms were entirely different from mine. Where films are concerned, there was a suppressed ego clash between the two of us. In most of our roles, we were pitted against each other. The romantic flavour was always missing.”

Her gaze, almost involuntarily, shifts to an enlarged frame hanging in a corner of her sitting room — a beaming Supriya Devi with Uttam Kumar on the sets of Sanyasi Raja.

Khub miss kori oke,” she says, her eyes, fixed on the frame, misting over.

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