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Living with Uttam Kumar
Rudrajit Mookherjee with Uttam Kumar memorabilia from his collection. Picture by Amit Datta

In a dark room of an old but well-maintained building at 28D Shasthitala Lane, lives Uttam Kumar — with his leading ladies.

Time seems to have stopped still at this north Calcutta address. A thakurdalan at the entrance, chandeliers that have left their brighter days behind, a winding staircase, black-and-white floor tiles, and old carpets that have lost their sheen but not their softness lead to the matinee idol’s latest address.

For here lives Uttam Kumar — in the rare collections of Rudrajit Mookherjee.

There’s Uttam Kumar with Suchitra Sen, Supriya Chowdhury, Sabitri Chatterjee, Sharmila Tagore. There are posters of 98 out of his 202 films, 198 synopsis booklets, 60 lobby cards and 30 record covers of films like Manoniyo Girl’s School, Indrani, Manjari Opera, Haath Baralei Bondhu, Sabarmati, Marutirtha Hinglaj, Khelaghar.

“I am still looking for the poster of his first film Drishtidaan which was released in 1948, and of course whatever else I can get,” says the 41-year-old consumed by his curious quest.

It all began by chance some five years ago. “I was a huge fan of Uttam Kumar. But I never thought I would collect his posters and booklets so passionately. It started off casually. I came across one or two Uttam Kumar posters by chance and before I knew it it had become a passion. I have bought posters from distributors and from hawkers of Dharamtala and Chandni market for anything between Rs 5 and Rs 1,500! They have hiked the price now as they know I will buy them anyway,” laughs Rudrajit.

The great-great grandson of Sir Gurudas Banerjee (first Indian vice-chancellor) had started off as a collector of stamps, old coins and documents. “I have some letters and certificates of Sir Gurudas, some synopsis booklets of my didima which would be bought during intervals at the theatres for something like 25 paisa, and some other stuff,” says Rudrajit, seated in his office room full of family photographs.

Behind his table is the door leading to his secret chamber — the place where Uttam Kumar lives on. Son Rohit, 16, opens the door to reveal a treasure trove of booklets, lobby cards and posters, all meticulously arranged.

There’s Uttam Kumar in colour and Uttam Kumar in black-and-white. There’s Uttam Kumar in a suit (Nayak) and Uttam Kumar in a dhoti (Rajlakshmi Srikanto). There’s Uttam Kumar in glasses (Amanush) and Uttam Kumar in shades (Shankhabela). There’s Uttam Kumar in Chhadmabeshi and Uttam Kumar in Antony Firingi.

“This is the maximum I can do to preserve them. Keep the posters in plastic covers, the booklets and lobby cards and record covers in a polythene bag. I occasionally spray insecticide and keep neem leaves under the posters. I don’t open the windows of the room to protect it from dust,” explains the collector.

Rudrajit first displayed his Uttam Kumar collection at Nandan in 2005, then took it to Detriot in 2007 and is now gearing up for a third exhibition at Gorky Sadan. “My friends sponsor these exhibitions,” says Rudrajit, reluctant to reveal what he does for a living.

Rudrajit — who had made three documentaries for Doordarshan — Smarane O Manone Sir Gurudas, Jyotindranath Tagore, and Father of Indian Renaissance — is not sure what he will do with his rare collection, of not just his hero but also some posters of Satyajit Ray films. “I could leave them with my younger son or maybe donate it to a museum abroad,” he wonders aloud.

For now, Uttam Kumar will be travelling out from his 28D Shasthitala Lane abode of admiration to Gorky Sadan, where his posters, booklets, lobby cards and record covers will be on display from July 22 to 26. July 24 is Uttam Kumar’s 29th death anniversary.

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