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regular-article-logo Friday, 19 April 2024

Still shining

In popular Bengali cinema, generations of starry-eyed worshippers have succeeded in converting the doings of the Uttam-Suchitra duo from recorded history to insufferable hagiography

Vidyarthy Chatterjee Published 16.02.24, 10:05 AM
Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen

Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen

Book: Modernities and the Popular Melodrama: The Suchitra–Uttam Yug in Bengali Cinema

Author: Smita Banerjee

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Published by: Orient BlackSwan

Price: Rs 1,045

This reviewer would want to start with a confession which is not likely to go down well with some, if not all, readers: the ‘Uttam-Suchitra phenomenon’ has never seemed to him to be a subject worth examining in depth. So, to review a ‘scholarly’ book on what was undoubtedly a commercially successful cinematic partnership but, otherwise, a hyped and mundane occurrence can be a daunting task.

Yet, in all fairness, it should be conceded that Smita Banerjee has written a book that is easy to read even though one has the feeling that she is making heavy weather of inconsequential ripples. One good thing about the book is that although she keeps referring to other people’s punditry — some of these works are on subjects other than cinema — her own does not suffer from the common ailment of dependence on jargon to prove a point.

In popular Bengali cinema, generations of starry-eyed worshippers have succeeded in converting the doings of the Uttam-Suchitra duo from recorded history to insufferable hagiography. Very soon after they first came together, they created movie history of sorts by bringing in the crowds in unbelievable numbers, the magic lasting for as long as they acted together.

But today, when many Bengali admirers born long after the actors have disappeared from the scene are still at it — singing hosannas to their lost idols — they are, in all probability, simply adding to a folklore of doubtful value inherited from their elders; this, then, is hagiography, and like all hagiographies, open to questioning.

Banerjee is echoing a banal, populist sentiment when she crowns Uttam with the epithet of mahanayak and, even more ridiculously, Suchitra with that of mahanayika. The fact that an academic has no problem with going along with such hyperbole surely poses difficulties for the cerebral reader for whom ‘entertainment’ may carry connotations other than the frivolous or the over-done.

Even if Uttam is to be seen as a remarkable ‘natural’ actor as against, say, that of the meditative Soumitra or Anil Chatterjee, one would be hard put to find Suchitra offering anything apart from a flair for the romantic and the sentimental.

Banerjee has evidently worked hard over a long period of time to produce a readable text, which was her doctoral dissertation. Yes, it is readable; but it is doubtful as to how many would want to go for a second read.

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