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Veil lifts on grandma Suchitra - Blurry images of screen goddess who has shut out world for 3 decades

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By Staff Reporter
  • Published 18.01.09

“I never said, ‘I want to be alone’. I only said, ‘I want to be left alone’. There is a world of difference.”

Suchitra Sen? No, Greta Garbo.

The screen goddess who was the most famous hermit of New York for years would often take long walks through the streets dressed in oversized clothes and wearing large sunglasses to avoid prying eyes.

The screen goddess who has been the most famous hermit of Calcutta for three decades has confined herself to her Ballygunge Circular Road house, surrounding herself with a chosen few and immersing herself in a life of spirituality.

“Garbo wasn’t a true recluse as she went out in public,” said Rachel Dwyer, the British academic, author of a number of books on Hindi cinema.

So, Suchitra has done a Garbo better than Garbo.

The Mysterious Lady had been dragged back into the spotlight when semi-nude photos, taken with a long-range lens, were published in People in 1976. Trim and tranquil, the 71-year-old Garbo was enjoying a swim.

The painted veil around Mrs Sen — as she was known on the Tollywood floors — was lifted briefly today when STAR Ananda beamed blurry images of her at home.

In keeping with the best traditions of the Bangali thakuma — GeneratioNext after all knows her as Raima-Riya’s grandmother — the 77-year-old was shown in a moment matronly and mundane.

“The first reaction was one of disbelief. But then one realised she looks just like what women our age do,” said veteran actress Sabitri Chatterjee, 71.

The howl from some devotees was how can Suchitra Sen be so old and so just like any other grandmother.

So will a glimpse of today’s Suchitra Sen shatter the three-decade-old enigma? Sanjay Mukhopadhyay, professor of film studies at Jadavpur University, thinks not. “A myth was created around Greta Garbo when she went into oblivion. We too have created a myth around Suchitra Sen. Her aura is based on the photographic reality in our memory, it is built around her star status. It is huge and I don’t think the real image on television can demystify her.”

Silver-haired and chubby, Suchitra seemed to “have a kind of spiritual glow on her face”, observed Sabitri.

Sources in the Sen household said she does indeed spend her days surrounded by spiritual texts and is visited only by monks. Access is denied to all other outsiders by the core group of her daughter Moon Moon, son-in-law Bharat and her granddaughters.

“Her only link with filmdom is the work of Raima and Riya. Otherwise, she does not watch films and even makes it a point to turn off the TV or switch channels if an old movie of hers is showing,” said a source.

This can be explained by Dwyer’s analysis of the Garbo-Sen reclusion syndrome: “Some stars, usually very beautiful, hate seeing themselves grow old. Some probably find it harder than the rest of us to deal with these changes.”

If Garbo had ruled the silver screen from 1920 to 1941 and then gone into shock retirement, Sen was the heartthrob of hundreds from 1953 to 1978 before slamming the doors shut on the world.

“It’s sad if people can’t respect someone else’s privacy. But no one can take away what my grandmother is and will always be,” Riya said in the evening.

She is right. Suchitra Sen is and will always be an enigma.