Monday, 30th October 2017

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Ruma Guhathakurta passes away

A rich legacy of acting and singing

By Sudeshna Banerjee in Calcutta
  • Published 4.06.19, 2:15 AM
  • Updated 4.06.19, 7:26 PM
  • 3 mins read
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Ruma Guhathakurta The Telegraph file picture

Ruma Guhathakurta, actor, singer and founder of Calcutta Youth Choir, passed away on Monday at her Ballygunge Place residence. Family members said she died in her sleep. She was 84.

Though she mostly stayed with elder son Amit Kumar in her first husband Kishore Kumar’s house in Mumbai, she had returned to Calcutta a month ago to visit her younger son Ayan Guhathakurta. “Even last evening, she was watching the World Cup match with me,” Ayan said.

Amit, who arrived from Mumbai in the evening with stepbrother Sumit Kumar and daughter Muktika Ganguly, bid an emotional farewell to his mother.

“She spent the last 10 years of her life with me in Gaurikunj. In April, she asked me to take her to Calcutta. I had protested mildly pointing out that the doctor was against it. But she had a strong attachment to this house, so I could not refuse. She had wanted to breathe her last in Calcutta and that is what happened.”

It was his mother who, he said, had taught him “everything”.

“She showed me quality films, from Laurel Hardy to Charlie Chaplin. She created my interest in cricket, taking me to Eden as a child. She loved and would make me listen to Western classical and jazz music. It was she who introduced me as a singer in 1977 to the Calcutta audience at a programme at La Martiniere school after Baba (Kishore Kumar) did so in Bombay in 1974. She was an all-rounder.”

She, indeed, was.

Ruma, whose film career spans over six decades, was born on November 21, 1934, in Calcutta. She started her career as a dancer and trained under Uday Shankar at his Almora centre. Thereafter, she moved to Bombay, where she married singer Kishore Kumar in the early 1950s. They got divorced in 1958. She later married writer-director Arup Guhathakurta and had two children — singer Sromana and sound engineer Ayan.

Ruma, Satyajit Ray’s niece, acted in two of his films — Abhijaan (1962) and Ganashatru (1989). “My father was a bit unwell during Ganashatru. Rumadi and my mother together looked after him during the shooting,” recounted Sandip.

She also acted under filmmakers Tapan Sinha, Tarun Majumdar, Rajen Tarafdar, Goutam Ghose and Aparna Sen. Her last big screen appearance was in Mira Nair’s The Namesake (2006).

Ruma Guhathakurta with Kishore Kumar and Amit Kumar.
Ruma Guhathakurta with Kishore Kumar and Amit Kumar. The Telegraph file picture

Among the films where she played a major role are Palatak, Antony Firingee, Ashi Te Ashio Na, Balika Badhu, Dadar Kirti, Bhalobasa Bhalobasa and Wheelchair.

Jwar Bhata, a 1944 black-and-white Hindi film, will be remembered for being the debut of both Ruma and thespian Dilip Kumar. Ruma was 10 year old then. Her other Hindi films were Mashaal, Afsar, Raag Rang and Paar. She also played a role in Aparna Sen’s first film 36 Chowringhee Lane (1981). She acted in her husband Arup’s directorial venture Panchashar.

As a playback singer, she lent her voice to a number of films, ranging from Lukochuri in 1958 — which featured two popular duets with Kishore, Mayabonobiharini Horini and Ei toh hethay — to Amrita Kumbher Sandhane in 1982.

Along with Salil Chowdhury, Guhathakurta founded the Calcutta Youth Choir in 1958, which is known for singing folk and mass songs. The choir played a key role in popularising songs like Aaj joto juddhabaj, Bharatbarsho surjer ek naam, O Ganga boichho keno and Waqt ki awaz. The last-named album was released by the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in Delhi.

“Indiraji held Ma in high regard. Ma was attending the inauguration of the AICC session in Salt Lake in 1972 when Indiraji stopped the performance of Vande Mataram and asked Ma to sing and teach the singers,” Ayan recalled.

The choir also performed in Dhaka at the first anniversary celebration of the liberation of Bangladesh. Her choir members, who arrived in numbers at her residence to pay their last respects, lauded her for her leadership qualities. “She was like a strict and loving guardian. When we had rehearsals at the HMV studio she used to cook and bring meat dishes for all of us,” recalled tabla player Dipankar Acharya.

Brothers Sumit Kumar, Amit Kumar and Ayan Guhathakurta pay their last respects to their mother Ruma Guhathakurta on Monday evening
Brothers Sumit Kumar, Amit Kumar and Ayan Guhathakurta pay their last respects to their mother Ruma Guhathakurta on Monday evening (Picture by Gautam Bose)

Rehearsals would be held regularly in the mezzanine floor of the Ballygunge Place house on Mondays and Thursdays, with musicians like V. Balsara in attendance, till chief minister Jyoti Basu provided a plot on Prince Anwar Shah Road where the choir then shifted. “We had a minimum of 50 shows every month, 10 for the party (CPM) and 40 of our own,” said vocalist Abhijit Sur. “When we travelled, a whole train compartment would have to be booked for the 70 of us.”

“The choir was her first child. But I never heard her do riyaz at home. She was a natural singer,” said Ayan.

Among her film colleagues, Bhanu Bandyopadhyay was close to her and would often drop by. In her last days, she loved watching old films on television, family sources said.

Chief minister Mamata Banerjee visited her residence twice in the day and tweeted her condolence. Also present were cousin Sandip Ray, actress Debasree Roy (who had acted with her most notably in Dadar Kirti), minister Indranil Sen and Left Front veteran leaders Biman Bose, Shyamal Chakraborty and Sujan Chakraborty. Her last rites were performed at the Keoratala burning ghat with state honours.