The contribution of Bengali cinema towards making Indian cinema what it is today cannot be overstated. The industry that offered a different, realistic perspective to the audience, through what came to be regarded as Parallel Cinema, witnessed the rise of many notable directors and actors. One of the brightest among them was Uttam Kumar.
Uttam Kumar’s fan base, which includes his critics, is as large today as it was at the peak of his career. While he is most famously known for the iconic 1966 film, Nayak, directed by Satyajit Ray, Uttam Kumar left a mark in several other, equally brilliant films. On his 39th death anniversary, ThePrint takes a look at one such classic, Saptapadi (1961).
Directed by Ajoy Kar, Saptapadi, the rite of seven steps in Hindu marriages, deals with an inter-faith love story set in the time of World War 2. Krishnendu (played by Uttam Kumar) is a doctor, who runs a military hospital in a village. A drunk and unconscious woman is brought in one night. When Krishnendu goes to examine her, he realises that she is none other than his long lost love, Rina Brown (played by Suchitra Sen). He recalls the time when they had met in college and fallen in love after a moving performance of Othello. They decide to marry, but their parents and religion come in the way, sending the two lovers on very different, but intertwined paths.
Uttam Kumar’s Krishnendu is a joy to watch in this film. He is intelligent, practical, and easy-going, but he is also running away from the pressure and responsibilities his family imposes on him. His romantic interest, Suchitra Sen, is equally talented and it’s not difficult to see why the pair was so popular. The chemistry between the two actors is great, and wonderfully brought out in the film.
The scene where the two perform a piece of Shakespeare’s Othello needs a special mention. Directed by Utpal Dutt, the performance of Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen in that part was dubbed by Utpal Dutt and Jennifer Kendal. Kumar and Sen, however, ace the melodramatic acting, making it one of the best scenes in the film.
The music by Hemanta Mukherjee is also a treat, with popular numbers like Ei Path Jodi Na Shesh Hoi and On The Merry Go Round.
The film’s theme rings too familiar a bell in today’s time, with a significant rise in threats to couples marrying outside their faith. The film is a reminder of what could happen when religious beliefs are allowed to overrule feelings of love — it can lead to disaster and despair. And while many such stories have happy endings, reality will be far from being so kind.
Saptapadi is a classic Uttam Kumar film. The actor-director-producer always seemed to choose films that maintained the right balance between being entertaining and thought-provoking.