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Uttam Kumar — the ‘mahanayak’ who defined Bengali cinema for three decades

Doyen of Bengali cinema Uttam Kumar has over 200 films to his credit. He was an extremely charming and intelligent man, who lived life on his own terms.

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New Delhi: Every film industry has had a superstar, that one actor who surpasses all others — maybe not in skill, but in performance and sheer star power.

In Bollywood, we’ve seen the likes of Rajesh Khanna, Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan; in Tamil and Telugu cinema, there have been Rajnikanth, N.T. Rama Rao and more. In Bengali cinema, however, there is only one name — Uttam Kumar.

Popularly known as ‘mahanayak’ (great actor), Kumar dominated the Bengali film industry for three decades, working with auteurs such as Satyajit Ray, Nirmal Dey, Niren Lahiri and more.

Much has been said and written about Kumar since his death on 24 July 1980. He was an extremely charming, handsome and intelligent man, who lived life on his own terms. He was, therefore, also at the centre of many controversies, especially those involving his female co-stars such as Suchitra Sen, Supriya Devi and Sabitri Chatterjee. But on his 39th death anniversary, ThePrint takes a look at the stand-out scenes and songs from eight of his iconic films.

Also read: K Balachander, the filmmaker Rajinikanth, Kamal Haasan & Sridevi owe their careers to

Nayak (1966)

Perhaps his most famous film, it sees Kumar playing a famous actor who meets a journalist on a day-long train journey and ends up revealing the tragic side of his glamorous life. Directed by Satyajit Ray, the film won the National Award for Best Bengali Feature film and multiple awards at international film festivals. The film gained fame for Kumar’s raw acting and ability to play a deeply flawed character while invoking sympathy for him.

Saptapadi (1961)

Based on a novel by Tarasankar Bandyopadhyay, Saptapadi spotlights inter-faith love, starring a young Kumar as Krishnendu, a Bengali Hindu, and Suchitra Sen as Rina Brown, an Anglo-Indian.

Chowringhee (1968) 

Based on a novel of the same name, the film is a collection of six stories that portray the tragedy of human life as seen from the perspective of the protagonist, played by Subhendu Chatterjee.

Kumar plays Sata, a hotel receptionist, who meets the love of his life and plans on realising his dream only to have everything taken away from him towards the end. The film was very popular with audiences not only because of the story, but also songs like Kache Robe and Baro Eka Laage, sung by music legends Hemanta Kumar and Manna Dey, respectively.

Chhadmabeshi (1971)

We all know Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Chupke Chupke, but Chhadmabeshi is the original that inspired it. Agradoot directed Kumar as a professor who poses as a driver to play a prank on his new brother-in-law, and hilarity ensues.

Antony Firingee (1967)

Kumar plays the titular role of a Portuguese-Indian man who became a famous Bengali-language poet in this biographical film co-starring Tanuja. The film is known for Kumar’s performance and soundtrack, with Manna Dey and Sandhya Mukherjee on lead vocals.

Sanyasi Raja (1975)

Based on the real Bhawal case, in which a prince believed to be dead returns to claim his property and title, Sanyasi Raja was another favourite of the audience. Kumar plays Surya Kishor, a reckless and negligent zamindar, who is left for dead by a greedy family friend. While everyone thinks he is dead, Surya plans to make a comeback. This was one of the first films in which Kumar played a negative character, but still managed to win over audiences.

Agnishwar (1975)

An idealistic and patriotic doctor struggles to give context and direction to the corrupt, poor and stagnant society he lives in. This remains one of Kumar’s most critically acclaimed performances.

Stree (1972)

Directed by Salil Dutta, Stree is a testament to Kumar’s skill as a character actor. He plays a rich landowner who employs a young cameraman (Soumitra Chatterjee), who happens to be his wife’s former lover. While Kumar’s character is the most flawed — he drinks, smokes, commits adultery, and more — he discovers his wife’s affair with his employee and goes down a rabbit hole of jealousy and resentment. Kumar skilfully portrays this highly unlikeable character, who has a certain degree of self-awareness. One doesn’t look to Kumar’s character kindly, but one can’t look away from him also, thanks to his acting.

Also read: In Uttam Kumar & Sharmila Tagore’s film ‘Amanush’, floods restore faith in human spirit


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  1. Thanks for at least remembering UTTAM KUMAR and highlighting the forgotten Charming Versatile Bengali Actor.He is unreplaceable and doyen iconic of BENGAL.
    Big Salute to Him.

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