Shadows of fame and dizzying ladders of stardom touched his much attained mythical status. He crafted such a monopoly autocracy which made him not just a heartthrob, but also a legend of Bengali Cinema and his memories frozen in the reels of celluloid in a perennial continuation haunting the collective sensibility of the global Indians. His craze has surpassed all the infinite oceans of celebrity, merging myth and reality. Bengal still tom-toms its love for the one and only Uttam Kumar. His name etymologically' in Bengali means superb; and indeed he is an institution of Bengali cine globe.
Time has rolled, an era has passed ; 30 years have flowed adding ripples of time in the sea of eternity since Uttam Kumar passed away. Even today, the essence of "Bangaliana" is often defined by a craze for Uttam Kumar's films. Uttam Kumar was in every sense the 'Mahanayak' (superstar). His impressive persona and smooth mellifluous voice established him as the unchallenged star of Bengali movies. Truly enough he had an aura of star around him yet his simpleton roles made him a household name. Even today it is said no star can match his star status neither his histrionic skills. According to the history of Bengali cinema Uttam Kumar ruled the film industry for almost three decades.
The heroes that one saw on the Bengali screen those days - Durgadas Banerjee, Pramathesh Chandra Barua, Saigal, Dhiraj Bhattacharji - were hardly in the same league with the Hollywood heroes one admired.
Early Life of Uttam Kumar
Birth rendered him the name Arun Kumar Chatterjee in 1926 at Ahiritola, North Kolkata but was called 'Uttam' by his maternal grandmother that he used later as the cinematic voyage journeyed with full gusto. ' He was associated with stage acting for a short time. He could not, however, complete his studies and started working at the Kolkata Port as a clerk. During this period, he acted in amateur theatre groups. His prodigious joint family had its own theatre group, the Suhrid Samaj which staged many amateur shows. When Arun Kumar Chatterjee left his secure job with Calcutta Port Trust and decided to try his luck in the Bengali film industry, his wife Gauri Devi's grandfather suggested that he learn driving instead so when his attempt at stardom failed he could at least feed his wife. As he unscrupulously scraped through a series of unsuccessful celluloid stints, Arun Kumar the real name of Uttam Kumar, broke into the film scene with Sharey Chuattor - a hit.
Works of Uttam Kumar
For Uttam the scene was hardly like he came, he saw and he conquered, rather it was a slow and steady growth. His brand of acting, in an environment dominated by theatrics, came as a storm of fresh air to a new cinema-literate generation desiring natural, fluid, easy and relaxed mannerism. His first break in Bengali films came with Drishdidaan (1948) directed by the great Nitin Bose. However it was in 1949 that he was seen as the main protagonist in Kamana. The film did not do well at the box office. He went onto star in Basu Parivar. When all his initial films started failing at the box office, he was named Flop Master General. He did in 1953 the romantic comedy Sharey Chuattor. The film starred Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen. They were paired opposite each other for the first time and went on to be the most popular screen couple for centuries. This film was received well by the audience.
Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen wiped away the mourning of soulful silence that was leisurely engulfing Bengali cinema due to the occurring incidence of the Hindi films. If romance had to be prescribed a face, the palette would be filled with Uttam and Suchitra romantic escapades on celluloid. Such was the clout, the commanding magnetism and the alluring chemistry that crackled between the two stalwarts that for many a dreamy eyed fan they were made for each other. This was a romantic team which for durability and wide width of nave acceptance had few equals in world cinema.
Uttam was certainly a star in the true Hollywood sense of the term. It hardly mattered if it was a frontal shot, or a profile shot, or an over an over the shoulder shot, or a preference shot. Whether the camera was static or trolley or a crane, in all the cases Uttam Kumar's turning from back to camera and then taking position after movement delivering the dialogue with immaculate expression - were all accurate in one go.
Their next hit film was Agnipariksha in 1954. Some of their popular films are Shaap Mochon (1955), Sagarika (1956), Harano Sur (1957), Indrani (1958), Rajalakshmi-o-Shrikanta (1958), Chaowa-Paowa (1959), Saptapadi (1961), Bipasha (1962), Grihadaha (1967) etc. Uttam Kumar starred in around 200 films in his career. Apart from Suchitra Sen Uttam Kumar was also paired with Supriya Devi, Sabitri Chatterjee, Sharmila Tagore, Sumitra Mukherjee and others.
Satyajit Ray's Nayak (1966) dealt with the film industry and the life of a star and by the dint of this film Uttam Kumar placed himself in the Ray camp. The image was akin to Uttam's own status in the Bengali cinema with the audience seeing him in an image beyond that of the typecast romantic hero. Satyajit Ray conceptualized that Uttam would find the assorted role easy to identify with, being that of an run of the mill middle-class youth who tops the ladders of fame though sprouting from middle class background. In fact, a rags-to-riches story with some striking similitude to Uttam's owns life or what Aristotle would have cherished to connote: catastrophe, in Uttam's case, a positive one! Another film that deserves is Khoka Babur Pratyabartan (1960). It was, however, Satyajit Ray's Chriyakhana that brought him his National Award in 1967. He was also appreciated fro his role in Antony Firangee.
Uttam Kumar has also produced several films including Harano Sur, Saptapadi, Bhrantibilash (1963), Uttar Falguni (1963), Jatugriha (1964) and Grihadaha. His last film was the romantic comedy Ogo Bodhu Sundari. He also made his foray into the Hindi film industry with Chhoti Si Mulaqaat in 1967 co-starring Vyjayantimala. His other films include Amanush (1975), Anand Ashram (1977). Some of his Hindi movies are Kitaab (1979) and Dooriyaan (1979).
Some of the other films of Uttam Kumar are Lal Pathhar ,Sesh Anka, Saheb Bibi Golam, Kokhono Megh ,Sabyasachi, Shuno Baro Nari, Sanjher Pradeep, Chhodmobeshi,Sanyasi Raja, Dui Bhai, Sabar Uparey, Dhonyee Meye,Sonar Khnacha,Deya Neya, Ekti Raat, Nayika Songba etc. With most of these movies, his commercial viability remained unaltered.
Awards of Uttam Kumar
B.F.J.A Best Actor Award for Hrod (1955)
Recognition from the Government of India for Harano Sur (1957)
B.F.J.A Best Actor award for Saptapadi (1961). Uttam Kumar received the award from the legendary film-maker Debaki Bose.
B.F.J.A Best Actor award for Nayak (1966)
B.F.J.A Best Actor award for Grihadha (1967).
B.F.J.A Best Actor award for Ekhane Pinjar (1971).
Best Actor award from 'Prosad' magazine for Stri (1973). B.F.J.A Best Actor award for Amanush (1974).
Best Actor Filmfare Award Nomination for Amanush (1975).
He received the Best Actor award for the same film from the Government of West Bengal on January 26, 1975. The price was worth 5000 rupees. Uttam Kumar donated the whole sum to the impoverished artists' fund.
B.F.J.A Best Actor award for Bahnisikha (1976).
Best Actor award both from the Prosad magazine and Sanonskritik Sanbadik Sanostha for Anand Ashram (1977)
He was the very first recipient of the National Film Awards in the Best Actor category for both Chiriyakhana and Antony Firingee (1967).
Uttam Kumar, the legendary star passed away on 24th July 1980, at the age of 54 leaving behind a void that was never to be filled shaking Kolkata of her complacency. As the flames licked the air and hysteria hit an all-time high, one suddenly wondered about the future of an already crippled industry without its one solitary, dazzling luminary, and shuddered.
The Tollygunge Metro station has been named after him. He may be grouped into the rare breed of instinctive, innate actors rather than the cerebral ones the one that likes to take a part to pieces and probe into background, motivations etc in order to 'get beneath the skin of the character'. Unexpected little details of action and behaviour were his forte his weapon to attract and retain the audience bewildered web of amazement. His cinema ensnares rare virtues of grace, spontaneity and confidence. Such a combination is not easily come by and it is hard to see any one taking his place in the cinema of West Bengal in the near future.
The dazzling achievements dampened by dud disappointments, the aberrations attendant on a life constantly in the floodlights as well as the human face that was masked by his towering image in front of the camera-all of which have resulted in, for cine lovers, an attachment that survives more than thirty years after his death.
For Bengal what he offered in the cinematic domain is but: Magischer Realismus, or Magic Realism! The rest is history, a created reality trapped in intimate silence forever to be bathed in undiminished fame.