Satyajit Ray, in his obituary for Uttam Kumar, had once written, “Every other Bengali film had him (Uttam Kumar) in the lead, usually paired with Suchitra Sen. This was a romantic team which for durability and width of acceptance had few equals in world cinema.”
Those who lived in that era and every other Bengali cinema lover would agree. With Suchitra`s death that era of Bengali romance comes to an end. Suchitra was India`s Greta Garbo for she refused to make a public appearance and even forewent the Dadasaheb Phalke Award in 2005 for the same reason.
Her debut movie was `Saare Chuattor`, which was a Box Office hit, and started the two-decade-long journey of the Uttam-Suchitra pair. Her first Hindi movie Bimal Roy`s `Devdas` in 1955 remains a classic and got her the Best Actress Award. But she carved her niche in Tollywood.
Known for romantic-drama movies, her roles were highly appreciated by the critics. She essayed different roles with ease. It was the era when Bengali cinema was breaking away from the Bombay industry. It had to establish itself, and the Bengali culture had to be infused into its cinema to make that change.
The era of Uttam-Suchitra helped make it. It was post-independence India, looking at the heroes of the silver screen mirror their own lives. Suchitra Sen was the ideal female that every Bengali man wanted. Her roles were that of a strong-willed woman who was grounded. The melodrama in her romance, her simple gestures, minimal make up and unglamorous beauty was the image that made her a cult figure especially in the modern Bengali middle-class.
Suchitra`s ability to emote was unparalleled, and she proved it even further in Gulzar`s `Aandhi`, in which she starred opposite Sanjeev Kumar. Apart from its beautiful songs, Sen`s portrayal of a character based on Indira Gandhi and measured acting got her a Filmfare nomination that year. The movie is still considered as one of the best political dramas made in Indian cinema. Author Maitreyee B Chowdhury shared an interesting anecdote in her book, `Uttam Kumar And Suchitra Sen: Bengali Cinemas First Couple `.
"While working on `Aandhi`(1975), Gulzar resorted to calling her `Sir`, in retaliation to her persistently calling him so, despite being friends. Such was Suchitra`s persona."
Her best remembered role is in Asit Sen`s `Dweep Jele Jaye`, in which she played a nurse at a psychiatric ward. The movie was later made into Hindi by the same director as `Khamoshi`, in which her character was played by Waheeda Rehman.
In 1963, she won the best actress award in Moscow Film Festival for her part in `Saat Paake Bandha`. This movie too was remade into `Kora Kaagaz`. Her other movies include `Shap Mochan` (1955), `Sagarika` (1956), `Harano Sur` (1957), `Indrani` (1958), `Chaowa-Paowa` (1959), `Saptapadi` (1961), `Bipasha` (1962), `Uttar Falguni` (1963), and `Mamta` (1966).
Suchitra Sen retired from the movie industry in 1978, going into self imposed exile, engaging herself in spirituality and only meeting close friends and devoting her time to the Ramakrishna Mission.
But her death has brought back all the memories of classic Bengali cinema to the countless Bengalis. There are people for whom romance is best portrayed in a song picturising an effervescent Suchitra Sen pillion riding Uttam Kumar in `Eyi Poth Jodi Na Shesh Hoye` (If only the road doesn`t end today...) - For them the road has ended today.