The Left and Bengali Cinema after Uttam Kumar (Caravan)


ON THE EARLY MORNING of 25 July 1980, Bengali matinée idol Uttam Kumar’s unexpected death at the age of 54 shook West Bengal. By the following morning, it seemed all of Calcutta was on the streets. Howling millions followed the vehicle carrying his remains. Not far from the scene, in a closed room filled with cigar smoke on Alimuddin Street, the headquarters of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), Pramode Dasgupta, the party’s powerful general secretary, asked his comrades, “Is our government associating itself with the funeral of a Tollygunge matinée idol?” The resounding answer was ‘no.’ The government of the people was not going to associate itself with the commercially elevated leading figure of bourgeoisie cinema. Later that day, Dasgupta harrumphed, “Tell Buddhadeb [Bhattacharjee, then minister of culture and information] that the decision to stay away is right. But Jyotibabu wants a wreath to be sent. Go ahead. I have no objection.”

Uttam Kumar with Suchitra Sen in Nabarag (1971)

Inside this uncorroborated but widely reported story sat another. The CPI(M) may not have known it at the time—in fact, few did—but the party’s link with the general public was irreversibly broken that fateful morning in July. After all, only three years prior, the party had swept to power with a huge majority. It considered itself a progressive curator of not just the people’s political mandate, but also of cultural productions. How wrong it was!

Among the many institutional failures of the CPI(M)’s governing logic was the zealous disregard for Bengali popular cinema. And after several replays of this mistake, on issues even more damaging to its prospects, this disconnect took its revenge last May when it was kicked out of power. The moment Mamata Banerjee had a scent of the impending change of regime, one of the first cultural talismans she revived in public discourse was Uttam Kumar, an unfailing instrument of mass mobilisation. She appealed to the middle class, an unfamiliar constituency for her, through her public speeches and meetings, to support her in paying the screen god his long-delayed due. An archive of his films and a film city in his name were among Banerjee’s many promises. It paid her off handsomely.

Uttam Kumar’s death left Bengali cinema deeply divided—between morbid arthouse cinema and gaudy, sickening, retrograde melodrama. The CPI(M) put its weight behind the former, pouring money into what it thought were serious, durable narratives which would cement its self-image as a custodian of high cultural tastes. With this favour to the cultural imperative of ‘good cinema’, (which found fruition in the establishment of the Nandan West Bengal Film Centre in 1986) they thought they could help build a repertoire that, in the years to come, would reinforce the party’s own founding mythology through cinematic memory. All this while, it left popular cinema, once the touchstone of Bengali cultural taste, to languish in abandonment. The urban middle class was complicit in both these ploys, buying into the cultural redemption the party was offering.

This meant that those wanting to work in cinema outside the infrastructure of Tollygunge had to cosy up to the CPI(M)’s cultural apparatchiks, who then took a call on what constituted meaningful cinema. This inevitably meant censorship on more than one level and a stifling, self-denying definition of cinema. Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, therefore, ‘good cinema’ was all about poorly lit, sadly textured, boringly mounted, brooding cinema that in no time lost all its cultural value. Moreover, by the mid-1980s, the great Bengali auteurs—Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen, Ritwik Ghatak and Tapan Sinha—had either passed away, retired or were barely productive. There was hardly any political cinema; on the contrary, the ‘serious films’, backed by government patronage, focused on family and gender, petty crime in the cities, the changing moral landscape of the middle classes, and other issues that added little to the rich thematic repertory of Bengali cinema through the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. There were, of course, exceptions like Aparna Sen’s 36 Chowringhee Lane, Goutam Ghose’s Paar and Mrinal Sen’s Mahaprithibi. But they were largely it.

Popular cinema, having lost both public and institutional backing, sought out the lowest common denominator—by cutting costs and looking for desperate patronage in the farthest of places, distant from the judgement of the city and its dominant classes. The result was a three-decade washout—a series of cheesy, inane and lurid potboilers stripped of reason, rhyme and sensibility, as well as any entertainment appeal. An entire generation grew up in the cities of Bengal in the 1980s and 1990s without having seen a single fine specimen of Bengali popular cinema.

The inevitable change came with liberalisation: the CPI(M) began to lose its credibility, even as its finances dwindled. Private finance began to back serious cinema; and the new money brought in new production values and a better work ethic. Years of television had created a bank of credible actors and technicians; and then, with a bang, multiplexes arrived. Between mid-1990 and mid-2000, with the arrival of Rituparno Ghosh and a few others—and the presence of those like Goutam Ghose and Aparna Sen—providing new traction, things suddenly improved for the arthouse camp.

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29 Responses to “The Left and Bengali Cinema after Uttam Kumar (Caravan)”

  1. Star struck for Uttam?
    Priyanka Dasgupta, TNN Jul 24, 2010, 12.00am IST

    It’s been 30 years since Uttam Kumar passed away. Even today, Bangaliana is often defined by a craze for Uttam Kumar’s films.

    His films have attained mythical status; his memories continue to haunt the collective sensibility of Bengalis across the world. Yet, there are some who now feel that the Uttam Kumar craze is more of a myth than reality. After all, it has taken 30 years for one single documentary to be made on the superstar. TAM reports also mention a dip in interest levels in watching black and white movies. So, is Bengal more in love with the myth that is Uttam Kumar? Or is idol worship translating into something more constructive?
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    Supriya Devi is appalled with the apathy Bengal has shown towards preserving the memory of Uttam Kumar. “On his death anniversary, Shilpi Sansad had wanted to organise a festival of his films. But the organisation was refused outright because apparently, there are no takers for his movies now! During his lifetime, he was given the Bharat Award. Don’t confuse that with the Bharat Ratna. While so many have got the Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan posthumously, he has always been given a clear miss,” she says.

    Gautam Bagchi, the secretary of Shilpi Sansad, says that it’s shocking to see how callous the government has been with preserving the prints of Uttam Kumar’s movies. “Out of his 226 films, only 20 of them can be shown on 35 mm. From the remaining 206 films, 60 per cent have been destroyed,” Bagchi says. While Bengal still tom-toms its love for Uttam Kumar, why has no one bothered doing anything constructive to preserve his heritage? “At least, Mamata Banerjee has done something by naming the Tollygunge Metro Station after him. The Left Front government has been indifferent to him,” Bagchi adds.

    Ask Swapan Das, whose 57 minute-long documentary titled Mahanayak — A Superstar’s Journey will have its premiere tonight, about the contemporary craze for Uttam Kumar and he says, “The craze remains not only amongst those who have watched his movies earlier, but also amongst youngsters. My nephew, Rupprotim Das, who studies in Class VI at Don Bosco, wanted eight extra invites to be given to his school friends. All of them are eager to watch the documentary on Uttam Kumar.”

    Besides Soumitra Chatterjee, Arobindo Mukherjee, Manna Dey, Shobha Sen, Rituparno Ghosh, Ranjit Mallick, Sabitri Chatterjee and Supriya Devi analysing the legend’s acting style, the documentary also has actor Gourab Chatterjee enacting his grandfather in certain portions of the docu. Das says that there remains a craze to watch this documentary since it also reveals lesser-known details like the Mahanayak’s attachment to his sister, Putul, his involvement in the Freedom Struggle and how he wrote and even composed the music for Anodhokarer bokho hano tikhno surer taan.

    But if such is the craze among the young and the old, why did it take 30 years for Bengal to produce one documentary on the legend? After all, Bengal has no dearth of producers funding films that tank at the box-office but nevertheless do get made. Das, however, has no answer to why a sense of lethargy has prevailed. “I too had asked the same question to Uttam Kumar’s son. The late Gautam (Chatterjee) had told me how every year, on the legend’s birth and death anniversary, people would come over to their place. There would be talks on making a documentary. But nothing ever materialised. I am eternally grateful to Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi for his support in helping me make this documentary, that traces the Mahanayak’s life from birth till death at the age of 54 years.”

    If lethargy in making a documentary is disheartening, what’s even more intriguing is that very few private Bengali channels air Uttam Kumar’s films these days. Says a member of a team research of a private channel, “The general viewership of black and white movies has gone down in Bengal. That includes Uttam Kumar’s movies too. After checking the TAM data of 2010, we’ve found that except Aakash Bangla and Rupashi Bangla, no other channel airs black and white movies. Rupashi Bangla has B/W movies on Sunday mornings with negligible viewership. Sony AATH had tried screening Uttam Kumar movies. But the viewership was 0.3 TVR with an average time of five-six minutes being spent on watching each of them. In contrast, a more recent film would get a viewership of at least 1.2 TVR. Commercial Bengali hits post-2007 would get at least 2.5 TVR.”


  2. Ray made Nayak especially for Uttam Kumar (the star was known as ‘Mahanayak’.. a bit of an interesting play by Ray therefore on ‘nayak’) and said he would never have done the film had the star not agreed. He also did an Agatha Christie-like tale in Chiriyakhana with the same star. On that note he also wanted to do a film with Suchitra Sen but the latter wasn’t able to and he never made the film (similarly Raj Kapoor too wanted to work with her but it never happened).

    As far as I can tell Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen are most prolific pair of cinematic history having done 30 or more films together.


    • rockstar Says:

      And the good thing was ray deconstructed the image of hero that to some 50 year back btw I am not sure but the only Hindi film he did was with jaya bachchan


  3. Uttam Kumar was only 52 when he died! On Suchitra Sen her entire career came about after marriage! Both are relatively rare events in most stars’ lives.


  4. iffrononfire Says:

    had awesome body of work and infact inspired guys like hrishikesh mukherjee .. infact satyam appreciate if there will be more on another talismam utpal dutt and present legend victor banerjee


    • just saw Ami se o Sakha yesterday which is the Bemisaal original and has Uttam Kumar in the Bachchan part. Similarly he also did the Chupke Chupke original (had Dharam’s role). Will say that I find Mukherjee’s films better in each case but then he’s not just any director. And of course he also had Bachchan! The other such Bengali original for a Bachchan film is Mrinal Sen’s Akash Kussum with Soumitra Chatterjee which was later remade as Manzil.


  5. well,it does not matter whether uttam kumar or Soumitra chatterjee starred in the originals of Big B films,you will always find BigB’s performance better as it seems that you find no fault in BigB.Infact,it seems like you are more into commercial type of movies and commercial type of film acting which involves stupid kind of dialogbaazi with over the top acting and shouting at the top of one’s voice,something which Bachchan specializes in.That you find the Hrishida’s adaptations and basuda’s manzil better than Mrinal da’s akashkusum is nothing unusual as these remakes are more commercial in nature and you,whether you admit it or not,tend to like films more commercial in nature.Also if you had good knowledge of bangla and could speak and understand bengali thoroughly,then you would have liked the originals better.One needs to have a through understanding of both the languages in which a film is made and remade to give a correct analysis and a fair comparison.Watching a film with subtitles,without understanding the language it is made in,can never bring out the true essence of the film.

    I understand that everyone has different tastes and choices.Also,i think that ranking among the best in any field is a futile exercise.I personally think that there are a bunch of 15 star-actors in India who are of equal standard and saying that one of them is the best is a wrong and stupid thing to do.I know that you have a big soft corner for AB and Dharam,but they are not in the league of actors like Uttam and Soumitra.I personally do not feel that the performances of AB and Dharam were better than those of Uttam and Soumitra in the originals.I would just say that AB and Dharam performances were more commercial and was more in sync with the bollywood sensibilities while,Uttam and Soumitra’s performances were more natural,controlled,restrained and matched more with the bengali and the Western sensibilities.Anyways, it is always easier to perform in a remake as you already have a rough sketch of what to do.The performer in a remake not only copies the good things from the original performer but can also easily notice the weaker things in the original performance and rectify them.It is always more difficult to a give good and apt performance in the original.As,i said before AB and Dharam are really good actors but They aren’t not as great as uttam and soumitra.That’s precisely the reason that Ab and Dharam could never act in the films of the greatest filmmakers like Ray,Sen,Ghatak,Tapan Sinha,Gopalakrishnan,Shaji,Shyam Benegal.


    • Hard to respond to any of this since your assumptions are inaccurate on just about every count. I have spoken at length about Bengali cinema in a number of comments and don’t feel the need to ‘justify’ anything here.


      • Well,i was not assuming anything and whatever i said was based on what i read from your comments.and yes,you do not need to justify anything.I was just saying that Big b and Mohanlal are not ‘the best’ actors in india.They are among the best that includes Dilip Kumar,Ashok Kumar,Balraj Sahni,Motilal,Utpal dutt,Chhabi Biswas,Mammotthy,Kamal Hassan,Uttam Kumar,Soumitra[you have to be a great actor otherwise you cannot become the favorite actor of the greatest filmamker of india-Satyajit Ray],Sanjeev Kumar etc.I know that you know quite something about Bengali cinema,but let tell me tell you very frankly,that i am almost like an authority on bengali cinema[you can contact me to know whatever you want to know about bengali cinema].I can also very safely say that Bengali cinema was the best in india from 30’s to 80’s,after which Malayalam cinema became the best in the country from 80’s to 2000.In the last 10 years though,no particular industry can be said to be the best in the country.

        By the way,do you understand bengali or do you watch bengali films the subtitle way.


        • Regrettably I don’t understand Bengali but I also don’t understand tons of languages around the world in which I regularly see movies and rate very highly. Also remember that being intimate with the culture also creates a different kind of problem — where one’s personal identification is so great that one finds it harder to be objective.

          On those actors you’ve mentioned I know the list but I clearly disagree. I don’t find anyone there to be as ‘good’ as Bachchan or Mohanlal. Just my opinion. Also if you have read all my comments you will see how highly I’ve spoken of Bengali cinema for that golden period. I’ve also called Suchitra Sen the most striking actress ever. even without understanding Bengali!

          I do concede I can never watch these films as a Bengali does but this is so for very much art and entertainment that one accesses from different parts of the world. One cannot be the insider in all contexts. This doesn’t mean one cannot understand the importance of a work.

          Sadly I have still seen little in Bengali cinema. Would like to see a lot more. I accept your vastly greater knowledge here. But I’m not sure if it’s relevant to the debate here. Because I have seen enough of those Bengali actors in enough films so that I am not poorly exposed to them. It’s not as if I formed my opinion after watching a couple of films. I find Uttam Kumar quite addictive for example. And by the way I don’t prefer every Hindi remake either as you can see in those comments. But Bachchan is not just any actor nor is Hrishikesh Mukherjee any director.

          By the way on your Ray example I suppose Soumitra Chatterjee is more talented than Uttam Kumar right? Otherwise he wouldn’t have been Ray’s favorite actor?!

          Incidentally I find it questionable whether the favorite actors of great directors are always the greatest themselves. They have to be good for sure but not necessarily titanic. For many reasons.

          I’ll say this again at the end.. I could watch a 100 movies in succession from the great Bengali period going from the early 50s to the early 70s. And I have no ‘nativist’ tendency in these matters.


          • well,choices differ from person to person.Some find Dilip Kumar as the best,while for some others it is Sanjeev kumar.For some others,it is Dadamoni while for some others Balraj sahni and Motilal are the best.And in the same way,all those names which I mentioned earlier and some other names which i did not mention,are rated as the best by different persons[Here,i am only talking about such persons who watch and appreciate all the different language films made in india].The same thing goes for actresses and directors as well.For example,I find Shabana azmi as the best while your favorite is Suchitra Sen.In the same way,you rate Adoor as the second best director in Indian Cinema after Ray,whereas I rate Adoor as the fourth best after Ray,Sen and Ghatak [I know quite a many who share the same opinion and also some who think otherwise].

            Now,in such a situation,it becomes extremely difficult to say who is right or who is wrong.And i think it is practically impossible to do so.After all,how can we judge that whose view is the supreme one.Therefore,the correct thing to do in such a situation is that one should never indulge in rankings[like i suggested before] and instead give equal importance to all the greats.

            Yes,i agree with you thoroughly that being intimate with a particular kind of cinema makes it difficult for one to be objective.But i do not suffer from any such issues.Otherwise i would not have rated Malayalam cinema as the best in the country[which it was] from the 80’s to 2000.

            As far as Soumitra is concerned,i do find him slightly better than Uttam.And i think one has to be not just good,but excellent,if not necessarily Titanic to feature In 14 of Ray films,5 of Sen films,6 of Sinha’s films and many other countless great films.I just wanted you to acknowledge that Soumitra is not just good but very good as it seemed from your comments that you rate even Dharmendra better than Soumitra.

            Now,from what i read from your comments,i deduced that you rated all the three remakes of bengali films better than the originals.You did talk about other remakes,but of the ones that you watched,you rated the remakes better.The most shocking one was that Basu Chatterjee’s Manzil is better than Mrinal sen’s Akash Kusum.Basuda is excellent but he isn’t titanic like Mrinalda.

            Another thing is that I never suggested that one can’t appreciate a good film without knowing the language it is made in.The point i wanted to make is that if one knows the language,one tends to understand and like a film better.Take Chupke Chupke for example.A lot of the greatness of the film comes from the hilarious dialogues and the superb style of dialogue delivery.Would not you agree that the fun one gets from lines like ‘Main jo kehta hoon’ ,when one knows the language can never be matched by the fun a person gets when he watches Chupke Chupke without understanding Hindi and gets the meaning of the dialogues through subtitles.I was just saying that if you knew Bengali,you would have liked the originals better.

            I know that my vast knowledge of bengali films was not relevant in the context of the debate.But i never said it in that context anyway.I was just suggesting that since you are interested in watching Bengali films,you can contact me as i know a lot about good and bad bengali films.

            One point i would like to make is that The golden period of bengali cinema is not just limited to early 50’s to early 70’s.The golden period actually started from Bimal Roy’s 1944 film Udayer Pathey and lasted till Uttam Kumar’s death in 1980.Another point is that did you know that as many as 25 films of Uttam Kumar were remade in Hindi and even a bigger number of his films were remade in South.Also did you know that as many as 100 bengali films have been remade in hindi and that as many as 100 other hindi films were remakes of Southern,Marathi,Gujarati and Punjabi films,

            By the way,are you Tamil?


          • yes I’m aware of all the ‘remaking’ that Bombay cinema has done.

            I’d easily take Uttam Kumar over Soumitra Chatterjee.

            On the remakes two examples where the Hindi remakes are inferior are Dil Daulat Duniya (Sadanander Mela), comparison here in fact, and Kala Pani (Sabar Upare). Actually even Khamoshi isn’t a patch on Deep Jwele Jai. In fact Asit Sen even cast Suchitra Sen for the remake of Uttor Falguni and though the film is fine on its own the original is still better.

            I will concede the point on Chupke Chupke to a degree because yes this is a film about language and here not knowing the original is far more problematic than in other instances. Still think Hrishikesh Mukherjee has just made a racier films more in keeping with the linguistic comedy here. It’s a bit like some stuff by Howard Hawks where the pace of the verbal exchanges would often be matched in a situational sense.

            On Akash Kusum I am well aware of this film’s legendary status in Bengali but if you revisit my comment I have preferred the remake for some very precise reasons (on sheer visual compositions I would take Mrinal Sen over Basu Chatterjee). Similarly in Bemisal I think Mukherjee makes the film more ambiguous in some ways than Ami Se O Sakhi. Incidentally barring the Mrinal Sen I do not consider the Hindi remakes more commercial than the originals in most of these cases if not all.

            So it’s a question of the particular comparison but yes Bachchan is for me the sort of titanic presence who can often tip the balance on his own. Ray incidentally wanted to work with him but the right opportunity never came about. Finally he just used his voice for Shatranj Ke Khiladi. And here to get back to your earlier point Ray was very conscious of respecting the ‘star signature’. For example he was certain that he wouldn’t make Nayak at all if Uttam Kumar did not do it. Similarly he had a project for Suchitra Sen which the latter couldn’t do at that point in time and he shelved the project altogether.

            On the directors you mention I haven’t seen enough of Adoor but based on the few that I have and also based on the considerably more I’ve seen from Ghatak and Mrinal Sen (probably seen all the important films in these two instances) I have no hesitation in calling Adoor Ray’s only real competition in India.

            On the golden period I defer to your knowledge. I will say that I have not been very impressed by the films that I’ve seen after the early 70s. I seen a waning industry at that point. But again you know more on this than I do. As I’ve said before I adore the Bengali cinema I’ve seen but it was a long-held ambition anyway to be better exposed to a tradition that I always knew to be one of India’s richest.

            Finally on having a blind spot I think one can appreciate other kinds of cinema but one can still retain a certain intimate link with one particular kind. Which is why one should often interrogate most the star or cinema one thinks most highly of.

            Thanks for your offer. Will email you.


  6. Wanted to work in a film and working in 14 films of a great director are entirely different things.It’s like saying that i wanted to top and i should have topped IIT,but i didn’t.Well such lines do not carry any significance.Either you top or you don’t.Just the same way,either you work or you don’t.Words such as ‘Wanted to’,’Could Have’,’Should Have’ are ridiculous words to use and do not make any sense in reality.

    I have seen all works of Ray,Ghatak,Sen[except 4 of his films],Adoor and as i said before I place Adoor behind these three.I have many valid reasons to do so.You might place Adoor second to Ray,but most of people won’t agree with you[I am not including myself in this and I am purely going by popular and critical appeal and acclaim,both in India and In the West.].

    But then,everyone is entitled to have his or her opinion and i do not think I have any right to impose my choice on others.

    Well, it was nice discussing cinema with you.



    • Not sure how Bachchan could have been expected to work in a Bengali film (though he knows enough to get by in it). Or a Malayalam one (you brought up Adoor in the same context earlier). Isn’t there a minimal language requirement?! Ray just did one film in Hindi relatively late in his career. Do we ask why De Niro didn’t work with Kurosawa or Fellini or Bergman or whoever?

      On the rest it’s not ‘ridiculous’ for the simple reason that it’s factual! Not sure what’s so strange about this. No one’s saying Ray was struggling for years to make a film with Bachchan. Just that he desired to do so but somehow it never came together for him and Bachchan. Much as he wanted to do a film with Suchitra, it didn’t happen. Here it was something more specific but it didn’t. Now you could ask why he didn’t do so at another point when Suchitra Sen was around for 20 or so years that Ray was working but things don’t work this way — auteurs have to be inspired and have to be in a certain space for any project. They don’t just cynically do something at any given point even when they want to.

      And again the ‘key’ actors for any great director are not necessarily those they consider the very best in their field but those who work best in their kind of cinema. It’s easy to see why Marcello Mastrianni was in so many Fellini films. Similarly I can understand why Ray worked with Soumitra Chatterjee more often than with Uttam Kumar. doesn’t mean he necessarily considered one the better actor. In fact quite the reverse. He’s on record saying he never saw anyone (within Bengali cinema) like Uttam Kumar. The great auteurs are always very aware of the star in addition to the actor. They understand how the cinematic isn’t only about the actor. But in any case it’s about finding an actor best suited to their ‘designs’.

      Rathnam did three films with Abhishek, might do more in the future. He’s done one with Mohanlal, one with Kamal. does this automatically mean that he considers Abhishek better than those two?


      • I also mentioned the name of Shyam Benegal,who primarily made Hindi films and who in my opinion is the best Hindi film Director.Yet he never casted Big B in any of his films.

        Yes,Satyajit ray Did say that He had never seen someone like Uttam Kumar in bengali cinema but he did not say he was the best actor in bengali cinema.Ray just said that bengali cinema has never witnessed a star-actor like Uttam kumar and never will.Nowhere he mentions that Uttam is better than Soumitra.Infact Ray has stated on record that ‘ I have cast Soumitra in 14 of my films and he has fitted in all those diverse roles with perfection.There are very few actors of his calibre in the whole country.’He also said that the acting of both Uttam and Soumitra was at par with the best in the world.

        Also,i think that Doing 3 films with a director and doing 14 films with a director is altogether a different thing.14 is a much greater number than 3.

        I also know that great auteurs do not do any thing cynically or randomly or just for the heck of it.But when a Great person like Ray keeps on casting the same person,then there is definately something special about that person.The same goes for Mifune and Mastrianni too.The very fact that an actor is best suited in the works of an genius and that no can fit better than that actor in the works of an auteur-genius proves that the actor is an actor of excellent calibre.

        I don’t know what problem you have if i consider Soumitra as the best actor.Do you want me to change my opinion just because it does not match with your opinion?I am not asking you to accept Soumitra as the best actor nor am i asking you to change your opinion that Big B and Mohanlal are the best actors in the country.All i am asking is that you should acknowledge Soumitra as not just good but very good [Ok not in the league of Big b,Mohanlal or Uttam] but still very good.And of course definately better than Dharmendra,whom you rate better than both Soumitra or Uttam as actor,which is wrong.

        Note:Not all Hrishida adaptations are better than the original bangla films.Infact his Bawarchi pales in comparison to its original ‘Galpo Holeo Satyi’ by Tapan Sinha.Same goes for all the other Hindi remakes of Tapan Sinha’s bangla films which includes Gulzar’s Mere Apne [Apanjan],Lekin [Khudito Pashan],Ijaazat [Jatugriha],Hrishida’s Arjun Pandit [Aarohi]
        ,Kalidas’ Isi ka Naam Zindagi [Bancharamer Bagan],Hiren Nag’s Geet Gaata Chal [Atithi],Hemen Gupta’s Kabuliwallah [Kabulliwalah] and Tapanda’s own remakes like Sagina [Sagina Mahato] and Zindagi Zindagi [Khanikher Atithi].


        • I never said all of Mukherjee’s remakes were better, just the ones I mentioned. I haven’t seen most of these other films so can’t comment on them.

          On soumitra Mukherjee I actually don’t have an issue with your preferences but since you present a certain logic with them I disagree with this logic. Why isn’t Soumitra Chatterjee in Ghatak’s movies? Why isn’t Mastrianni also in de sica’s or Antonioni’s movies regularly? Why isn’t Mifune in the movies of Ozu or Mizoguchi? Why is De Niro in so many of Scorsese’s films? Why not Pacino or Nicholson?

          So I simply do not accept your logic on this. Which does not mean these actors are not good or even great. In Italy there was the famous joke about Mastrianni that he was fantastic in Fellini’s films and mediocre otherwise! Actors have to be minimally ‘good’ to work with important directors and in a consistent sense (assuming it’s not merely commercial cinema where sometimes a non-actor star can do just as well) but they don’t necessarily have to be ‘great’. A ‘good’ actor can fit a director’s vision better than a ‘great’ one for all sorts of reasons. So yes I accept your ‘excellent caliber’ bit but that does not automatically equal a ‘great’ actor. And here I’m using ‘great’ in a much more restrictive sense, not throwing out the word loosely. In any case my quarrel isn’t on how you judge Soumitra Chatterjee, it’s about the logic you’re using. Appearing in an auteur’s work obviously means a great deal but it is not definitive for being a ‘great’ actor.

          By the way here’s one of Ray’s comments on Uttam Kumar:

          to say after reading this that he’s only talking about Uttam Kumar the star not the actor seems strange..

          Finally I have never rated Dharmendra as a superior actor than Uttam or Soumitra (actually I believe the reverse) though please show me where I’ve said otherwise.


        • Incidentally can’t see Bachchan fitting into any of the subjects Benegal ever made but leaving this aside I don’t find him even close to being his industry’s best director. Very significant in art films terms, very important for that movement but I would hardly put him otherwise among the finest. Of course I don’t think much of that movement anyway but that’s another matter. Would take Nihalani over him most of the time.

          Also remember that certain kinds of actors also become massive stars and the signature then presents a very formidable challenge even to the greatest director. Unless of course the cinema is such that it constantly needs a star. Kurosawa’s cinema required Mifune, Ozu’s was exactly the opposite. The reason Ray didn’t do more stuff with Uttam Kumar is precisely because he was too much star, too much of a legend. He could never be ‘ordinary’ in a film the way Soumitra Chatterjee could be. Which is why the key film here, Nayak, is about Uttam playing a star (leaving aside the minor Chiriyakhana). Which is also why he designed one film especially for Suchitra Sen but did not keep casting her elsewhere. Again Mastrianni is Fellini’s ‘everyman’. But not every star can become everyman. All intelligent directors, let alone great ones know the different burden that comes into place when a star is signed, let alone a legend like Uttam.

          The fate that is common to every great star who is also a fine actor is that beyond a point there is no way of simply presenting the latter. The former is always part of the equation. No great star or even half-important star can just be a character without also calling into play the star signature. Directors have to work with this. There is a different of categories between Uttam Kumar and Soumitra Sen. It’s not about degree primarily. Or to be more precise the ‘degree’ becomes more valid when the comparison operates on the same plane of signification. So yes Chhabi Biswas and Pahadi Sanyal are fine actors and they’ve done lead parts and so on but it would be quite absurd to compare them straight up with Uttam Kumar. Thilakan is a very talented actor but he can’t be put in the same space as Mohanlal. Not just because the latter is ‘better’ (he is) but because one is an actor playing characters while the other is a star playing characters. There’s a big difference. Now the character actor can be a star in his own right as these figures are or the star might be a fine actor as well but that’s not their primary ‘charge’ in each instance. People do not become great stars because the audience loves their performances and then decides to make them stars. If that were so Naseeruddin Shah would be one of the great stars. Stardom comes from a rather mysterious site. ‘Acting’ is the bonus a star often offers on his or her signature but it is not at all necessary to the star’s greatness. In fact there are very many great stars who are often on the borders of mediocrity as actors if not incompetence. But the star signature creates effects where this mediocrity becomes irrelevant for the audience. When such a star is effective on screen the audience considers it a great performance or what have you. I adore Clint Eastwood. But I would never call him an actor in the sense applied to a De Niro. But this doesn’t make Eastwood create less of an impact on screen.

          And to get to something Saket raised elsewhere this is why someone like Hrithik Roshan is routinely praised for his performances, often greatly so. Because he is a very effective, very natural ‘star’ for his age.


  7. I know that you have never said that all Hrishida’s remakes are better.I was just telling that there are some instances where even the legendary Hrishida could not match the class of the original,especially those made by Tapan Sinha.Infact,no hindi remake of Tapanda’s films have ever matched the greatness of his originals.And by the way,You should watch all the Tapan Sinha’s films as they are among the best in bangla and Indian cinema.If you have liked the old bengali films of Uttam-Suchitra,you will definately like the films of Tapan Sinha even more as his films are even better than those of Uttam-Suchitra,Gulzar,Basuda or Hrishida etc.

    I never said that Soumitra is the greatest actor in my opinion just because he has acted in 14 of Ray films.Or coz that he has worked with all greats of bengali cinema except Ghatak.Or because he has survived in the bengali industry for 52 years as a true legend.The reason that i rate Soumitra as best actor is because in my opinion he has given the best and most natural performances.And I do not think I need to justify myself anymore.I was just pointing out that the facts like he had acted in works of master like Ray,Sen,Sinha etc do point out that he is an excellent actor.[i do not think that the fact that he worked with Ray,Sen,Sinha,Majumdar etc prove that he is average.]

    By the way,unlike Mastrianni,there is no joke on Soumitra that he was great in Ray films and average in other films.Infact,his performances in some great commercial bangla films are rated even better.In bengali cinema,his performances in both art and commercial films are rated very highly.

    I never said that Ray only talked about Uttam the star and not the actor.But he never claimed that Uttam was better than Soumitra.

    Another thing,being a bengali,i can safely say that Big B ‘s bangla pronunciation is pathetic.

    Maybe,i have misunderstood,but you did say that Dharam’s performance in Chupke Chupke was way better than Uttam’s performance in Chhadmabeshi.


    • Yes I did find Dharmendra in Chupke Chupke superior. But that doesn’t mean I am calling him a better actor than Uttam Kumar.

      On Bachchan’s pronunciation aren’t you proving my point! How could he have acted in Bengali films?!

      Not sure who called Soumitra ‘average’?


      • To compare Soumitra with Chhabi Biswas and Pahari Sanyal is ridiculous.Soumitra has never been considered a character actor in bengali cinema like Chhabida or Paharida.Infact,Soumitra is a huge star in Bengali cinema,having given countless superhits.He is always compared with Uttam Kumar.Infact,in all bengali households,heated arguments take place regarding who is the bigger and better star-Uttam or Soumitra?

        Well,Bachchan might not have been able to work in bengali films coz of his pronunciation,but he also never acted in any hindi films made by Mrinal Sen,Tapan Sinha or Shyam Benegal.He also never worked with Gulzar or Subhash Ghai.

        Anyways,I do not care a bit about star status,just like you don’t care about Shyam Benegal and the art-film Movement.


        • Raunak.. I think you should read things a bit more carefully.. first of all you came up with a list with had a number of stars and character actors. secondly I wasn’t comparing the two but it’s a fact that Soumitra Chatterjee is not even close to Uttam Kumar when it comes to the stardom sweepstakes. You should know this better than anyone else. And my point, if you revisit it, was about comparing actors who are not pure stars with actors who are. Doesn’t mean that Soumitra is like Pahadi Sanyal. Obviously he is a star in his own right but Uttam Kumar is just of a different order in this sense.

          On Bachchan you’re frankly throwing out stuff completely randomly without being aware of the relevant histories. The art cinema movement was a very ‘parallel’ one in Bombay cinema and no star was really ever part of it. Bachchan would have been an absurd casting choice in most of those films anyway! And here there is a crucial difference between Bachchan and Uttam Kumar. They are both titanic star-actors for their industry which is to say stars in the ‘greatest’ mold but also those in the ‘greatest actor’ mold. But Bachchan was a star of blinding intensity as a physical presence. And so he couldn’t really be a ‘regular’ guy beyond a point (which came relatively early on). He had to be larger than life. Uttam Kumar isn’t the same deal. No matter how great his stardom he could still be plausible playing very regular guys on screen and of course he did so till the very end. It doesn’t make one star lesser or greater. It’s about a different calibration of stardom. Much as Uttam Kumar couldn’t be as larger than life in this parts as Bachchan could be. Much as Toshiro Mifune could be what Mastrianni couldn’t. So on and so forth. Gulzar was again making a different sort of cinema for the most part though when a star like Bachchan works with Mukherjee a lot or even Basu Chatterjee once there is really no difference among the three. If anything Hrishikesh Mukherjee was the biggest of these middle cinema practitioners. Won’t even get into Subhash Ghai who wasn’t that big till the mid-80s or maybe a little before this. But he hardly proves your point since he was just about the most commercial filmmaker out there! And of course after he made his biggest film (Karma in ’86) he then turned to Bachchan for something even bigger but they had a falling out and the film got shelved after 6-7 reels were shot.

          But one could say these things randomly — why didn’t Ghatak work with Uttam Kumar? He didn’t even work with Soumitra if memory serves. These things don’t mean much. It’s about a director’s vision and whether even the greatest star and/or actor can fit into that world. In Bachchan’s case the more glaring omission is really Raj Kapoor. But among Bobby, Satyam Shivam Sundaram, Prem Rog, Ram teri Ganga Maili I am unsure what film Bachchan could have done here! Because a certain kind of director even when he or she has great respect for a star will not necessarily make a different kind of film altogether just to incorporate that star. Raj Kapoor’s cinema is for the most part antithetical to Bachchan’s trademark cinema. But once more you are throwing out this stuff randomly. The Gulza-Ghai juxtaposition is bizarre to say the least.

          To be honest I’m not even sure what the ‘debate’ is about here. You responded to my choices somewhat churlishly. I defended them. I am not questioning your choices. That’s the end of the matter. All these arguments are once you’ve brought up as are all these examples. I didn’t. This whole ‘if you’re great enough as an actor the great director will cast you’ simply does not hold as I’ve proved with a number of examples.


  8. I do not think that you have any right to teach me about the history of Indian cinema.

    First of all,I didn’t question your choices at all.I was just giving that in my opinion,all those actors that I mentioned are equal and no one in particular is the greatest.But you thought that I was criticizing your choices.But that was not the case.All i did was that i gave my opinion.But you showed intolerance and responded by saying that you completely disagree with my list.In an attempt to defend your favorites,you unintentionally tried to criticize my preferences.So,to put all the blame on me for this debate is quite wrong.Anyways,i don’t know what is wrong if people indulge in a healthy discussion.

    The reason i mentioned both character and star actors in my list is that i don’t care about stars at all[i said this before also].For me,there are either good actors or bad actors.I don’t believe in star system at all.

    Also,i think that i clarified before also that I don’t rate Soumitra as my favorite just because he acted in Ray films so regularly.

    By the way on the Soumitra-Uttam fight,I do not think you should teach a Bengali about Bengali cinema.Teaching a Bengali about Bengali cinema[the way you did] is just bizarre.


    • rockstar Says:

      If they say dk was epitome of natural acting then lot of people say the same about uttam Kumar the pioneer of natural acting and the word mahanayak was originally coined for uttam first much before amitabh bachchan


      • rockstar Says:

        And ya shivaji ganeshan is another strong name on same league from south just on the this progression of natural acting


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