Uttam Kumar: A common Person and A True Mahanayak of Bengali Cinema
Uttam Kumar, the name itself signifies so many untold emotions, a sparkle in eyes and a flood of admiration from all over the world. He wrote in his autobiography Amar Ami, “In my heart I know – nothing, not this light, or this radiance – nothing will last. This light might snuff out at any moment and throw me into deeper darkness.” But it was a coincidence, on the day he died (24th July 1980), the manuscript of his autobiography went missing and later found and published in book form by Saptarshi Prakashan.
Mahanayak of Bengali Cinema started his journey in the film industry with Mayador which was not released. He was influenced by the theater culture in his early days of 1940’s and continued doing theater even after he had joined cinema. Uttam Kumar was initially influenced by the stalwart actors like Nirmalendu Lahiri and Sishir Kumar Bhadury but soon gets frustrated because of its voice modulation and exaggerated method of dialogue delivery. He rather wanted to concentrate more on the realistic approach of the characters. The method acting style which the present generation are adopting was way too old in the film industry and Uttam Kumar first introduced by chanting the Gita and Chandipath in order to improve his diction to engaging in lathi-khela (sparring with wooden sticks), swimming, wrestling, and even horse riding lessons. He walked those extra miles to become the complete actor.
Uttam Kumar, the true Mahanayak of Bengali Cinema achieved tremendous success as an actor and director. Unfortunately, he has been typecast as a lover boy in most people’s mind in spite of his experiments with different kind of genre from a very early age. His films like Nayak (1966), Chiriyakhana (1967), Amanush (1975), Ananda Ashram (1977) and many others are an example of a versatile actor who was capable of handling different roles given the exact direction and manuscript. Even Satyajit Ray had admired once, “Even in films where the director’s calibre was questionable, Uttam tried his best to contribute to the overall success of the film; with the better ones he simply excelled.” Satyajit Ray wrote the script of Nayak considering Uttam Kumar in mind. It was said that the movie was based on Uttam’s own life. It is said that Bengali cinema had witnessed one of the exceptional scenes ever created in when Uttam seems to be looking into his inner self and the look on his face is so thoughtful that the viewers are forced to memorize their own early days. This scene in itself is a proof of the great talent Uttam possessed.
Rajesh Khanna was a huge fan of Uttam Kumar and always visited his Moira street residence whenever he visited Kolkata. Once, Khanna went to Uttam Kumar’s residence to watch the latter’s “Nishipadma” and had confessed that Uttam Kumar was the greatest living actor in India. Later, Shakti Samanta bought the rights of “Nishipadma” and made “Amar Prem” in Hindi. Khanna confessed at the premiere of “Amar Prem” in Paradise that he had watched “Nishipadma” some 16-17 times but he would consider himself lucky if he could justify at least 50 percent of Uttam Kumar’s persona in the Bengali original.
Throughout his life, he had loved people and in return, he got the same and even excess amount of love. But, it is strange that the man died feeling lonely and often lost. His son Gautam Chatterjee said, “Every year July 24 comes with a fresh reminder of how much I have lost, of how much the film industry has lost… what a void still remains, with no one to replace him on the silver screen, even after so many years.”
Today is the actors 36 death anniversary and despite his absence of so many years, he is still alive in million hearts via his countless romantic scenes.